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Debbie Schaeffer, the third-generation owner of Lawrence, New Jersey-based Mrs. G Appliances, shares the secret to her store’s decades-long success, and the importance of fully embracing her local ties.

Rob Stott: Hi, we’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. Appreciate you joining us. And right now, we’re on location. These are my favorite interviews is when you get to go out and be on location somewhere and talk to anyone in this industry. It’s always fun to talk to anyone. But today we’re in Lawrence, New Jersey, and we’re at Mrs. G’s with Debbie Schaeffer.

Debbie Schaeffer: So happy to have you here. And it was so fun to show you around.

Rob: I know. Always a good time. It was crazy that we’ve been in contact, gosh, three, four years since I’ve been in this industry. And first time I am in Philadelphia, not a stone’s throw from here, and this is my first time at your store.

Debbie: So glad to have you here. Absolutely. And thank you for having me on your show, love it.

Rob: No problem whatsoever. I appreciate the hospitality and the barbecue. It was all good. But so, first of all, thank you for taking the time and having me here, and nice to be able to chat with a member of Nationwide Marketing Group.

Debbie: Yeah, we all love to hear other people’s stories, and share the good and the bad, right? Yeah.

Rob: Yep. Yep. So, for those that aren’t here, kind of like you did with me, the walk through the store, kind of paint the picture of Mrs. G’s, and what it’s like in this shop here just outside of Trenton.

Debbie: So I’m very proud of our showroom. We have about 1,200 square feet of showroom, and then another 12 to 1,500 square feet, 12 to 15,000, I’m sorry. So, let’s start that again. So I’m going to start that again. So we have here at Mrs. G’s, we have a 12,000 square foot showroom, and then we have another, which is connected, another 15,000 of warehouse space.

So I’m very proud, and had the opportunity to really start from scratch when I was creating the showroom. It’s five years old already, which I cannot believe. But it uses all the five senses. So of course, you can go to our website, mrsgs.com, and if you click on …

Rob: The Google street view, basically. The street view.

Debbie: I have the Google street, so you can literally just walk through. But just really quickly, all the five senses. So when you walk in the site, high ceilings, everything’s white, big wide aisle. So when someone’s bringing in a baby carriage, no stress with everything being really tight. I’m very proud to really just show all the latest generations of appliances here. Nice music when you walk in. The greeters. We have a community kitchen here, so someone’s always cooking.

Rob: And another cool thing, your desk right at the front door.

Debbie: Desk at the front door. If you know Mrs. G’s, my grandmother always sat up front, and when they were building the showroom, I said, “I have to sit up front too, or else they’re all going to talk.”

Rob: Someone’s going to say something.

Debbie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So touch and feel. When I talk about the latest appliances, we have all the iPads, our sales staff is ready with iPads, but we also have iPads up so you can play with the apps, the JennAir app, the Scan to Cook by Whirlpool, the Bosch app. You can make your coffee via our apps for the Bosch, which is pretty cool right from the app. And so very proud, just very proud of the showroom.

Rob: For sure. And something you mentioned that, talking about your grandmother, started the store, the story behind your business is one that I always get excited when I hear you talking about it, either to me or to anyone in this industry. But share it with our audience, kind of the history of Mrs. G’s. You’re third generation family owned, female owned, all throughout as well.

Debbie: Exactly. So, yes. So third generation, started in 1935, my parents, my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. G, that’s Abe and Beatrice Greenberg. And so, started off as plumbing, but evolved into appliances. Back then, it was iceboxes and stoves. Now, they’re refrigerators, ranges, and then of course, dishwashers came, et cetera, et cetera. So it grew and grew.

And my mother was an only child. My mother was in the business. She grew up back in the day, you had your store on the first floor, you lived on the second floor. And grew up in the business. But she retired early, and I say early in her fifties, but still very much involved in the business. She moved to Florida. But my grandmother stayed with the business, so she was 95, and just loved having her here. And I loved being a part, working together.

Rob: Was it always in the cards for you?

Debbie: No. So I graduated University of Michigan with a civil engineering degree. I went to New York City, and I was in the construction business. I have a construction management degree with the civil engineering degree. And, but I took some time off when I had my girls, who are now 26, twins, Samantha and Leah, and when they were ready to go back to school in kindergarten, my grandmother said, “Let’s come on in, and let’s see if you like it.”

And she knew exactly what she was doing. Didn’t put a lot of pressure on me, but at the time, there was really concern, there was concern with the Walmart effect. We’re talking 20 years ago, so I call it the Walmart effect. So that’s when Walmart came in. And then of course, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy, and all within a mile of the store. And it took a lot of the market share. When I say a mile from the store, but they also opened up in other delivery areas.

So they opened up not one, but five stores, and it was just a lot of pressure, and we had to figure out how to differentiate. Pricing, we know from the wonderful buying groups, we’re able to compete. We’re a commodity now. We’re able to compete on price with what the buying groups do for us, which is most important, because at the end of the day, the price is the price.

The customer wants the best price. So we’re able to do that. But we have to differentiate ourselves from that, and that’s what I brought in. I brought in higher end appliances. Back then, the big box stores weren’t carrying high end. So that was differentiate. Now things have changed a little bit. They’re starting to carry some of that, but that’s okay. We’d still have to connect with our community differently than how the big box stores do it.

Rob: Yeah, and that sort of is a perfect segue into something I wanted to talk about with you. And that’s I know you, you are a strong community advocate in getting involved and having partnerships and relationships with local, whether it’s chamber of commerce, correct me if I’m wrong, but just other local businesses, local chapters of organizations like the NKBA, and and really using those as a way to sort of leverage, really, both sides expertise and create experiences that are just unbelievable and valuable in the community.

Debbie: Absolutely. Well, it’s all about the relationship. And back in the day, my grandmother, when she first started the business, she was out on the floor. She knew what was going on around town. She read all the newspapers, and did a lot of events in the store, back then. So we brought all of that back. It’s just a new generation. But we have to make a connection, one on one, and by doing with the community, with the chambers, nonprofits here, we host a lot of events in the store, bringing them in, and they see what we have.

And what’s most important is that when you make the connection with the relationship is most important. But now it’s time for the sale. You make the sale, but now it’s time to deliver. Everything has to be perfect. That whole 360 of retail, and that’s how I feel Mrs. G’s has really survived. We work very, very hard on giving great customer experience before, during and after the sale.

Rob: You kind of talk about sort of the events that you can host here, and one I know recently that you had was the part of Nationwide’s week of giving.

Debbie: Oh yes.

Rob: And they had No Child Hungry here, an event in the store, and talk about that experience and what it was like.

Debbie: It was amazing. Of course, we’ve participated at Nationwide at the convention for probably a few years now. Easy.

Rob: This February will actually be the official two year mark of …

Debbie: Easy, easy. And so when they offered it, the whole package, to go right to the dealer and really do it right there within your community, and the benefit would go to the community, we were on board. We thought it was great. However, I first heard that it was something like 10,000 meals. So I’m thinking 10,000 bags, and I’m trying to think, how can we do this in one day?

So that was a sleepless night, but then I realized it was five to six meals in one bag. That made a lot more sense. So, but it was so well done. Thank you Nationwide, because right from the marketing to the packaging, the videos, I was sort of the one, I was the master of ceremonies that day.

So I would make sure the greeting the community that was coming in, training them via the video, getting them set up, washing hands. There was a process, and it was all very well documented through Nationwide. So it made it so easy for us, and we were done in a few hours. We were very happy and it was great. And the next day, it was already delivered to the charity.

Rob: Wow, that’s incredible. So, just to give them a shout out, what local community, because I know that if I remember right, you had to have a local food donation company involved, as well.

Debbie: Yeah, yes, yes, yes. Yeah. So it went … And of course, going to children, that’s really the intent. So it was HomeFront and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. So, and they were so appreciative, and they even told me, I’m sure, right now, all the packaging already went to the families, which was amazing. So thank you so much. That’s really, Nationwide is great.

Rob: And then to think that 10,000 meals, those 10,000 meals that you’ve packed, by the end of the week, I’m sure you heard the milestone, the million meals.

Debbie: Oh, yes, yes.

Rob: Just think about, what’s that like to see, just from the member perspective, the impact that over these last two years, not even two years at this point, what rings in your mind when you hear a million meals?

Debbie: It just says all those people that are getting fed, and not starving, and we’re just making a difference. It’s just amazing. It’s amazing that, for just a little bit of time that we had, and when you multiply it by all the thousands of members who come that day, were coming for those couple of days, and able to give some of their time and look what you can do. It’s amazing.

Rob: Yeah. I know that’s an initiative. Talk back at the home office that everyone’s excited about, has been excited about, and will continue. So and to see it grow, not just from primetime to primetime or whenever the Nationwide team gets together, but now that members throughout the country can participate as well is impactful.

Debbie: And it was such a feel good. It was a feel good. I had some of my staff that came that, they weren’t working that day, but they still came to participate, because they wanted to. And then members of the community, and I was going to call the newspaper, but I just didn’t have any time. And I figured out, well, maybe I’ll do a press release afterwards. And then all of a sudden, Leigh [Khan 00:12:07] from the [Princeton Package 00:12:09] shows up.

How did she? Because she saw it on social, so they wanted to write a story. She’s there taking pictures and she interviews a family that came with their son, because they wanted to all do it as a family together. Wow. That was incredible. So yeah, I’ll give that to you before you leave.

Rob: That’ll be awesome. And from the team, internally, for you, that team building that that offers is just something that can’t be overlooked as well. It’s crazy.

Debbie: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rob: But kind of changing gears a little bit, talk about from, I want to ask a little bit about your store and sort of those lofty questions that, high level questions that we typically like to ask members, and that’s starting with challenges that you face. Obviously you hit on, when you came in to Mrs. G’s and answering and solving the Walmart problem, as you mentioned. But what, in 2019, is one of the biggest challenges that you face as an owner of an appliance shop?

Debbie: Well, challenges is really making sure that you make a profit on everything that you do. It’s challenging, because every sale in general has, like I said, the 360. So you have to make sure that every … And there’s a lot of charges. There are install charges, there’s part charges, there’s delivery charges, and then you know what? You go and you do all of that, and then all of a sudden, you have a piece that’s dead on arrival.

It’s just the nature of the beast. They don’t get, you can’t check everything. Or you open a box, and it looks perfect, and there’s so much damage to the piece. You can’t figure, how does it get so damaged when the box isn’t damaged? So then what happens? You have to replace it. There’s a big expense to that.

So that really is …. What is the true profit of every single sale, and how we can keep our expenses down, and really watch where, what happens, and be able to document it so we truly know. And especially what our inventory, the real value of our inventory, that’s very important too, to manage. And that’s the biggest challenge from an owner’s perspective, when you’re looking at the big picture, outside of just your … We’re constantly fighting for the same customer.

When you’re a mile from your competitors, let alone, there’s a few independents here that we’re in the same neighborhood, and then you have the big box stores, then you have online prices. Oh my goodness. The online. Much better going with pricing online than it was back years ago. But still, it’s a challenge, because some of them still don’t collect sales tax. So that’s a big part of our profit. 7%, six and change percent sales tax. That’s a lot off the bottom line.

So all those expenses have to be managed, and the competition, we have to really tell the story. All of us, as a family business, as an independent, we have to tell the customer the great stories that we have, and why it’s important to keep the money local and support the local businesses. Because the money stays in the community.

When you buy from a big box store, some of it stays in the community, but not as much as you would buy from us. And if you buy online, forget it. But as owners, what’s important is that we also talk the talk and walk the walk, meaning that when I’m buying my paper for our copy machines, I don’t buy it from Staples. I know that they’re a great store, but I buy it from a local office supply, and guess what? They belong to a buying group.

And do you know that every couple of months, I check the prices. Just like every couple of months, a customer will check my prices. So I do the same thing. And you have to really think about that you have to use the same people in your community that are working to support your business.

Rob: That attention, it’s like it’s next level. I feel like Mrs. G’s is just … The attention on local, and staying local, and keeping it local, and that extends too. I’m looking up at a plaque up here, a framed article about Independent We Stand, and just talk about what that organization and partnership has meant to you.

Debbie: Oh, Independent We Stand? Oh my goodness. So I discovered them online. I don’t know, back when they started. I don’t even know how many years ago it was. And I just was in awe of what they do, and how they’re supporting the independent family businesses, and from all over the country, and always was a part, always reshared anything that they wrote about.

And we connected, and always available for a quote, if they wanted a quote from me, participated in anything that they were doing. I always keep an eye on what they’re doing. And then when Nationwide and Independent We Stand partnered together, that was incredible, because it’s makes perfect sense. It’s great for the wonderful marketing that they do and the support. So I just think it’s fantastic. I really do.

Rob: That’s awesome. We talked about it a little bit ago, and sort of the challenges it presented, but from an eCommerce perspective, we talked a little bit earlier about your website prior to jumping on the podcast, about your website and sort of the benefits it provides, but also the challenges from a … You get someone that could be, I think as you mentioned, was shopping from Texas, and it says on your website, you keep it, shop locally.

It’s got to be delivered within the tri state area here in Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, but having that presence and using it as a way to tell your story, as well. So what benefits has the eCommerce platform had for you, and how are you guys utilizing it to improve your business?

Debbie: Well, I really feel you have to, again, differentiate yourself on your website, as well. You have to really, if you want people to come into your store, you have to really tell the story, and give them wonderful pictures, trying to do more video, and introduce them to your staff, tell them why you should come into the store.

But the website has to be the best it can be. And by having the tools from Nationwide, now we use web fronts, another, some other great what I call templates that you can use, but you have to make it your own. And we massage that temple. Jenny knows I’m very passionate about that, but wonderful tools, because you still have to have prices on the line. They have to be current, you have to have as much information on there.

But just in the past meeting with Jenny, I was very happy that they can put inventory on our website. How great is that? If somebody wants a washer, right away, they can see on our website it’s available. And then the other thing I love is I made these videos. When people come in to buy a refrigerator and they don’t have the, they didn’t measure, and they go, “Yeah, it’s this tall and this wide.”

Well, you need to measure. But now, when you’re on our website, you can actually, there’s a little icon by every refrigerator that says how to measure, and a little video comes up of me real quick to do that. That’s amazing. And so all that is so important. We have the tools through Nationwide to be able to do that, and through [Necco 00:20:41] as well. And it’s great. It’s really great to be able to feel like you’re a big box when you’re doing all of that to be able to do that. But yet you’re really an independent, which is great.

Rob: That’s really an awesome way to put it, because I can’t tell you how many times I heard and have heard, continue to hear about the size of Nationwide being as many members and all the 14,000 plus storefronts, bigger than some of those big boxes combined, which is always impressive to hear.

And I want to wrap up. I’ve taken up a lot of your time. I know you’ve got a store out here to keep an eye on. You got people out there, great people, I know, doing things. But you want to be out on that floor. But I want to wrap up with just one more question, and kind of bringing it full circle. We talked about your story a little bit. So, a couple of daughters. Is there plans to get them in the business?

Debbie: So, I have twins who are 26. One is in the medical field, neuroscience. So, but my other one is in retail, and she’s working for macys.com and getting … There’s no better place to work than Macy’s, and as far as I’m concerned, if you want to be in retail, they give you such great, there’s this great talent there that … Wonderful place to learn and to grow, and the door’s always open for her here.

Rob: No pressure.

Debbie: She’s not ready, and she loves where she is, and I’m happy for her, but she knows the door’s open. So we’ll see.

Rob: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Now, I appreciate you inviting us to your store and sharing a little bit of your story, and knowing that you’re this close, I’m sure we’ll catch up down the line here pretty soon. And I’ll see you at PrimeTime.

Debbie: We’ll see you. Yeah, absolutely. Can’t wait.

Rob: Awesome. Well, thank you.

Debbie: Thank you.