By Allyssa Baird, Creative Content Specialist
Friedmans Appliance has followed many paths since its founding as a small, Oakland, Calif., appliance shop by Charles Friedman in 1922. But from appliance store to microwave specialty dealer, and from franchisor to Bay Area destination for premium appliances, all roads eventually led to AVB/BrandSource, which the company joined 16 months ago. Here’s how they got here.
Back in 1976, then owner Art Friedman transformed Friedmans into Friedman’ Microwaves, a 2,000-square-foot specialty shop, and began franchising the concept. At the time, these stores were very popular and profitable and began franchising, which is where Sylvia Thickett comes in as the first franchisee of Friedman’s Microwaves, and by 1990, Friedman’s Microwaves had grown to 120 locations.
But soon thereafter microwave ovens were being sold everywhere, causing their prices to be driven way down. When a local appliance shop, Sattler’s, closed in 1990, Sylvia married her husband Frank Worner, and together, as a husband-and-wife team, transformed the business, expanding the Pleasant Hill, Calif., store to all appliance categories. That same year the showroom was doubled in size to 4,000 square feet.
Enter Matthew Leachman, who joined the business in 1995 as a salesperson. Worner and Leachman were well acquainted, as Leachman had owned three Friedman’s Microwave stores, in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, Calif., from 1980 to 1994. Within a year of joining the team, he was promoted to Assistant Manager.
Later in 1996 the store expanded to 7,000 square feet and the Worner’s introduced their first vignette displays, prompting Leachman’s promotion to Store Manager in 1997. He continued climbing the ranks, becoming a Principal and General Manager in 2009, while the store expanded once again, this time to a considerable 25,000 square feet.
By 2017 Leachman assumed his current title of President and CEO, and owners Frank and Sylvia opted to sell the business in an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), wherein the employees were given shares and an ownership position in the company.
Today, Friedmans Appliance strictly sells appliances – no mattresses or electronics – and crosses all price tiers. It specializes in indoor and outdoor kitchens, as well as laundry and dishwashers, and carries Miele vacuums exclusively. However, its luxury appliance displays, including the Sub-Zero, Wolf and Cove installation (which is alone 4,000 square feet and is the largest “Living Kitchen” display in the country), are a sight to behold and feature the most demo products in one space.
What’s more, Friedmans is the only showroom in California to feature a Miele Innovation Center, or MIC store-within-a-store display, and theirs is the largest MIC in the Western U.S.
When it comes to service, Friedmans owns its own trucks and its employees perform all deliveries and installations, aided by a 20,000-square-foot standalone warehouse located just a few blocks from the store.
Friedmans joined BrandSource in October 2018 after spending eight years with another buying group. Leachman said the switch followed changes within the BrandSource Leadership Team, as he was very impressed with top management including CEO Jim Ristow, President Tom Bennett and CMO John White. Also making an impression was the AVB marketing team, including Global Creative Director Mark Baird, Marketing VP Brian Wattier and Senior Director of Marketing Danielle Diaz.
Sealing the BrandSource deal was Leachman’s obligation, as Friedmans CEO and trustee, to do what’s best for the business. Apparently, he made the right decision: Since Friedman’s join date in 2018, the company has enjoyed a 25 percent spike in business, growing from $40 million to $50 million in sales the next year with its 50-50 mix of premium to everyday retail products.
Asked about his favorite aspect of the job, Leachman pointed to the dramatic growth of the business over the years and the satisfaction he derives from the success of the store and its staff. “This was a $2 million business in 1995,” he noted. “It has gone from 18 to 58 employees, and I’ve been able to see a lot of personal growth within them; I have seen this company give them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.” And when he’s not minding the store, Leachman enjoys playing golf and watching his son play sports.
Which brings us to the Friedmans of today. The BrandSource member has differentiated itself from the competition by spending lots of time and money updating and changing its sales floor and continues to grow and evolve. Its showroom is unlike any other, with more live product than most appliance retailers. But throughout its nearly 100-year journey, one thing hasn’t changed: Friedmans still takes pride in putting its customers first and does everything possible to satisfy their needs.