Nationwide member Jane Cole, a principal of Cole Air Conditioning & Appliance in Athens, Texas, is concerned by her company's 35 percent drop in business, but not unnerved.
“We saw it in the 1970s when unemployment was also above 7 percent, and in the 1980s when interest rates were high. Now the construction industry [which Cole serves as a heating and air conditioning contractor] has come to a halt.”
Taking up the slack are the dealer's premium appliance, gourmet kitchen and custom-installation businesses. “We're getting a lot of replacement business,” Cole told TWICE while attending her buying group's PrimeTime! convention, here. “People are staying in their homes and choosing to remodel,” with average installs running between $15,000 and $20,000.
At the same time, “We've tightened our belts and got rid of inventory we don't need,” said Cole, the company's chief financial officer. “You have to keep your inventory tight, watch your spending and continue to advertise. Advertising is key.”
Despite the lean times, a headcount reduction is not in the cards for Cole. “We've had 33 employees for the past 26 years and have not laid off anyone in the 42 years we've been in business,” she said.
Instead, the company has expanded its operations with a bridal registry for gourmet kitchen accessories and a solar-panel-installation service. “You have to focus on what's good and strong in your business and quit trying to change the negative media,” Cole said. “We're not getting a true picture, and it creates a vicious cycle — they're scaring the consumer who cashes out their stocks and causes the market to fall.”
Nevertheless, Cole expects to see the beginning of a recovery within the next six months.
Even if things don't turn around anytime soon, the company isn't going away without a fight. “Service is what we sell,” said co-principal Joel Cole. “We may go down, but we'll be one of the last ones to do so.” — Alan Wolf