One of Tinker’s two Corpus Christi showrooms
By Andy Kriege, YSN
One of the first things you notice when you meet Tinker Trombley for the first time is just how genuinely gracious, charming and engaging she is to everyone she meets.
Tinker greets complete strangers with a heaping helping of Southern charm and a smile that is so effusive you can hear it over the phone. It is easy to see how her charm has helped her achieve success in the business world, but it is her business acumen and instincts that have maintained it.
Tinker is the owner of Appliance Mart in Corpus Christi, Texas. She began working there as a very young woman when the company was launched back in 1978. Shortly after, the owner offered her and a couple of other employees the chance to buy into the business as minority owners. She eventually bought them all out and is now the sole proprietor of the two-store operation.
Last Woman Standing
When she first started out, there were 19 independent dealers operating in and around the Corpus Christi area; now, Appliance Mart is the only one left. “I wasn’t smart enough to throw the towel in, and besides I was having too much fun,” Tinker said with a laugh. The BrandSource dealer operates with an extremely lean staff of 10 and is on pace to do $5 million in sales this year. She is surrounded by big-box stores, with The Home Depot so close they share a driveway, but Tinker is unconcerned. “Heck, I put the Sears out of business,” she quipped, “and no one has ever thanked me.”
Tinker attributes much of her success to her on-hand inventory that is ready for purchase, along with same-day/next-day delivery. “I tell my suppliers, ‘If you have a truckload you want to get rid of, you know I’ll take it,’” she said. Her bulk buying has proven especially fortunate during the pandemic, as Tinker was told by a vendor that had she not been buying truckloads prior to the health crisis, she would not be getting them now.
Besides large buys, Trombley also stressed the importance of maintaining good relationships with all her vendors, whom she considers partners in her business. “I really go out of my way to maintain a great relationship with my suppliers,” she said. “I treat them the way I want to be treated.”
A Strong, Independent Woman
Earlier this year, when the government offered various emergency programs to help small businesses survive, Tinker chose not to participate. “I didn’t even look into them,” she said. “I have always felt that I can take care of myself. It has never been easy to run this business, and if I start taking help now, I might let my guard down and get in trouble.”
She works hard, even pitching in regularly to unload trucks, and Appliance Mart customers also appreciate her accessibility. “I sit right out in front in an open office and make myself available,” she said. “I take calls, I take questions. They know what I tell them is what is going to happen.”
A Great Leader
As a testament to her management, virtually all of the staff has had a long tenure with Appliance Mart, especially on the sales side. Indeed, three of her salesmen have worked for the company for over 30 years, and several others are closing in on two decades.
“I feel very blessed to have such a great staff working with me here,” Tinker said. “They are the best of the best.”
Tinker doesn’t believe that being a woman has presented any unique challenges or impediments to her success, shouting “Hell no!” at the suggestion. Indeed, when she asked her banker for a big chunk of money to buy out her male business partner, his only response was “How much do you need, and which account do we put it in?”
“I don’t think being a woman in this business is an advantage, nor do I think it’s a disadvantage,” she reflected. “I really respect the people I do business with and they give me that same respect irrespective of my gender.”
Tinker acknowledges that the Internet has changed the business to some respect. “I’ve had customers come in over the years and ask me to match online prices or have me service things they bought elsewhere,” she noted. With the latter, “I have to tell them no, that we take care of our own customers first.”
In fact, now that inventory is scarce, Tinker believes it is especially important to look after her builder customers and others that have been promised product, and will not sell herself short on inventory at the expense of loyal patrons. “I treat them just the way I want to be treated,” she said.
Not surprisingly, Tinker has no intention of sailing off into the sunset. Her game plan: She’ll know it’s time to get out when it stops being fun. “I love this business too much to stop,” she said. “I look in the mirror every day and ask myself ‘Girlfriend, are you going to do the best you can do today?’ So far, the answer has been yes, so I go out and do my best.”
BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.