It always struck Hosanna Vrontikis as odd that saleswomen are so few and far between in appliance showrooms.
By Alan Wolf
Afterall, despite great strides in gender equality, women still shoulder the lion’s share of household chores, and are often the primary end users of laundry pairs and other home appliances. The purchasing decision is hers as well.
Why then, Vrontikis has long wondered, isn’t that reflected on the sales floor?
Now a beloved area sales manager for GE Appliances covering Nevada, Idaho and her native Utah, the longtime appliance salesperson proved the point over and over again by becoming a top earner for each of the dealers she’s sold for. Those included heavyweights like BrandSource’s own Howard’s, and AVB founding member Pete Vrontikis & Son, one of the group’s original retailers.
“It’s a very male-dominated industry,” she observed. “Which is such a shame, because if there’s any such thing as a career advantage for women, this is it, in appliance sales. The woman has the last word in the purchase decision, which gives women in the industry an air of authority.”
If you noticed a similarity between Pete’s and Hosanna’s last names, it’s no coincidence – Pete was Hosanna’s father-in-law, and was Hosanna’s entrée into the Salt Lake City business, where she filed paperwork and answered phones while completing her degree in communication and public relations from the University of Utah. A turning point came one busy day when her husband asked if she could help a customer with a question about a Norge dryer. “Is this a good dryer?” the customer asked. “Yes,” Vrontikis replied, and made her first appliance sale.
“What do I do, what do I do?!?” she asked her husband, who told her to “‘Just write it up,’” she recalled.
In short order she would go on to sell three big-screen TVs, three consoles and “a whole bunch of appliances,” outselling Pete’s veteran salesmen and earning their ire. Nevertheless, “A switch went off in my head,” Vrontikis said. “I just loved it. It was so much fun, it wasn’t work. I was helping customers with their needs who in turn became my friends. I was in my element, and I also realized you can make a lot of money selling appliances!”
Pete closed the business in 1989 following his wife’s death, and Vrontikis and her husband moved to California, where she sought similar work. She was disappointed but not discouraged when another AVB founder, Phil & Jim’s, turned her down for the wrong reason. “We don’t need a woman on the floor,” they told her. But Vrontikis had much better luck at Howard’s, where she became the only female at their La Habra, Calif., store and regularly placed first or second in sales.
“I loved Howard’s,” she said. “I had so much damn fun.”
Following a promotion to manager of the chain’s Lake Forest location, Vrontikis and her husband moved back to Utah where they both worked for Circuit City – he opening new stores throughout the state, and she managing the chain’s top-selling computer department in the Western region. She stayed nearly four years, which was “unheard of” amid the retailer’s “churn and burn” staffing strategy, she said, and went on to join furniture and appliance dealer Granite Furniture. There, she again became a top salesperson and drew the attention of GE Appliances rep Rick Miller, who recommended her for a new merchandising specialist post with the manufacturer.
“I owe everything to Rick,” she said, although kudos also go to GE Appliances Executive Sales Leaders Jeff Cooksey, who tapped her for her current post; Dusty VerHey, who “taught me exactly how to be an area sales manager”; and Dayna Smith Saunders, a female manager and role model who supports and guides her.
Vrontikis’s dealer duties range from product training and implementing corporate initiatives to merchandising advice and troubleshooting, with varying degrees of mothering thrown in. For some dealers, like BrandSource’s Duerden’s Appliance & Mattress in Bountiful, Utah, “I just get the alligators out of the way and let them sell,” she explained. With others, like Jim’s Appliance & Furniture in Boise, Idaho, “I am part of their business; they call me their sister. They have my cell number and can call me any time. I’m there to support them any way I can.”
While Vrontikis also calls on and is close with big-box store accounts, independent dealers are particularly near and dear, given her local retailer roots. “There’s nothing I won’t do to help them,” she said. “It’s really important that they stay around, and I support them as much as possible. If they’re successful, I’m successful.”
The way she sees it, independents provide “a different level of care and service for their customers” than their big-box counterparts, which follow more of a DIY (do it yourself) model. “Most of the marketing and merchandising for the national chains is done at headquarters,” she said, which essentially relegates their sales staffs to order takers.
In contrast, “Independents care from the moment you walk in the door until long after the appliance is installed,” Vrontikis said.
Besides independents, BrandSource also holds “a very special place in my heart,” she added, and not only because of her father-in-law’s role in its creation. “BrandSource is a lot more hands on; there’s a lot more cohesiveness and comradery,” she noted.
If there’s any one piece of advice Vrontikis can offer her accounts, it’s that “It’s so important to have a woman on the appliance sales floor. I just can’t believe more people haven’t come to that realization yet.” Although “things have gotten better for women,” and she’s seeing more and younger females at GE Appliances meetings, she believes it’s a shame there still aren’t more women in the business. “It’s such a natural fit,” she said.
Vrontikis would like to think her career will help pave the way for others. “I hope other women will see what I’ve done, and it will give them the confidence that ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” she said.
YSN is published by BrandSource parent company AVB Inc.