The owners of Elders (from left): Eric and Dave Borst, Ron Boger and VP Jason Zandbergen
Charting his remarkable rise from sales floor to stakeholder
By Andy Kriege, YSN
Jason Zandbergen is described by his boss as “the glue” that holds Elders Appliance together. But after even a few minutes with him and his coworkers, it’s clear that super glue might be a more accurate description.
Since his inauspicious start at Elders some 13 years ago (more on that later), Zandbergen has worn many hats at the Grandville, Mich., appliance shop, which specializes in scratch-and-dent merchandise and is the oldest company in town.
What began as a sales job back then has evolved considerably over the years. Today, as vice president and part owner, Zandbergen, an avid member of AVB’s Young Professionals (YP) organization, has his hand in virtually every aspect of the business from managing the sales staff, website and social media platforms to handling all of Elders’s builder accounts. If that isn’t enough, Zandbergen also finds time to assist with the day-to-day business of running the store, including sales, unloading semi-trucks and assisting with the logistics of deliveries and parts.
“On any occasion you can find me at a distributor, out on a service call or at a customer’s home doing a delivery,” he said. “I have no issue jumping in anywhere a hand is needed.”
Brad Cole, chapter president of BrandSource Michigan, has also taken note of Zandbergen’s leadership. “When I first met Jason, he was an employee just doing his job,” Cole said. “He turned that job into a career. The independent channel could use a lot more Jasons in it.”
Zandbergen’s rise at Elders has been, in a word, remarkable, although he began proving himself from day one. As principal Ron Boger recalled of Jason’s first day on the job, “We were unloading a full semi-load of scratch-and-dent appliances when he jumped right in with zero experience to lend a hand. At that time, Jason was just a stick of a man, but he was scrappy. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t a dishwasher or dryer he was unloading but rather a full-sized French door refrigerator.”
“I wish I could tell you he had no issues, but he did,” Boger continued. “Had another employee not been there to stabilize it, it would have gone off the dock.”
Boger shared the story not to cast Zandbergen in a bad light, but to emphasize how he handled a tough situation with poise and humility. “I have seen many others in similar circumstances lose their cool, blame others and even quit,” he said. “But that’s just not who Jason was back then or is now. Jason is a man who will attack a problem and not let anything stop him.”
Today, customers know right away when speaking with Zandbergen that he really knows every detail, Boger said. “Some might argue that any employee who is at a business for over ten years can talk the talk,” he noted. “In Jason’s case, he has made it his business to learn every aspect of this business. He could have just settled for being nothing but a product pusher, but he did not. Jason is the glue that keeps Elders Appliance together.”
Passing of the Leadership Mantle
Boger recently retired and has since passed the mantle of responsibility to Zandbergen. “Among those responsibilities, Jason is becoming a part owner in the business,” he said. “All of my fears have been put to rest knowing that we have a new leader who is capable of taking this business to a whole new level.”
The Right Fit
Appliance sales came naturally to Zandbergen, who started out selling footwear in high school. “I figured if I could sell someone a comfortable pair of shoes, I could sell someone the right appliance,” he said. Fast forward 10 years, when Boger began talking succession, and Zandbergen knew he made the right decision to take the job at Elders. “I knew that this would be my future and that this is where I wanted to be. Although I’m not related, [the Elders team of] Dave, Eric and Ron have never made me feel like I wasn’t family. The rest is history, and I haven’t looked back since.”
High Praise for YP
Zandbergen first became involved with AVB’s industrywide Young Professionals (YP) networking group about six years ago and really enjoys the camaraderie of the organization’s 20- to 40-something up-and-comers. Asked about his favorite YP experiences, he was challenged to narrow it down to just a few.
“There have been so many,” Zandbergen said. “We went to Café Du Monde in New Orleans and an airboat tour in the bayou a few years back and that was an incredible experience. But more recently, the Ice Bar at the 2022 Summit really stood out, as it gave me a chance to really catch up with old friends as well as meet new ones. And watching the growth of the group over the last five years has been amazing.”
AVB’s Customer Experience VP Jennifer Baldwin, who is also director of YP, has high praise for Zandbergen. “Jason has always brought so much to the table during our best practice discussions,” she said. “Whenever we have newcomers join us, I can direct them to Jason, knowing he will make them feel welcome in the group.”
Zandbergen also raves about the relationships he has built within YP. “I speak to many [YP members] on a regular basis,” he said. “We bounce ideas, thoughts and best practices off one another, which has been an absolute plus. Being able to relate to different personalities and truly have a better grasp of who they are and how they handle things has also been very helpful.
“At every event I walk away with something special, making the time spent worthwhile,” Zandbergen added. “Then I start counting down the days until we get the opportunity to do it again.”
BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, furniture, mattress and CE dealers.