What keeps Mrs. G TV & Appliances a destination for a third generation of New Jersey and Pennsylvania shoppers?
Large attractive showroom? Check. Knowledgeable, experienced staff? Check. A wide selection, community roots and a high-profile owner who stands behind her sales? Check, check and check.
Those factors, and more, have helped Mrs. G weather the local, national and business challenges of the past 84 years to remain a regional icon in suburban Lawrence Township, N.J., located between New York and Philadelphia, and bordered by Princeton to the north and the state capital of Trenton to the south.
It was in Trenton that the company came into being in 1935 as a plumbing supply business, founded by Abe and Beatrice Greenberg. The couple added appliances to the mix following World War II as returning G.I.’s married and new households formed, and they made majaps and TV their focus in the 1950s as the baby boom took hold.
Not unlike another industry matriarch — the celebrated Rose “Mrs. B” Blumkin of Nebraska Furniture Mart fame — Beatrice became the focal point of the business and literally its face, with her likeness incorporated into the logo.
Fast forward two generations to the present, when Mrs. G TV & Appliances has neither a Mrs. G (she passed 8 years ago) nor TVs, which were largely dropped amid the collapse of video margins. Instead, the company has the next-best thing to Beatrice: her granddaughter, Debbie Schaeffer (pictured above), a civil engineer by training who picked up the mantle and successfully fended off big-box incursions along the company’s heavily-trafficked Rt. 1 business corridor. Her formula: expand the assortment with super-premium appliances; court the designer, architect and contractor communities; embrace digital; and transition, nearly four years ago, to the current 12,000-square-foot showroom, which sits adjacent to a wholesale flooring business.
“We all have the same competition,” Schaeffer said of her neighbors, which include Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Best Buy, Costco, Ferguson and P.C. Richard. (Gone is the local Sears and a former hhgregg superstore.) “But I’m not sure anyone has them a mile away on their road.”
The first line of defense, she said, is her 23-person staff, which is highly skilled and in it for the long haul. “We have a great team,” Schaeffer noted. “We’re not order takers; we ask the right questions and are there for our customers before, during and after the sale.”
Emblematic of the company’s esprit de corps and employee tenure is Tom Gray, who’s been with Mrs. G for more than 50 years. He’s presently passing his responsibilities as general manager off to his son Chris, himself a 30-year-veteran who joined the retailer after college.
Also invaluable is the support of the buying groups, which even the playing field with competitive vendor programs that take pricing out of the equation, and provide inventory, education, back office services, and the best practices of peers. “The buying groups are fabulous,” she said. “They care. None of us would be around today if it wasn’t for them.”
To that end, Mrs. G is a member of the Nationwide Marketing Group, whose digital signage dots the showroom floor courtesy of the group’s PrimeMedia video production facility in Atlanta, which also dispenses retail training. Moreover, the company’s 13,000-square-foot attached warehouse is filled with inventory, most already sold, that’s trucked from nearby Monroe Township, N.J., where the Appliance Dealers Cooperative (ADC), a chapter of the NECO Alliance, maintains a 210,000-square-foot distribution center, allowing for next-day delivery.
The assortment itself spans more than 50 brands, running the gamut from promotionally-priced fridges and washers to its more recent forte: luxury kitchen appliances. Many are displayed within vignettes, like the dedicated Wolf/Sub-Zero/Cove room. There’s also a separate super-premium section featuring cooktops and refrigerators by Thermador, Viking, LG Signature and Hestan; a wall-mounted La Cornue rotisserie; and a complete, fully-functional Mrs. G Community Kitchen, including induction downdraft cooktop, that’s used for cooking demos and courtesy of Jenn-Air.
The one thing you won’t find on the showroom floor, however, besides TVs, are mattresses. “We tried it,” Schaeffer said, “but It wasn’t in our wheelhouse.”
She is, conversely, a big proponent of smart appliances, even if her customers are not (“We want to be ready,” Schaeffer said), and has hitched her connected wagon to Google — selling its Home Hub and assorted Nest products and using her own home as “a Google laboratory.” She’s also especially keen on app-based, scan-to-cook automated range and cooktop settings, made possible through Whirlpool’s acquisition of online recipe resource Yummly and GE’s new partnership with Hestan Cue.
“We’re trying hard to bring people back into the kitchen to cook great meals, and scan-to-cook is foolproof,” she said.
Speaking of digital, Mrs. G is well-versed, with a dedicated staffer handling the web, and Schaeffer herself taking the lead on social media that includes mostly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and the occasional MrsGs.com blog. “It’s very valuable,” she said, as are customer reviews, which patrons are encouraged to share on Yelp, Foursquare, Houzz, Google and the company website. Schaeffer also maintains a 10,000-customer database, used for email campaigns.
Despite full e-commerce capabilities, Mrs. G limits online sales to its immediate trading area, which includes Philadelphia and, for special customers, New York, rather than outsource the customer experience to a remote third-party service. However, area deliveries and repairs are entrusted to long-time local service providers to avoid the complexities and overhead of fleet maintenance, while an on-staff troubleshooter is on hand to remedy the more readily-resolved customer issues.
Amid her engineering background and affinity for technology, Schaeffer hasn’t lost sight of the hands-on, pay-it-forward approach that endeared her grandma to generations of customers. Like the original Mrs. G, Schaeffer’s desk is stationed by the showroom entrance, where she’s often the first to greet visitors, and she remains active in the greater community, lending her showroom and support to local charitable organizations including the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Central & South Jersey, Senior Care Services, the National Junior Tennis & Learning of Trenton, the Arts Council of Princeton and the Easel Animal Rescue League. For her efforts she and the business were variously bestowed the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Small Business Award; the Women in Consumer Electronics Legacy Award; the Princeton YWCA Tribute to Women Award; and the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Innovator of the Year Award, among other honors.
Looking ahead, Schaeffer has no intention of adding new locations, preferring instead to continue nourishing and possibly expand the current one. More pressing though is enlisting her twin adult daughters in the family business, so that one day she can pass her CEO and chief customer officer hats to them, as Grandma Beatrice did to her.
Her likely advice to the twins, based on her own retail tenets: “Keep track of the trends, see what sells in the store, buy what’s innovative … and give back to the community.”