Les Turchin, 63, founder of the legendary New York metropolitan area Tops Appliance City chain, died Jan. 20, here, of cancer.
Turchin started the chain in New Jersey in 1970 with $25,000 saved working as a Sears salesman. Outgrowing his original New Brunswick store, he moved to Edison and opened one of the industry's first superstores, a 50,000-square-foot location.
Turchin, who left the chain in 1995, labeled Tops a “destination” store, an electronics/appliance superstore that provided selection, service and price. At its height, Tops was an operation just like Turchin: brash and flashy, with an edgy, in-your-face New York attitude. That attitude was illustrated in the chain's “Topsy” ad campaign.
Turchin saw the Sears' model and aggressively morphed it at Tops, emphasizing customer service. He personally trained his store's staff, and he pushed them to bend over backwards to solve customer problems.
Tops would eventually expand to eight locations in New Jersey and New York, and according to the TWICE Consumer Electronics and Major Appliance Retail Registries for 1995, the year Turchin stepped aside, combined sales for the two key categories were $426 million. The chain closed in 2000.
Turchin “retired” to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but decided to get involved in the lucrative South Florida real estate market. Turchin was also the majority donor for a $5 million student residence and activity center at Rutgers University, the Les Turchin Chabad House.
Tops alumni Phil Schoonover, recently named CEO of Circuit City, held several senior management positions under Turchin. He told TWICE, “Les was a great industry leader. He was a self-made man who built the business himself.”
Harry Elias, chairman of Akai, said, “Les built his business from the bottom up. At his Secaucus store I can remember seeing him on the platform looking at the sales floor. If he saw someone leaving without buying anything, he would walk down and say, 'Can I help you? Didn't you see anything you liked?' He was real, and I had the utmost respect for him.”
Turchin leaves his wife, Sharyn; his son, Todd; his daughter, Tara Latona; stepdaughters, Amanda Wendell and Lori Sperling; and three brothers. Services were held in Miami on Jan. 23.