Crane’s L&M Appliance Center in Saginaw Michigan
By Andy Kriege, YSN
Tragedy struck Crane’s L&M Appliance Center last December with the passing of business owner and family patriarch Raymond Crane.
The Saginaw, Mich.-based BrandSource member had previously operated as L&M Maytag. But after Crane acquired it in 1985, the family operation focused on scratch-and-dent and pre-owned appliances, along with a smattering of new SKUs.
Like many small businesses, Crane’s had its ups and downs and was plugging away, trying to navigate through the COVID crisis, when Raymond sadly died. The company found itself at a tipping point and might have succumbed to marketplace pressures, which were compounded by the chaos of COVID.
Fortunately for the family business, there was another Crane poised to do the heavy lifting and fill the void left by his father. Raymond’s son Eric had been working in or around the store since the age of 10, and when the time came to step up and take control of the business, he seized the opportunity and changed the company’s trajectory.
Running the business was seemingly Eric’s destiny. “I could rebuild a Maytag appliance with my eyes closed by the time I was 13,” he recalled, and now, at the ripe old age of 32, “I already have almost 20 years of service experience.”
His days as a service tech began when he was just 16. Back then, his father would load up his car with repair parts and Eric would begin making service calls the minute school let out. “This business is all I know; it comes second nature to me,” the younger Crane said. “My dad always encouraged me to learn more and be ready to eventually take over.”
While Raymond had no desire to expand the business, his ambitious son has his sights on the sky. “Dad was comfortable where he was at, whereas I want to continue to grow and take this business to a new level,” Eric said.
To that end, Eric has changed the Crane’s business model to include significantly more factory-fresh inventory, while deemphasizing the used and scratch-and-dent items that had been a staple of the company under his father.
In another shift, Crane’s no longer performs service on products purchased at the local box stores. “If we aren’t getting the sale, why should we do the service?” Eric noted. What’s more, “This change has really helped sales tremendously as we are one of the few servicers left in the area now, and customers realize that they need to buy from us to get service.”
Things actually began looking up several years back after the business joined BrandSource. “BrandSource has been a massive help with the credit card, financing, website and all the different programs,” Eric said. “We utilize as much as we can.”
Indeed, taking advantage of all the group has to offer has been a boon to the business. “Not long ago we were doing in the range of $700,000 to $800,000 a year,” Eric said. “Now we are a $2 million operation and growing,” with a staff that’s expanded from three to seven.
Another big boost came when Crane’s began merchandising its new website to highlight available inventory, while recent digital marketing initiatives have yielded a healthy return on investment.
“We still do a little radio, but 90 percent of the [marketing] budget is digital, and it has been working great,” Eric observed.
Eric and his mother Kellie have also been working hand in hand with BrandSource Financial (BSF) to put more product on the sales floor than ever. Said Program Director Chris Moore, “BSF has been doing business with the Crane family for nine years now. We are excited to hear more from Kellie and Eric about their recent store enhancements and what we can do to help.”
Kellie, in fact, has been an integral part of the business from the start, and still comes in every day to balance the books, pays the bills, wait on the occasional customer, and reign in Eric when, as she said, “he wants to spend too much money.”
Credit also goes to Michigan Region Manager Brad Cole, who has worked extensively with the family over the years on ways to enhance the business. “Eric was forced to take the wheel of the ship last winter and he has been doing a great job of taking the business to a new level,” Cole said. “He works hard, he’s willing to take advice and try new things, and he is very involved at the regional level here in Michigan.”
Eric presently has his sights set on opening a second location in an adjacent and affluent section of Saginaw within the next five years, which he believes has great potential. He plans to pursue the expansion once his primary store is honed to the point where he isn’t needed full time.
Asked what sets Crane’s apart from the competition, Eric doesn’t miss a beat. “Service,” he replied. “We have been blessed with great staff and have done a tremendous job of taking care of our customers.
With Eric now bringing new and innovative ideas to his family’s business along with the support of him mom and his buying group, Crane’s L&M Appliance Center is clearly poised for a long and rewarding future.
BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.