Duerden’s: From $2M to $20M in 8 Years

Duerden’s reassessed every aspect of its showroom to improve the customer experience.

“There’s nothing we did that you couldn’t do.” —  Todd Hall

By Andy Kriege, YSN

Most people would think that to grow a business tenfold would take three generations and an influx of outside capital. Duerden’s Appliance & Mattress in Bountiful, Utah, proved you don’t need either.

What it did take will surprise you. The formula the company used to achieve this explosive growth can be boiled down into simple changes that every dealer can begin making today.

When owner Todd Hall purchased the business in 2013 it had been chugging along for over 50 years. The store wasn’t struggling, but it wasn’t growing either. The transformation that ensued over the next eight years began with a methodical process of identifying ways that could make the business better and more appealing. The simple question Hall posited was this: What would one have to do to make the store a destination that’s worth driving past dozens of box stores to go to?

YSN recently caught up with Hall, who generously shared his time and a bit of the secret sauce for success that has served Duerden’s so well.

Todd Hall and his wife Sheri are enjoying the sweet success of a growing business.

“I knew if we continued to run this business the way it had been for 50 years it wasn’t going to take us where we wanted to go,” he said. “From day one we made a conscious decision to improve upon every single thing we could. We started small: we straightened out the water filters, replaced the handwritten signs with printed ones, and cleaned the entire place top to bottom. I would actually have guys stand on ladders and survey the place to spot anything that could make us look better.”

The showroom began to look a little more attractive each day and soon became that destination worth driving past all those other stores to get to.

Next, Hall and his team simply began asking customers what they wanted, and later put the same question to suppliers, designers, and other stakeholders. Even when they declined to do business, Hall considered it an important learning opportunity. “If people tell you that they are happy with your competition, don’t get defensive but rather agree with them and ask what it is that they do for you that you value so much. Not only will you learn a ton, but you will also make a connection with that person and will likely be the one who gets a call if your competitor has a hick-up.”

The important takeaway, he said, is that “There is not one thing I have done that any business couldn’t do. I realize my market is different, but the principles are not.” What matters, he stressed, is knowing who your customers are and figuring out what they want.

“You need to be the best dealer in your area providing what it is that your market needs. You may need to be the best bi-lingual, scratch-and-dent financing dealer, or one that offers more to your existing customers, like selling them their cell phone plans, TV service, or maybe even their living room furniture.”

Hall was no stranger to retail when he acquired Duerden’s, having managed both Target and Home Depot stores. Nevertheless, owning and running his own business was all new terrain, and the company took off despite — or possibly due to — his lack of guidance. Indeed, Hall attributes much of his success to not being tethered to a legacy business model whose operating principles had been established a generation or two before.

This Sub-Zero/Wolf vignette is one of several live kitchens where Duerden’s customers can demo product.

“In my case, it turned out to be an advantage that I did not grow up in an appliance store.” He added. “I understood retail and business, and for better or worse I was free to make my own decisions. In a typical legacy business, your grandpa built a store to compete with Sears and your dad built his to compete with Home Depot and Lowe’s. But all of that is in the rear-view mirror now. Your store needs to be equipped to compete in today’s world and to constantly adapt to tomorrow’s.”

Hall can also cite a long list of initiatives that that didn’t work, but he remains adamant about the need to try new things. “Be decisive,” he advised. “I know I’m not always going to be right, but I am OK with that knowing I have the humility to abandon what doesn’t pan out and to move on.”

Hall acknowledged that the hardest practices to walk away from are the methods that used to work but don’t anymore. “These are the type of things that get baked into your DNA and are hard to shake,” he said. “The things that blow up in your face are actually quite easy to scuttle. The key is to be as aggressive about abandoning bad ideas as you are at embracing good ones.”

And by embracing, he means, “We work very hard to point out what is working, and then reinforce the heck out of it to make it stick,” he said.

Hall uses the same approach to land new business. “When we get a new contract we kill ourselves to knock it out of the park, because if we exceed their expectations they will likely give us the next one and the one after that.”

Ultimately, Duerden’s’ success rests upon stacking lots of small wins on top of each other. As Hall said, “If you just get a little better every week, in a few years you can be pretty darn good.”

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