Furniture & Appliancemart Superstore
Vince Fonti had no idea that his military training in refrigeration equipment and assignment to Wisconsin would ultimately lead him to own a successful furniture, appliance and electronics business in Stevens Point and Wausau Wisconsin. While stationed in Madison in the fifties, he fell in love with a local girl and the area. Completing his military duty, he put his refrigeration skills to work with Montgomery Ward and American TV until 1968.
The first Appliancemart opened in a former Red Owl grocery store in Madison. Existing furniture stores were acquired in Stevens Point (1985) and Wausau (1989) and reformatted to fit his operating style as Furniture & Appliancemart Superstores. The Madison operation was eventually sold. Vince's three sons and son-in-law are part of the company's management team as well as long time business associate Ralph Pfeiffer.
The retailing locations are extremely well maintained and the rest rooms can be compared to those in fine country clubs. The entire atmosphere is customer friendly.
Customer paperwork and payment arrangements are finalized in customer service with a Storis software system. Forty per cent of furniture is special ordered. Same day delivery is available for appliance replacement when necessary. While some electronics items, recliners and accessories are loaded in the customer's vehicles, only 10% of major purchases are customer pickups, a surprisingly low figure. Standard delivery is either morning or afternoon by geographic area six days a week.
Warehousing is a real challenge since the two stores are currently supported by six warehouses. Ware-house management at all locations coordinate incoming shipments to minimize delays for inbound freight delivery. Most truckloads stop at two locations. The management team is evaluating options to boost their warehouse efficiency.
Most of the powered warehouse equipment is from Crown. Appliances are stored in bulk or on racks and furniture is stored on cantilever racks to enhance space efficiency and damage prevention.
The delivery process starts two days before the scheduled delivery date. Last minute orders are added the next day and the trucks are loaded the afternoon before delivery. The delivery crew may have to visit several warehouses and the store to complete loading. Customers are always called the evening before delivery to confirm.
Customer deliveries are done by store employees. Company supplied clothing includes a jacket, shirts and T-shirts, which all carry the Appliancemart logo.
Recruiting service personnel is a challenge nationwide, and Furniture and Appliance Mart has been generally successful at promoting their warehouse/delivery people to service positions. Their unique incentive system is a strong motivator for these employees to do everything they can to achieve customer satisfaction on the first service call to the home.
Recent large truck purchases have been new low profile Navistar trucks with a rating of under 26,000 pounds. Older trucks which require a Commercial Delivery License (CDL) are being phased out. Wisconsin temperatures and wind chill can get bitter, so all the diesel engines have heaters and extra fuel additives are used in winter. Bodies are all aluminum with opaque roof, wood tie strips and pull out aluminum ramp. There is a selection of appliance cords, a heavy duty appliance/furniture dolly, blankets and a well equipped tool box on every truck. They have settled on 24 ft. bodies for maneuverability in their operating area. Two cube vans are used for immediate delivery of appliances. The interior of each vehicle I looked at was clean, a testimonial to the quality image the company wants to present at every opportunity. All vehicles have cellular phones.
Furniture & Appliancemart Superstore has taken an interesting approach for service vans. All are purchased used, either as manufacturer program vehicles or from rental fleets with low mileage. They look brand new and are purchased at substantial savings.
Change is inevitable and the management team is evaluating warehouse operations and updating their technology position with bar coding and a warehouse management system. There are also thoughts of adjustments to the product lines and enhancements to customer service.
Bottom line, they have a clear vision of where they want to go and a plan to get there. But I observed another reason why their successes will continue. They have close ties to community and Vince Fonti seems to know everybody. That makes buying furniture and appliances a personal affair. His customers know they are buying from nice people who will be there when service is needed.
Daniel Bolger of The Bolger Group helps companies achieve improved transportation, warehousing and logistics. Questions can be directed to Mr. Bolger care of FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.