Shauna Runkle always thought she might take over her family’s appliance business. Someday.
Ultimately, however, tragedy made the decision for her.
Runkle was only a year old in 1970 when her grandparents, Jack and Mariana Payne, opened Ja-Mar TV Appliance and Bedding in the small town of Portland, Indiana. In the mid-1980s Runkle’s parents, Troy and Kris Rose, bought it and continued the family business.
Unlike a lot of kids whose parents and grandparents own mom-and-pop shops, Runkle did not cut her teeth sweeping floors and helping with deliveries. Instead, she sat with her grandmother, Mariana, as she did the company’s books in a big ledger.
“She taught me debits and credits,” Runkle said. “I started doing that in eighth grade. I went to college – I thought I wanted to be an accountant – but I took two classes and thought ‘Oh, hell no.’”
Runkle switched to marketing and finance and swore to herself she would not return to tiny Portland, with its 6,100 people and small town vibe. After college, she married her husband Jim, and they moved to Indianapolis where she worked in the finance division for Thomson Consumer Electronics (RCA). After the birth of their first child, she realized that Portland was exactly where she needed to be.
She moved home, took a job at a bank and things were moving along fine. In March of 1999, they had their second daughter and a few months later, she began working part-time at Ja-Mar. In January of 2000, the business suffered a fire that caused $250,000 of damage. Two months later, they were still recovering from the fire when tragedy struck even harder: Runkle’s mother, Kris Rose, died unexpectedly.
It was a devastating loss that forced Runkle into a major decision when her father told her he couldn’t continue the business on his own and he needed more help.
“He literally looked at me said, ‘Either you come in full time or I’m closing up,’” she said.
Runkle’s mother had handled all the business for Ja-Mar – on a DOS computer, in fact – and Runkle had young kids. Working in the store full time wasn’t in her plan right then but she jumped in with both feet to keep the family business in the family.
Both the business and the family eventually recovered. Now she and her husband, Jim co-own Ja-Mar with her father and run it with a very skinny skeleton crew – just the two of them and one part-time delivery person. Her dad stops in occasionally to help out, as does a local high school student who helps unbox new inventory.
It’s a challenging setup – Runkle handles sales, ordering, accounts payable, accounts receivable and generally anything business-related, and Jim manages all delivery and service needs.
This year, the business suffered another setback when a tornado ripped through the Portland area on May 31. That day, Runkle’s husband was out on service calls when a friend called from a neighboring business to tell Runkle that the roof of her warehouse had blown off and was laying all over the parking lot, including on top of some cars. She and the part-time guy went outside and sure enough, there it was.
“Part of it was in the grass, some was over three vehicles, some was on the highway,” she said.
In the next moment, the rain started – torrential rain that poured into the warehouse through seams in the roofing. The two of them immediately began moving inventory into the showroom on handcarts, and suddenly she had more help than she needed.
“People just showed up, saying ‘Shauna what can I do?’” she said. “That’s the difference between a big city and a small town. I bet I ended up with 30 people – people who just stopped by and helped us move stuff. People brought food. A restaurant sent employees over to help.”
In the end, it took just two hours to move all the store’s inventory into the showroom, where it was safe from the rain. Runkle said without the help, it might have taken closer to eight hours. The tornado never hit the ground, she found out later, but created winds strong enough to tear up her roof.
“It never came all the way down, it was just enough to pull it off,” Runkle said. “We’re right beside other buildings, but we’re the only ones it damaged.” In addition to the roof, the storm ruined the equivalent of $50,000 worth of inventory, plus carpet and ceilings. All together the damage was between $150,000 and $200,000.
Runkle’s insurance company replaced all the affected inventory – anything with electronic parts that she was afraid might have been damaged by water – at full value, including mattresses.
“It was amazing,” she said. “They reimbursed us whatever the new cost would’ve been. I’m not selling stuff I know has gotten wet. It might not be damaged, but it might.”
The storm reinforced for Runkle the irreplaceable benefits of living in a small town. In fact, she said, the relationship between her business and her community has been getting stronger every year.
Portland is in the unique position of having no big box stores within 30 miles, but she considers stores such as Lowe’s and Menards – which are at least that far away – her competition. She’s seen the effects of those stores on consumer demand for her products change over the years.
“In the last 10 years people have been going that direction, but I’m starting to see that turn around and people come back in my direction,” she said. “Business in the last couple years has boomed like crazy. Part of it is hh gregg closing and Sears closing. I can’t wrap my head around it, exactly, other than some places closing and things turning around with big box stores.”
Another part of it is the effort Runkle puts in to explaining to her customers what it means to do business with Ja-Mar: “On service, our guys know their stuff,” she said. “If I say here’s the price, here’s the price. We’re up front, and it’s worked very well for us.” Really really well, actually. Just before Christmas, Runkle said business was up 28 percent over the year before.
Being part of BrandSource is another important component to Ja-Mar’s success, Runkle said, and that relationship started decades ago. She said her father was the second or third business to join from the Mid America Region, back when it was still known simply as AVB, “and the ones that joined before him aren’t in business anymore, so we’ve been with them the longest.”
Runkle went to her first BrandSource event when she was about 20. It was the Convention in Las Vegas, held that year at the Tropicana. Her father, Troy, was previously on the region board and even served as the board president at one point. Following in her father’s footsteps, she was on the board for the Mid-America Region about six years ago, and is on the board again now.
“Being a member of BrandSource had been very beneficial over the years,” Runkle said. “From being able to see new product at the shows to region meetings, speakers and pricing programs, it has all helped us to grow our business over the years. It has given us ideas and opportunities that we would not have been able to accomplish on our own.”
As business continues to boom, Runkle is giving some thought to making a few changes in the business – starting with hiring more staff. “If business continues the way it is, absolutely, we need to get more people in here,” she said. “We had some more employees at one point, some people retired and we didn’t replace them. It’s a little different than years ago when everything had to be handwritten. You don’t have to have as many employees as you had 30 years ago.”
Runkle said that even though her involvement in Ja-Mar didn’t go according to her original plan, she has no regrets about stepping in when she did. “Ja-Mar has been a part of my family since I was very little,” she said. “It’s been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember and it’s very important to me to keep my family’s legacy going. I hope that my Grandparents and Mom are watching down on us with pride and a smile knowing that we are continuing what they started.”