Julie Abbey, co-owner of Appliance Center in Ohio, was a single mom, working hard to take care of her daughter and make ends meet. She worked a full-time job during the day and with a lot of perseverance and dedication, she put herself through law school in the evening. But shortly after she finished school, and much to her surprise, she set aside her law degree and picked up a retail appliance manual.
“I have no regrets in not pursuing my law career full-time,” Abbey said. “I realized early on my career goals were centered around helping people. It did not matter to me in what capacity I did that, whether it was providing legal services or selling refrigerators and couches; what mattered to me was being able to make a difference in people’s lives, develop lifelong friendships and help those around me in every way I was able.”
Abbey co-owns Appliance Center’s two locations, in Maumee and Sylvania, Ohio, with her brother John. They purchased the store 30 years ago from their father, who originally only had aspirations to sell to his sons. But Abbey set out to prove him wrong. She went to law school and convinced her dad that she and John could take over the business together. She deals with the day-to-day operations of the store including purchasing, training, human resources, payroll and legal.
Appliance Center started back in 1963 as a records and electronics store. Abbey’s father purchased the store and built it into the retail appliance and electronics business. Since then, Abbey and her brother have expanded the store and added a second location to cover a multitude of different products including furniture, mattresses, cabinets and flooring. They have four full-time cabinet designers and close to 170 employees across all locations.
Abbey works virtually around the clock to keep the business successful and her employees thriving. Employee success and customer satisfaction are her number one priorities. “I love what I do here,” she said. “Owning your own business is great because you can pick your own 80 hours per week you want to work. If I want to work at 3:00 in the morning, that’s okay, because that works for me. I am never not at the business because I am committed to
be the best business owner I can be.”
As a successful business owner, Abbey knows that community involvement is so important for Appliance Center. She takes great pride in the business and its ability to help those in need in the surrounding community. “When I took over this business, I wanted to make sure I had the ability to give back to the community,” she said. “My goal is to say yes to every single charitable organization that walks in our door. We may not be able to give the full amount they are asking for, but I always make sure to give them something to help. This business has enabled me to do some incredible things for our local area, and for that I am very grateful.”
In the retail appliance and furniture industry, there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to being a woman in business. Abbey said she works very hard to hire, train and encourage women to step up and lead. She has dozens of women working in all different types of roles throughout the company.
“At times, being a woman in this industry can be a challenge,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is still this stigma around women in the retail appliance and furniture business. We are not always treated the same as men when it comes to purchasing decisions and we are brushed off as not being the primary authority figure in the business. It can be very frustrating when we are not treated equal to men, especially because women make so many of the buying decisions in today’s environment.”
Right now, Abbey is very happy with the success of the business, but she is hopeful for the store’s future when she steps back someday. Her daughter currently works at the store but does not have plans to take over the business when the time comes. However, her niece and nephew, Jack and Sophia, are both in middle school have been raised around the business. They have voiced interest in someday taking over the stores and Abbey is optimistic her legacy will live on through them.
Abbey has had great success throughout her career as a woman in business and encourages other women to pursue their goals. Her best advice for women in the business world is simple. “Women tend to sell themselves short and they are their own worst critic,” she said. “You always have to tell yourself you are good enough. Be patient with yourself and be patient with others. Some days are tough, but always be proud of who you are, treat yourself in a positive way and make an effort each day to help other people.”