Grant Webb, owner of Webb’s Home Store in Emmett, Idaho, discusses the decision to dive into the e-commerce arena and his ability to balance his business with a budding music career.
Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast, and right now we’ve got a pretty cool story and pretty cool business to talk about and a pretty cool person at the top of that business. And Grant Webb, I appreciate you taking the time, you’re out there in Emmett, Idaho, and running the Webb’s Home Store. So much more to that story that I really look forward to diving into with you today. But first of all, just thank you for taking the time to call in and join us.
Grant Webb: And thank you for the call. This means a lot, and I hope I can tell you what you guys are wanting to hear.
Rob: Yeah, well certainly one of the things I know we’re going to hear about today is a music career that I think is pretty awesome, but we’ll bury the lead there a little bit and wait to get to that in a little bit here. But tell us a little bit about the Home Store and kind of what you have going on there in Emmett and what got you into this business?
Grant: Oh, so I’ve had the Home Store here at this location for I think almost three or four years now. And it literally started with maybe a mattress and appliance store. Our community was kind of growing, kind of recouped from our sawmill shutting down and different trades leaving. So we do mattresses, we do furniture and appliances and I started the business though with repair. So we’re slowly hitting … I think I started it in ’07, so.
Rob: Got you. And well I know too, the retail business, even backing up a little further, we had talked prior to jumping on a call here and doing this podcast that retail wasn’t necessarily in your family history, right?
Grant: And so I didn’t think so, but looking back, retail is basically selling goods to your community at lesser volumes than a box store. And my family’s been self employed, I’m fourth generation, that I know of, and we’ve always sold either fuel or our services or even Pontiacs. My family was a Pontiac dealer back in the … I think it was ’40s, late ’40s, all the way up to the ’90s. So they’ve always been in retail, but I thought retail was selling a taxed item in a store, but I kind of have a different opinion of retail, I guess.
Rob: Got you. No, that makes sense. And so I mean the Home Store is, I guess, as you’d say, a little bit different from kind of the more traditional stuff your family was into. So what kind of sparked the interest to get into appliances and furniture and that sort of stuff?
Grant: Well I’ll start back a little farther real quick. Growing up I was around retail. My family sold fuel and delivered it and stuff, so I was always working. So my dad, because we were self-employed it was kind of a different schedule growing up where we worked really hard on a farm, bucked hay, and I think I bought my first truck when I was maybe 12 because I wanted to be able to buck hay and do this and save money. And so along the way we learned how to work, but when you work like that it’s not your typical nine to five because as a self-employed person, or from a family, you work seven days a week and you work crazy hours. Sometimes you take off but it’s a lot of hard work and I don’t think people see that that work your typical nine to five job. So I was kind of wired to be self-employed, I think, just because of three or four generations of how we were raised. And another thing, Emmett is a real small farm community, real handshakes, everybody knows your family. Somewhere down the line you guys all probably were related, you know? So that’s just how we were raised.
Rob: Got you. And so tell us a little bit about the store too. What’s your operation like? Are you guys a single store retailer?
Grant: So on that, now the Home Store itself, I think it’s been three years at this location. It’s a single location, but we’re in the process of looking at two more options on closer towns that are growing. And retail wise, furniture is kind of where we went to, I would say mattresses are definitely your easiest, and then appliances, that’s what I started with. It’s a tough business, but you’re learning, with trade tariffs, things going on. There’s change in sales and I think any smart businessman has to change to your clientele. I’d love to sell you a corded phone, but those don’t sell real good today.
Rob: Got you. No, and a lot to unpack there too, talk about some of the challenges that you might face. But going back to you mentioning that you’re looking at some options to expand; when you’re considering that, you’ve been, since you opened shop, a one store shop, so what do you look for as you’re thinking about expanding? Or what sort of drives the decision there to do that? And then how do you make sure it’s a success if that’s something that you’ll ultimately end up wanting to do?
Grant: So right now I do own roughly two or three other businesses. It depends on if you call the music a career. That being said, we expand off things that are changing, and right now our hometown is changing where we only used to be repair and fix because we were an older community that wanted to repair their old ones. Well, anybody that’s an appliance dealer knows that there’s a shorter life on them and people are replacing instead of repairing. So after having my repair business 13 years, we just closed it down and one of my old employees started his own, which worked out perfect because we’re geared more towards retail, sales, delivery and no expert installs and stuff. Professional installs, sorry.
So, that being said, we just expanded by bringing on more furniture than we did, and mattresses and the appliances are kind of our third option. And that’s … when I’m looking at growth for other businesses to learn from, I listen to my community, I listen to them; “These are overpriced,” or, “I don’t want to wait three weeks, I need it today.” So we’ve changed gears on who our dealer is and instead of being independent … what’s the word I’m looking for? Where you only have, you know … exclusive. Sorry, exclusive dealer. That was hard for me in a small town because I wanted be exclusive. I’ve always been the Maytag guy in my hometown and they couldn’t get me a lot of the products I needed. So now we piggyback off and sell some of GE’s awesome products, but because we’re in a small town they don’t treat you like they would Home Depot. So we just took on Frigidaire and that really helps our community with price points, shipping.
So, I would say that my big struggle, and I think there’s a lot of other dealers in small towns, that you truly need to have not a one-horse town, you need three horses to bring in equipment and appliances. Because in a small town of handshakes, when I tell this guy that his washer will be here Friday and Whirlpool oversold on Black Friday, three weeks later he runs down my family name because I didn’t keep my word. That’s been the hardest part of owning this business, Rob, is I give my handshake, I say to my community I’ll do it, and when they don’t back it up and my community doesn’t know about what the trade tariffs are doing or shipping or drivers or weather, imports, they think I have appliances in my garage ready to get delivered.
Rob: Yeah, that’s a really interesting way of looking at it because I do want to touch on at some point here the tariffs thing, but the hometown side of the story and kind of the way you have to … obviously when you interact with an organization like Nationwide and you get to shows like prime time and you see and can interact with the vendors, there’s that sort of engagement. But then you go back home and you have to talk to your clients and customers and really neighbors, which is a really unique, from the sense of how I may approach it and view it, but for a lot of Nationwide members and independent retailers out there, this obviously is a very community driven business. So what’s it like, just kind of paint that picture for someone who might not know, or even for the customers out there who might be listening; what’s it like to change that conversation from one where you understand the backstory but you have to kind of not dumb it down necessarily, but simplify it for people that are your friends and neighbors?
Grant: So, one thing we did, and I know we’ll touch on this later, is in a small town I didn’t have a website until literally the last two years. And everybody told me, “If you don’t have one your business is dead.” And I’m like, “Well you guys don’t understand that in a small town some people can’t even get internet in some of our locations because they’re still building towers here.” And that’s hard for people to fathom because we are 15 years behind from a big city. So I think there’s a lot of other small dealers, especially Nationwide West, I don’t know as much in the core and the Eastern ones, but so right now when I see something on the news, and to be honest with you, I haven’t really watched the news in five years, and people say, “Well how does a smart businessman do that?” My news is in my hometown. I see people struggling with income. They wake up, they drive an hour because there’s no jobs here. When they shop, they shop there because they have just enough time to get home with their family. So one thing we did, we finally got a website and I have never promoted it, but what I use it for is auto price matches. So in my hometown, when people know that, “If I drive an hour I can save $30,” they’ll do that because things are that tight in a small town. And I don’t know where you’re from, Rob, but does that sound familiar to you?
Rob: I certainly get it. I mean I’m outside of Philly where I’m based, so big city and whatnot. But we get the suburbs, you’re not far from a Lancaster or smaller rural areas in sort of central PA.
Grant: So, just to give you an idea, so our population here was maybe 3,000 when I was growing up. And then I remember now they changed the city sign at the bridge, it hadn’t happened in forever, and it said 6,500. And then all of a sudden, I’ve seen in my lifetime it’d be 6,500, and literally in the last five years everybody’s moving here because it’s like getting a little piece of heaven, going back in time. And that’s what’s happening to these small cities. If I wait at a stoplight for 15 seconds, I’m like, “I’m going to have to move. This is getting bad.” And I drive to Boise, which is 30 minutes away, and it’s the second fastest growing city in the US right now. People can get in a traffic jam for an hour and drive five miles. It takes me an hour to go a place where I won’t see another human for a week, you know?
So, we’re pretty blessed here. So my retails, I learn a lot from Nationwide meetings, but it doesn’t also cater to me. And so I’m going to tell you a funny story, and I won’t tell you all of it, but one of our good competitors from the buy group booked my band to play a very nice resort and paid me good. And I put on a concert because they want me to look at what they had to offer, right? I realized I wasn’t there to switch buy groups, but the guy there said, “Hey, I’m a big wig. I started Home Depot’s appliance sales.” And he gave us a bunch of powerful messages and he said, “Hey, here’s one thing that you can do that Home Depot can’t, you can beat them with service, you can beat them with knowledge and availability and your business ethics, right? So you have to price match them.” And everybody goes, “You can’t price match them.” Well, if you really take advantage of what Nationwide is doing for us and why we pay those little dues a month, you guys go to those big dogs and say, “Don’t bully them because we’re a big dog now.” And how was our country built? The same way. We started this country the same way.
So, I think Nationwide, when people really realize what you’re doing for little businesses, and that being said, with this podcast, I hope some of my people from Nationwide that are in the core stop and think about what’s going on in the West. And yes, having $1000 website may be the best thing for them, but when we didn’t have internet till a couple of years ago in places, there are some people don’t, that’s a lot of money to spend when people want to shake hands and read your leaderboard.
Rob: Certainly. And certainly understandable. But I mean now that you say you have that investment and you’re getting into that online space, and as you’ve mentioned, price matching is a big part of that, but what else has the website done for you and how are you leveraging it and using it to better your business?
Grant: What’s crazy is I fought my reps forever to get it and I didn’t want it and I finally got it and I thought it was a joke. But then after a while, when you go out and shake people’s hands and people know who you are, they’re like, “Oh I can shop at home because you’re closed when we get back from work.” All of a sudden we started getting a few sales. So the other day I started with myself, no employees, and we’re up to 20 employees, which is a large business to me. But to some people that’s not. But I’ll say my best paid employee is my website. It works 24/7, it knows how to price match and it never makes a mistake unless I don’t know how to use the computer. So, honestly, I wish that somebody would’ve said that, but when everybody told me that, they never listened to me, that we don’t have internet here so that’s a lot of money to spend.
So, I think that any good business plan of growth, development, changes starts by a good level of respect, of, “I’m going to respect you and Rob, I want to hear what you have to ask.” And then you respect me and say, “Grant, tell me this.” This is good communication. Every business needs it, every customer and literally even Nationwide with its members, we need that communication together.
Rob: Ah, that’s awesome. And kind of a story and testament to what the power of this thing is, because that’s a certain type of … the way you described that is certainly something that’s not uncommon or we haven’t heard or seen around before with other members. And so what is it, you mentioned that you had your rep sort of pushing for it and maybe some making you give in at a certain point, but what was it that actually convinced you that this is something that you need to make the investment in, not just to get someone off of your back?
Grant: To be completely honest with you, my rep came in, and this is a funny story, my rep came in to sell me product and I didn’t know what he was selling me, but he was trying to help me and I said, “Well, people don’t work for free. What are you selling me?” And over the year we became really good friends. And the funny story is I tried to become a dealer with Maytag and Whirlpool because I’d started that business, and that first year I was lucky to even pay rent and pretty soon I sold 30 dishwashers on my own through a third party. So I called Maytag and said, “Guys, hey, I sold 30 appliances, I did it all on my own, I’d love to talk to you.” They wouldn’t get ahold of me for two or three years. And it just so happened, my Nationwide rep was that guy that wouldn’t call me back. And so when we realized who each other were we literally became best friends. And he goes, “Grant,” he goes, “I’m sorry, but this is how the corporate world works. And I said, “Oh, that’s not your fault. You should have told me that instead of not calling me. See, now you work for me, I like this.”
So, a lot of our business meetings may have a fishing pole involved, but we learned a lot from each other because we respected each other. And I’ll say that I got a new rep and I didn’t know him, and it’s hard to replace a friend with somebody you don’t know, but it’s business. And so I didn’t really listen to him. And when he finally came and talked to me, I felt like he was trying to sell me something and I said, “Why are you selling something I don’t use? Are you making money off it?” And it kind of stopped him. And he basically came back to me and said, “No, Grant, I’m trying to help you. But yes, I was selling you something.” I said, “That’s all I want is for you to be honest. What are you selling now?” Me and him had the best talk. He saved me money on my website, showed me what it could do.
So, I think what the whole moral of this and the whole positive from it is, learn your rep, learn who they are and learn about them. Make it personable. And when I do that with my customers, it’s now a family business and that’s what America was built on. We wouldn’t have these big box stores if people wouldn’t have all started working that way. So now that my rep and me have a great relationship, shake hands, talk, when he calls me to tell me about something Nationwide’s doing, I listen because you guys have my best interest. And honestly, I’m not going to let you off the hook, I’m not going to join another buying group, but they took really good care of me with my music, so we need to talk again for Nashville in 2021.
Rob: I don’t know why, I’m just the new guy here, so I don’t know how much sway I have yet. But …
Grant: I don’t pull this card a lot, but they were like, “Grant, we can get you to the Grand Ol Opry if you joined our group.” And I’m like, “Well why don’t I ask my group then?”
Rob: I’ll see what I can do.
Grant: So I hope your bosses are listening to this podcast, because …
Rob: No, that’s awesome. I’ll certainly see what strings I can pull from here, but no… Talking about some of those other challenges, obviously seeing you kind of overcome that website thing and really dive into it and take advantage of it is awesome. And there’s some other things out there though, and you hit on it a little bit ago, and one of the big things floating out there right now is tariffs and kind of what that’s doing to specifically the appliance side. It feels like it’s hitting every industry at this point, but I know a big one is the appliance side. And how big of an impact has that had on you and what are you doing to keep an eye on it and sort of alleviate it?
Grant: We just had a meeting about this this morning, so I’m really glad you asked this. Because right now, in a small town, now you know how we’re wired, what our population is, what our struggles are. I own a construction business, so we built our own storage place because in a small town there’s no storage places. We’re rural, we can’t get trucks and we’re the last delivery because we’re a long ways out of these hubs, right? So what happens is, is when I shake someone’s hand, sell the product and it doesn’t come in, that person says, “Okay, but it better be next time.” And after the second or third time of it changing, I have to refund that customer’s money. And that doesn’t hurt my feelings, it hurts my feelings that they don’t trust me now with their money, that they had to go shop elsewhere.
So if I could give a word of advice with all these buy times, get with your reps, learn when they’re on sale, how to get money back, what to offer. And when I explain, our website, we’re a penny less, and in our location we have Home Depot, Lowe’s, and then RC Willie’s is our other big one. So out of those three, we’re a penny less. And I’ve been learning some of our basic fridges, appliances, it’s a different world on furniture, bedding, but on the appliances there’s such little margin with these tariffs going up, there’s no money to be made on them. And when I help this customer, it actually isn’t helping them, they’re waiting, they’re upset with me, which hurts on sales down the road.
So with the tariffs, I’ve noticed difference in pricing. I’ve noticed difference in availabilities. This morning one of our computers said, “Hey, you’re going to have this customer stuff Friday.” It just got moved out 30 days and no one told us. In a small town, people without internet, they can’t fathom that we’re just not getting their money to them, right? So what we’re strategizing is, is some people have a big warehouse, RC Willie’s has a big one in Salt Lake so they can ship up within two days. Well me, if I place an order and it takes seven days, people can’t wait that long if their fridge went bad. Or laundry. But some people will wait for a custom package. So what we’re doing right now with these trade tariffs, we’re buying smart, we’re stocking what doesn’t break our bank, and when those sell people need them as emergency … because Rob, if you ordered a custom package today for your wife’s birthday in a month, would you be upset if it didn’t come in by this Friday? Not as much.
Grant: But if I told you I promise you I’d have it before your wife’s birthday, she needed that, we shook hands, and then, I’m not going to say any names, but this furniture store, that, did that to me, those trade tariffs affected us so bad. And they heard about them on the news six months ago and they are just now affecting us. But in a small town, we don’t think about that. So that’s why I don’t watch the news, I listen to important things, but I listen to the news in my community because their news is, “Why don’t you have it? If you sell it, it’s not in your store, how can you do that? That’s not normal.” But online sales is the world, and I think that if you can sell stuff online but still have enough stuff in the warehouse to still fill your needs, that’s the happy medium.
Rob: Yeah. Interesting to see sort of that … obviously you’re worried about the business impact from what it’s actually doing, but then also it’s the customers who … they’re keeping an eye on price maybe, but again, it goes back to that small town sort of relationship and what it does from that perspective. So certainly a double edged sword there and one that-
Grant: I would like to see the opposite end of it. I’d like to go work with somebody and watch them for a month in a big city and be like, “What? I never had these problems. What do you mean? What?” They don’t care where it was made. You know what I mean? They don’t care they knew your grandparents. Like I couldn’t fathom everybody else’s end of it because this is normal to me.
Rob: Yeah. Yeah. That’s crazy. Well, switching gears a little bit and I kind of want to focus on the positives instead of those challenges. What’s something that the Home Store and that you do really well that you think others could learn from?
Grant: I want you to know, even after that last comment, that’s a negative, but we can make positive from it. I work hard every day and this is why I’m so happy and love what I do. I like to help people. I don’t know what it is every day, some days it’s playing concerts and signing autographs, the next day it’s installing that package that the husband bought for that wife for Valentine’s day. And you know what? It may be getting that elderly gentleman that just moved into a nursing home that lift chair because he can’t walk. I enjoy helping people, and along the way, when you look at it that way, money comes in and people want to spend money with you. Me personally, when I go into a place I don’t like getting attacked by sales and commissions. So we’ve never done that because I want to sell what you want and help you. And I know that’s not probably normal, but the more that I’ve done that, every day I see a smile on somebody’s face, I shake a hand and, “Hey, we treated you like you were family.” And to me that’s why I work hard every day. I enjoy the people, and in a small community, even a large community with my music, I love meeting the people and I love still seeing people that want to shake hands and smile and say, “Hey, how are you?” So.
Rob: Oh, that’s awesome. And I mean it’s just kind of inspiring and reaffirming just about how important and the impact that the independent channel can have, that you think of a big box store and you go in, you see someone, they basically don’t have a face, they just have a name tag and kind of the lack of personal touch there. And it’s something you kind of take for granted, I guess, being in a big city like Philly for myself and others out there, I’m sure, that you just don’t get that experience. And I’m sure it just ups the customer experience in a way that it’s almost like one of those things you have to experience to actually understand it.
Grant: Yeah, exactly.
Rob: No, that’s awesome. So it’s been a theme and it’s kind of permeated the conversation throughout here, but we’ve got to finally dive into it, and that’s the music. And like I said, I’ll see what I can do about getting you some big venues down the road here for Nationwide and at our shows, but let’s at least start by talking about what you have going on and the Grant Webb Band. How did it come together and where did this passion come from?
Grant: We don’t got time to tell you everything, but I’ll just say when I was a real young boy, I was maybe six, I got my first guitar. And from there I started playing music, taking lessons, learned how to play three or four ones by ear. And that was kind of my family’s talent. My great grandma played every instrument you can think of by ear, and she was the coolest grandma you could have growing up. So I think when I was 12 I got my first paying gig on New Year’s and it was with my dad’s band playing bass. I remember walking in, and a 12 year old shouldn’t be in a bar on New Year’s, but I was getting paid. And at that time my dad always paid me 50 bucks a gig and I was like, “Wow, I could make that or work in the field for a week, so I’ll play music.”
So when I got into high school I had my own bands and I grew up with two older brothers and we all had our own bands. And when I hit 17 I started touring, playing out of town, I was going to be a touring musician. That’s all I wanted to do and I was getting paid in one gig what people would make in three days of working. So I said, “Man, I got this.” Luckily I looked 21 when I was about 17, so I never really had problems, but I had a brother that looked younger than me, so I always got in. But so I toured pretty heavily and made some really big contacts and shows, and to me that was my dream, I’d made it as far as I wanted to. So I got married, had kids and went through a divorce and got remarried with some step-kids. And I kind of said, “Hey, I’ve enjoyed my music career but I’m really going to focus on family.”
And I’m a religious man, God, family and my country is kind of what I drive on. So I said, “I’m going to play a year or two of just my own music, Grant Webb band,” and I’d played maybe 10, 15 bands growing up. I just started writing from my heart and one day I had a rough day at work and I wrote a song called Baby Let’s Run. And it was about getting in an old Pontiac that my grandparents used to sell back in the ’60s and driving to the coast and just having no worries. All of a sudden I started getting a big following because people were like, “Man, that’s what I want to do.” And I’m like, “Well I wrote that song because it was my feeling that day because I had a trade tariff and had to give someone’s money back.” And that’s no BS, this time last year, every time this year I get really cranky and stressed because of all the stuff happening and third quarter, fourth quarter, this, that. And so I start getting cranky and I like to write music.
So I’ll tour now all summer. We played almost 40 dates this summer, out of town, out of state. We opened for some huge, huge bands. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but there were some big ones. So if you want to ask, I’ll tell you. But basically you can go check out my music on iTunes, Spotify, I’m getting ready to release another album and we just opened up our own music studio called S and W Music Co. And we’ve been open two months and we’ve got 40 some kids taking lessons already.
Rob: Wow. Yeah, and that’s I know something that I wanted to ask too about here next. But before that, one thing I want to ask is how do you … obviously you’ve got a passion that you’re really diving into and seeing some pretty cool success off of, and how do you balance that with going on tour and then you have the store, possible expansion that you’re talking about? How do you as a business owner manage the music on top of the retail?
Grant: Well, it’s not easy, but I think any young businessman, entrepreneur, anybody is driven different than nine to five. And my mind doesn’t shut off. Like last night I woke up all night writing down ideas, business ideas, contracts, real estate, building. So when I run four businesses, I’m calm. And so it is hard, but it also takes a very special woman at home to have my back. And we’ve had our struggles, but we’ve been the most amazing couple. We put God first, family second, and country third. And in my music career, I said that a lot, and I joked with you earlier, but if that offends people then I’m offended, because that’s my freedom of speech and my family is not only in my household but it’s my customers, it’s my employees, it’s my musician friends. And when you treat people that way, life’s a lot greener because you watered your own yard.
Rob: No, no, that’s awesome. So you mentioned the school and you’ve got some kids starting up that you’re starting to teach and you’re doing some cool give back stuff as well with this?
Grant: Well, I like to do a lot for my community. I call it my tidy and I like to help out here and not talk about it. Anybody who gives a gift away and wants recognition for it, their heart’s not in the right spot. So I do a lot for kids, I do a lot for families, I do a lot for disabled people and that’s just what I do daily. And come hang out with me some day, we’ll go talk to them, but yeah, that’s kind of what I do daily.
Rob: No, that’s awesome. And I think a really cool way to keep … I think everyone has a little bit of a vocational passion that it’s always nice to buy into and really sort of give yourself that freedom of expression and a break, essentially, too from the other stuff that you’ve got going on in the business world and other passions that you might have. So it’s cool to see a Nationwide member sort of lean into that and have some success off of it and really create some good stuff too. I’m sure at some point in this, if I haven’t already, we’ll throw a track on this podcast or somewhere, maybe in the opening, maybe at the end or something like that and give people a taste of what it’s all about and kind of what you’re producing. But no, it’s really cool stuff and neat to hear.
Grant: So Idaho is pretty cool. I told you about our scenery and we shot two music videos this year and we’ve got two or three more in the works. And then with the new album coming out, there’s some really cool things coming. But one of the music videos was an old cover song, because a lot of people don’t know my music, so I did one by John Anderson and growing up he was one of my favorites. And so it was called Seminole Wind, and what I loved about it is a lot of elderly people, older generations, know that song and love it, but these new guys don’t know what music is. And I’ll say something funny, maybe you’ll appreciate, the only two times I get in trouble writing music is from my wife and some day down the road Nashville music country. So I speak from the heart and if that makes me an outlaw, being honest, doing the right thing then I love it and I’m winning, so I’m okay with that.
Rob: Oh, that’s awesome. Grant, I really appreciate you taking the time. This was a very fun conversation and certainly a fun episode to put together. So I’ve taken up more of your time than I ever anticipated, so thank you again and I look forward to connecting down the road.
Grant: Thanks a lot. Have a good day.