The Times They Are a-Changin’

Calm Before the Storm: The Appliance Village team of, left to right, Dean, Randy, Laura, Marc, Brian and owner Tod Bellrichard appear well-rested in this pre-pandemic group shot. It was not to last.

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Tod Bellrichard has always believed the key to a business’s growth and success is its ability to evolve quickly and change with the times. And to quote fellow Minnesota native Bob Dylan, “The times they are a-changin.’”

Tod Bellrichard

Bellrichard is an accomplished business owner and a Marine Corps veteran. In all his 30-plus years in the trenches he has seen just about everything imaginable and has responded accordingly. Yet even he could not have imagined the crazy times we are living in.

Bellrichard is grateful that he was never forced to close and is not hurting for business.

“This is something entirely new for all of us,” he told YSN. “Even those of us who have worked here for decades have never experienced anything like this. We are going crazy keeping up.”

The Busy Challenge…

Who could have imagined that being too busy could be a problem in retailing? While Bellrichard certainly isn’t complaining about the surge in business he has been experiencing, it has presented its own set of challenges for himself and his approximately 20-person staff at Appliance Village, his store in Rochester, Minn.

Indeed, business is so brisk that there are times when salespeople can’t even answer the phones, much less return messages. A shortage of both product and knowledgeable staff has customers flocking en masse from the box stores to their more adapt counterpart — the independent dealer. Appliance Village has been the benefactor of this migration as it is the last independent appliance dealer in the Rochester area. Bellrichard estimates that about a third of the potential customers in the area would shop his store in normal times. He now, he believes, he is getting two thirds of the region’s business.

It Takes Time

While this may sound like a dream scenario, being crazy busy in a pandemic has its challenges — namely, everything takes more time. Bellrichard’s top priority is to order and secure enough product to meet demand, and the task — hunting for available SKUs to supply his store for months in advance — easily eats up twice as much time as it used to. “We don’t turn anything down for inventory,” he said. “If we can get it, we take it. We know we can sell it.”

What’s more, each sale takes longer as well. “The customers are still doing their homework online before they come in, and typically hone-in on one particular product,” Bellrichard said. “When they come in, they find out that they can’t get it right away and don’t want to wait.”

At this point, the customer typically pivots to something in stock but has to be educated on the new product choice. “So now we start from scratch and show them what we do have,” he said. “The salesperson has to check inventory, availability and what is on backorder.”

Hold Please

The buildup of orders has led to additional phone inquiries as customers are constantly calling to check on the ever-increasing backlog of product on backorder. “We have a file of orders waiting to be finalized,” Bellrichard said. “That file folder is so thick I can’t squeeze another one in. It is three times as large as it has ever been for orders waiting on products to come in. It’s ridiculous! I have over 600 items on backorder in just one brand, and it is not my largest vendor.”

Be Mindful of Employees

Bellrichard has been able to retain his entire staff after temporarily losing a couple of people early on in the health crisis. Mindful of the added stress on his team, he has been doing things like taking time to say, “Thank you” and buying lunch as simple a gesture of appreciation to his overworked people. “It is so hectic we don’t even get a small break to catch up on phone messages or take care of administrative or personal stuff,” he said. “I do really appreciate that they have stepped up to meet the challenge.”

“I feel especially sorry for my delivery guys,” he added. “Every day is jammed and there are no breaks. They are doing long days of tough work even when it is 90 degrees out and are hitting it hard while working in masks.”

Bellrichard also recognizes that his employees need a break from work and accomodates their requests for time off, even if it means fewer hands on deck.

Customers by and large have been understanding and gracious. While it is “fun to surprise them with something that comes in before you thought it would,” there is more stress because the staff is accustomed to taking care of every customer, something that is simply not possible now. “You have to make an effort to not let little things get to you,” Bellrichard sighed.

The Appliance Village owner expects the uptick in business to continue, by winning over many of the big-box customers who found their way through his doors. “The box stores don’t have the necessary knowledge and experience to really help people,” Bellrichard said. ‘Shop local’ used to be a saying. Now it is becoming more of a reality.”

Bob Dylan couldn’t have called it better — the times they really are a-changin’!

YSN is published by BrandSource parent AVB Inc.