A Gamble in Iowa

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Kevin Wiskus needed to figure out how to run an appliance store and he needed to do it fast.

It was just over eight years ago when Wiskus found himself the victim of corporate downsizing. The manufacturing plant where he worked in his small town of Centerville, Iowa was moving offshore. Kevin did not want to relocate his family and leave the town he had grown to love and was so much a part of him, so he had to reinvent himself and find some other way to make a living.

Wiskus began looking at a fledgling small-town appliance store in Centerville without a clue about the appliance or retail industry. The store was barely keeping the lights on and the doors open when he began working there and poking his nose into the business.

It wasn’t long before he reluctantly found himself at the helm of a ship that was headed to the bottom. He worked several months as an unpaid employee before he grudgingly agreed to purchase it. Wiskus renamed the store Your Square Deal Furniture and Appliances. Just learning how to manage and operate an appliance store is a daunting enough task, let alone turning it around and making it a successful business. Wiskus has never been one to back down from a challenge, however, so he rolled up his sleeves and began to figure it out.

A lifeline from BrandSource…
“Sales were under $400K annually when I took over. I had to inquire why we were paying dues to a company called BrandSource,” Wiskus said. “Nobody could tell me what they did or why we were a member. I decided to call them and ask them what they were all about and why I needed to be a member. I spoke to a person in the home office and they were a huge help articulating what BrandSource did and spent a lot of time helping me.”

“In addition, I was put in touch with Tammy Braye from Doc’s Maytag who also was extremely helpful,” Wiskus continued. “Tammy insisted that I come to Convention to find out more about BrandSource. I told her I could not afford to go, and she said, ‘You can’t afford not to!’”

A peek behind the curtain…
Wiskus came to his first Convention in 2011. “I was blown away by the scale of it,” he said. “I remember coming up the escalator and immediately thinking this is not the mom-and-pop convention I thought it was going to be. I went to all the seminars, updates and sessions and was on information overload by the end of the show. The Whirlpool booth was bigger than my store.”

“My biggest takeaway from my first show was that there is a huge support network that I didn’t understand and that they [BrandSource] were there to help me,” Wiskus said. “I didn’t know how… but I knew I was going to be okay and that I was going to make it. It gave me great comfort.”

At the Convention in August, Wiskus spent part of the time huddled in hallways taking notes after attending educational sessions. This habit of taking detailed notes at every show dates back to that first Convention in 2011. “I just need to focus on three things. These three will be my goal to accomplish in the coming year,” Wiskus said. “There are hundreds of ideas I take notes on, but my goal is to focus on just three things that will improve my business and take action on those three things specifically.”

Among other things, that first Convention taught Wiskus how to buy and take advantage of specials offered exclusively at the shows. “My plan was to try to add $5,000 of profit to the bottom line and I decided that would be my goal every year,” Wiskus said. He attends virtually every seminar, event and speaker on the agenda. “I get something out of every one of them.”

Wiskus especially looks forward to John White’s update and refers to White as the “EF Hutton” of appliances. “When John talks, people listen,” he said. “He is one of the smartest guys in the industry when it comes to appliances and I never miss a chance to hear him talk.”

He attended Maytag University, too, and learned even more there. “I nearly doubled my gross margin in a year by making changes and doing things right,” Wiskus said. “Developing relationships with Whirlpool has helped tremendously. I can’t say enough about how they have helped me turn this business around. They have bent over backwards to make my store successful.”

Applying the knowledge…
By the second Convention, Wiskus learned how to buy at the high-velocity buying event known as the Stampede to further increase margins. In two short years his store went from being on life support to running full tilt.

In December 2013, Wiskus had an opportunity to double the size of the store and add new product lines that included mattresses and furniture. The adjacent retail space became available, so in his spare time, Wiskus knocked out some walls and took charge of a major remodeling project. That expansion, in both product and space, proved to be a tremendous success. The next year he nearly doubled gross revenues and increased margins even further. The store has more than tripled gross sales since he took over.

Because of his store’s incredible turnaround, Wiskus was awarded the prestigious Dealer of the Year Award in 2016. He was a little shocked by the honor, he said.  “I thought that was a lifetime achievement award,” he said. “I didn’t believe I would live long enough to get it.”

A call to all…
Wiskus’ ability to absorb information has been a tremendous asset and has helped to make his career gamble pay off big. His story serves as a clarion call to all BrandSource members that success will come to those who are willing to learn, accept change and act on good advice when it is given. 

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