By Alan Wolf

In the world of retail sales, online reviews can make or break a store’s reputation. So when longtime family business Plaza TV & Appliance in Minnesota got a so-so review last fall, it stunned the owners into taking drastic action. 

Business at Plaza had hummed along fine since Lambert and Linda Motz opened their doors in 1953. Plaza is run now by their children, Dave Motz, Scott Motz and Tammey Nowacki, along with Tammey’s husband Brian and other family members. The store has two locations: a main store and warehouse in West St. Paul and a showroom in Maplewood. 

Last fall, the owners were talking with BrandSource about taking part in its nascent store makeover program, which had shown great results in Maytag channel stores, but hadn’t nailed down the specifics yet. After the online review, they ramped up their plans. 

“He reviewed us and said there was nothing special about this place,” said Brian Nowacki. “We thought, ‘That sure hurts. But they’re probably right.’”

After so many years in business, Plaza was thriving, but its brick-and-mortar locations were getting a little threadbare. And as is so often the case, the people who spent the most time there – the owners and employees – didn’t notice the little details. 

To fix what was ailing Plaza, the AVB crew descended on the Maplewood showroom in January for a three-day, $30,000 makeover that has completely revitalized the facility and energized the staff at Plaza. 

“It’s something that makes you say, ‘Why didn’t we do this 10 years ago?’” Brian Nowacki said. 

The AVB Makeover program was officially unveiled at Summit in March, with CEO Jim Ristow using Plaza as an example of how members can participate. The group has put together what Ristow called toolkits, with paint, signage and merchandising ideas ready to go for retailers who want an interior refresh. 

“Region managers have packages ready,” Ristow said. “If you want to use the crew, it’s around $30,000 give or take. If you just want a refresh, it’s a few thousand dollars to refresh with paint, etc. The premise wasn’t just to get excited, it’s about having the in-store experience match the new digital experience.”

Ristow was a key component of the Plaza makeover, Nowacki said, taking part in planning meetings, being on-site during the three-day project and helping out with every aspect of the work, including making runs to the hardware store for materials. 

“You have the CEO of your group moving vignettes, painting, he’s pushing a broom,” Nowacki said. “You’re thinking, my god if he’s working this hard for you, you’ve got to work hard.”

The process of completing the makeover was grueling, especially for the California-based AVB construction crew. The project happened just before the polar vortex hit the Upper Midwest, but the temperature was below zero the whole time. 

“The polar vortex came later but we were cold, like -9, and the crew was really great,” Nowacki said. “They were outside sawing, working; anytime it dropped a degree they’d call home to tell the people in California how cold it was.”

BrandSource President Tom Bennett said the AVB Makeover program is a natural extension of the work that’s already been done on digital marketing and promoting members’ online presence. 

“The first thing we believe people need to invest in is a website,” Bennett said. “What can be next? We’re going to go from clicks to bricks – we need to get the stores up to par. We believe customers should have that same experience when they pull into the parking lot.” 

In fact, Bennett said, research revealed that customers who visit a store will sometimes pull right back out of the parking lot without going inside if the store looks dingy, shabby and old. 

 “Members and our staff saw we needed to do some refreshes,” Bennett said. “We saw a need – we have best-in-class websites now, and now need to have a best-in-class store experience.”

Tammey Nowacki, who has been working in her family business since she was a kid, said Ristow, Mark Baird and the whole AVB Makeover crew provided invaluable help in planning, building and perfecting the new store. 

“Jim walked in and said, ‘You should have a vignette here, and something else there,’” she said. “It opens your eyes to what we should be doing. We should’ve been doing it a long time ago.”

The biggest change at Plaza was moving the customer service desk from the back wall to the front of the showroom, to the center in front of the entrance where customers can’t miss it and where employees are happy to be near the big windows. That department was replaced by a new TV and electronics section, which is overseen by eldest brother Dave Motz. 

“Every time I walked into the store I just had that blah feeling,” he said of the pre-makeover showroom. “The TV section was enclosed in the corner. If you didn’t walk over in that area, you didn’t really know we have electronics.”

Ironic, since electronics are in Plaza’s DNA: When Lambert Motz first went into business, he started out doing TV and radio repair and his first retail venture was selling TVs. 

As part of the makeover, Plaza started using AVB TV – since they could wire the electronics and appliance areas for HDMI – and now run video content relevant to the brands they sell. 

“It was way easier than I thought it was going to be,” Motz said of AVB TV. “You click on the brands you want featured and a day later it takes off.”

Between new paint colors inside, new cabinets and displays and rearranged vignettes, Plaza is now a place where Motz wants to spend time. 

“In our area, Sears stores are gone basically, and you really have to step up your store presence,” he said. “This remake puts you on par with big box stores and you really have to do that for your customers. They tell their neighbors, they tell their friends. I think that’s what we were missing. I hardly liked even going over there, now I don’t want to leave.”

That’s another benefit of a makeover, Bennett said – the good it does for customers and employees alike. 

“We’ve seen a huge change in attitude for employees in the stores we’ve done,” Bennett said. “There’s a renewed sense of pride, the attitudes are better – they work in a great building now. The consumer still does shop on the internet, then he wants to go shop in the store. We need to do that in a world-class environment. That’s why we need these kits.” 

Plaza is now looking at doing another makeover for its main store in West St. Paul – this time using a toolkit and employing local contractors. 

“We’re definitely going to use the group, we’re definitely going to use what we learned in the first project,” Brian Nowacki said. “Not just the physical part of doing the work but the ideas.”

Tammey Nowacki said contrary to how the showroom was put together previously, the cabinets and vignettes are now built with future changes in mind. Things will be easy to take apart and replace so the store can stay fresh and it won’t take a construction crew three days to change out, and that was all because of the expertise AVB brought to the project. 

“It really is about the members,” she said. “We feel it. We’re in the right group.”   

YSN is published by BrandSource parent company AVB Inc.