Don’s Appliances: 50 Years of Doing it Right

By Andy Kriege, YSN

To get a sense of Don’s Appliances’ longevity, Richard Nixon was in the third year of his presidency when the dealer first opened its doors; Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” topped the charts; and Clint Eastwood made everyone’s day cleaning up San Francisco as “Dirty Harry.”

The business traces its humble beginnings to the spring of 1971. That’s when Don Hillebrand decided to leave the security of his job as a Maytag repairman and pursue his dream of running his own shop.

Don’s original store in the early 1970s (left), and Don and Jill Hillebrand outside the same location today.

Fast forward 50 years and Don’s Appliances now operates 10 stores in the greater Pittsburgh and Erie areas. This includes the operation of a dedicated kitchen-and-bath showroom called WATERSOURCE by Don’s Appliances. Add to that a factory outlet that sells discounted goods and you have a finely tuned operation that dominates western Pennsylvania’s retail scene.

All five of Don’s sons now work fulltime in the retail juggernaut that their father started with just one employee. Brothers Tim, Terry, Matt, Jason and Nick are all partners in the family business, each overseeing their own area of expertise. The enterprise works remarkably well considering their distinct personalities, and the common pitfalls that too often arise when multiple stakeholders run a second-generation business.

Tim put it best when addressing the family dynamics. “It’s not always easy working together,” he said of his partners. “But we all leave the business matters inside the four walls of work and continue to be a family when we leave.”

Don celebrated the 25th anniversary of his retail enterprise in 1996.

Don’s first encounter with the appliance business was a help wanted sign in a Maytag store window, which he passed while walking home from school in the late 1950s. He landed the job and repaired wringer washing machines for several years until Maytag lured him away. After four years with the vendor Don decided he wanted to strike out on his own and opened a store in the Upper St. Clair section of southwest Pittsburgh in 1971.

As his wife Jill recalled, “We were out on the back patio sitting down to eat when Don came home from work and said, ‘We are going to start our own store.’ When we told my mother she said to him, ‘Come on Don, how many refrigerators can you sell?’” In hindsight, the answer is “plenty,” as Don’s Appliances has sold an astonishing 10,471 refrigerators in 2020 alone!

In the beginning Don worked tirelessly from early in morning until late at night. The boys hardly saw him at home, but all worked in the business from a young age, sweeping floors, washing trucks and absorbing as much as they could.

Click Here: Don’s Appliances Timeline

Click Here: Don’s 50th Anniversary Video

“My dad is the hardest working man I ever met,” said Tim, who along with brother Terry began riding along with their dad while still in grade school. “He instilled his work ethic and values in all five of us.”

Don Hillebrand (center) surrounded left to right by sons Matt, Tim, Terry, Jason and Nick

YSN asked the Hillebrand brothers why Don’s Appliances has done so well for so long. For Nick, “What sets Don’s apart without a doubt is our people. We all sell the same pieces of steel. The difference is our amazing employees, dedicated to our mission of taking care of our customers.”

From Matt’s perspective, “Don’s being in business 50 years is a testament to the collective drive of this family. The amount of work my brothers and I have devoted to grow this business is what people truly don’t see. They see where we are today, but nobody sees the hard work, long hours, and extended weekends that it took to get us here.”

Tim summed it up by saying, “Without dad’s 20-hour days none of this would be possible. That his vision and determination have allowed six families to thrive is amazing to me. The sacrifice both of our parents have made over the years is incredible.”

BrandSource congratulates Don’s Appliances on 50 years of outstanding service to the greater Pittsburgh community. Here’s to 50 more!

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.