Before we dive into the story of Goedeker’s, I would love to hear more about your background prior to starting Goedeker’s and a little bit more about the history of the store.
My dad started Goedeker’s in 1951 by repairing TV’s in his basement. Soon after he opened a TV repair shop and then a few years later started selling TV’s – I would work with my dad after school and during the summers. When I graduated from college I was unsure of a career path so I started working for my dad. Shortly after I started my dad developed cancer and since I was the oldest of 9 the business was essential for the support of my mom and brothers and sisters. A few years later I added major appliances to our mix and soon outgrew the store we were in and had to move to a much larger location across from a major mall in St. Louis and added furniture, as well as appliances and electronics.
How do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace? Based on the reviews I have read online, it seems that your customers absolutely love Goedeker’s and the service that you provide. Tell me more about how you have generated this incredible passion for your brand amongst your customers.
We attempt to differentiate ourselves by delivering exceptional customer service which we call “mom care.” Our thought process and the way we train our employees is to ask yourself, “If this customer was your mom, how would you want her treated in this situation and then take care of the customer the same way you would want your mom handled.” We want to be exceptionally honest in everything we do and treat everyone with integrity. If you treat people with integrity it will build trust and trust builds loyalty. This is a simple mission but difficult to fulfill day-in and day-out but we are committed to live this.
Tell me about the 2008 recession and how this impacted your business.
The 2008 recession was just another difficult time for all business large and small. As the economy slowed down we do what all businesses do and that is try to find new ways to compete. We were heavily invested in higher end appliances and the downturn created a severe crunch to more expensive appliances as people started to buy more entry level appliances to fulfill their families’ needs and away from the glitz of professional brands.
Goedeker’s nearly went bankrupt in 2008. How did you pivot the company so quickly from selling nearly 100% of your products in-person to doing over 90% of your sales online?
We decided to try to sell online and our hope was if it could just generate a little volume for us we could survive the recession. We started by having two of my kids add all the products on our website while they were on summer break from school and did things little by little. We started the online launch with two people at a table one: who would answer the phone and another who would work on the website and price products. Our hope was just do enough to take the pressure off the brick and mortar location but we soon saw our online business grow.
It certainly was not easy as we had shipping issues, web site issues, damaged product being returned, etc. etc. We were learning as we went and it was painful but we were determined and too stubborn to quit. Little by little the online business began to be profitable and grow to be the dominate part of our business and is now our focus. We started with 15 employees and are now at 90 and growing. We continue to learn as we go and the more we learn the more we realize there is to learn. Learning never stops as the competition becomes more fierce as the large competitors have come to put more and more emphasis and investment on their online business and scaled back on their brick and mortar expansion. Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears, Best Buy, are all shifting focus to the online channel.
What was the biggest business mistake you have made while running Goedeker’s and how did you learn from this?
The biggest mistake I have made? My gosh there have been so many it is hard to pick just one. Some of the biggest mistakes were opening a huge store when we were not prepared for an economic downturn. This happened in 2001 when we opened another store in July and if the economy would have stayed strong it would have been OK but when 9/11/01 hit the economy died and we were not strong enough to make it and we had to close the new store.
What would be your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The best advice for entrepreneurs? Gosh I don’t feel qualified to give advice as I am still learning and always will be. If I had to say how it is that we have been able to survive would be because we have been blessed. I know that all the gifts I have come from God and without Him I can do nothing. He has given us the strength and determination to not quit when things got tough and when lawyers, accountants and business people all told us to quit we didn’t do so. We owed people money and I just didn’t feel it was right to quit and somehow it has all worked out. Of course business is always a battle and you are always learning and trying to improve and the past 63 years in business is no guarantee for future success.
What’s next for Steve Goedeker?
What’s next for me? Just keep trying to live a good life and serve God however He wants me to. I like what I do and I like the people I work with. It’s not about money, it has never been about money it has always been about doing the best we can at whatever it is we do.