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Standard TV & Appliance: Back From The Brink

PORTLAND, ORE. – The last five years have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for owner Bill Gander and his staff at Standard TV & Appliance.

After enjoying its best year ever in 2007, business at the family-owned majap chain fell 50 percent by 2010, as the Pacific Northwest reeled from the Great Recession and Standard lost 80 percent of its commercial and homebuilder accounts.

“It was the worst time in my life,” Gander recalled. “We took massive losses. It was brutal.”

With his company’s very existence on the line, Gander took drastic and unprecedented action by laying off nearly half the workforce, closing two leased stores, restructuring the management team, slashing costs, and holding on tight.

At stake were more than 240 livelihoods, and the business his dad began in 1947 by repairing and selling used refrigerators first out of his home, and then from a small, 1,000-square-foot showroom that he opened here in 1952.

Fortunately, the company was better prepared than most for the economic storm: Thanks to Gander’s fiscal discipline, Standard paid off its debt during the boom times and had a clean balance sheet when things got rough. In addition, “We pulled down our horns and got very aggressive with accounts receivable,” he said.

Taken together, his moves saw the business through what he calls “the white-knuckle period,” and beginning in 2011 “we got one nostril above the water” and returned to profitability, albeit with an earnings gain of just 0.35 percent.

Conditions continued to improve through 2012, and today the business is finally gaining some traction as the commercial channel, which represents one-third of revenue, is coming back with new luxury and mainstream home construction, more home-improvement projects, and renewed demand from multifamily property managers and the secondary rental market.

But the fastest-growing segment for Standard is retail, where customers are drawn to the chain’s four large-format showrooms in Beaverton, Bend and Portland for their live vignettes and expansive array of opening-price-point to ultra-premium appliances.

CE is also represented, but despite the company’s name, the category comprises only 7.5 percent of the retail sales mix. With gross profit dollars falling 75 percent over the past six years, the limited assortment of TVs, HTiBs and soundbars are largely used as traffic drivers, Gander said.

Standard’s biggest profit centers are mattresses and, hearkening back to its beginnings, pre-owned appliances. While mattresses represent 4.5 percent of the mix, up from 1 percent 4 years ago, and used majaps comprise just 1 percent of total sales, the two categories together account for fully 50 percent of Standard’s pre-tax net.

Also driving traffic is Standard’s renewed marketing effort, which took time to get “back on message” by highlighting the company’s knowledgeable sales staff, same-day delivery, in-house servicing and local roots. More recently, Gander has begun rehiring, bringing on an additional 35 employees, and is gearing up for the eventual opening of a new 43,000-square-foot location once he gets past a six-month-long regulatory battle with Portland.

Besides the recovering economy, the Nationwide dealer attributes his company’s dramatic turnaround to the old-fashioned values of hard work and perseverance – and “keeping one step ahead of everybody.”