Currently, Goedeker’s is one of the largest online appliance retailers in the nation. But, as with any other success story you’ve ever heard, this wasn’t always the case. From 1951 to 2008, Goedeker’s was strictly a brick and mortar store, selling appliances, televisions, mattresses, and more in showrooms throughout the St. Louis area. For nearly 60 years, this business model worked just fine. However, the onset of the recession demanded that we either change gears or risk going under.
Here we’ll explain what led us to selling our products online, instead of strictly to local customers in a showroom, and describe the details of this journey. Steve Goedeker himself provides his insight on the experience, along with his brother, Mike Goedeker.
Around the time of 9/11, sales took a huge hit, and the business started to decline. It took several years to rebound from this setback, but in 2008, just as we were regaining our footing, things started going downhill again.
Everyone’s outlook was decidedly bleak. In response to this downturn, Steve left for three months to conduct research and pray over his options, while Mike handled the store.
The idea of running an online store was, at the time, a last-ditch effort. “We were looking for something to supplement the store,” Mike remarked.
Steve has said, time and time again, that launching the website was not part of a grander plan, but out of necessity in hopes of keeping the business afloat. They were simply trying something out and seeing if it would stick. “We were just at the beginning of the recession in 2008 and were looking for a way to survive the challenges,” he said. “I spent a great deal of time in prayer and this is what came of those prayers.”
Over the summer, Steve recruited his son and daughter to start inputting product data for the website. “We [started] with two of my children on summer break who would just copy and paste the products one by one,” he explained. “They worked from home but really got all the products on the site by themselves while on their summer vacation from school.”
Then Jeff Minor, Steve’s nephew, worked to set up the website, and in 2009, Goedeker’s launched its online store under the domain name Number1Direct.com. Initially, there was a phone set up in a separate office dedicated to calls for the website, and Mike said he had to run down the hall to answer it when it rang.
“I still remember the first piece that I sold online,” Mike commented. It was a product by Viking, and when the customer asked what his ticket number would be, Mike stuttered out that it was #1. “I should have started at 10,000 or something,” he said, reflecting on the experience with a laugh.
Soon enough, the first employees who managed the website needed to be hired. “We started with a single table with two people, one who would answer the phone and one who worked on the web site [adding and removing products],” Steve said.
Growing and changing
From that point, our online sales started increasing, which necessitated expanding our workforce. The website team went from two people seated at a table in the showroom to a separate, walled-off room with around 10-12 people. When the number of online employees climbed higher than 20, they had to move upstairs. “Eventually we had to completely redo our building to accommodate more staff and inventory,” Steve commented.
Ever since then, we have continued to grow accordingly. At some point, we were approached with a request for a partnership, but we didn’t want the business to go that route, Mike explained.
Then, in 2012, we made major conversions to our building. 45,000 of our 50,000 square foot showroom was turned into warehouse space and the hub of our online operations. This setup would be more conducive to our new eCommerce-heavy business model.
Around this same time, the decision was made to transition away from our original domain name, Number1Direct, to Goedeker’s. This symbolized that all of our customer service efforts were working in harmony, and that our online buyers could place the same level of trust in us as our local customers. It was also meant to alleviate any confusion and unify our brand marketing efforts.
Pros and cons
As with anything else in life, there were positives, negatives, and unique challenges the Goedekers faced throughout this process.
Selling online was a tremendous cultural shift. It is an entirely new education to embark on, with an explosion of information and an intimidating learning curve. “It’s like starting all over again,” Steve said.
But really, everything was new. Aside from having to get acclimated with an eCommerce business model, the Goedekers had no shipping experience and minimal knowledge of marketing. “The challenges have been many,” Steve commented. “From not knowing anything about how to start advertising, how to ship, how to deal with damages, hiring and training people. We literally were learning as we went along.”
Not to mention, the lack of control made them uncomfortable. Working with delivery companies meant handing over part of the business to a stranger. “Everything we had ever done, we did by ourselves,” Mike said.
Obviously, the bright point in all this was a chance for Goedeker’s to survive and thrive. Online retail proved to be a new vehicle for us to continue doing business. And though it’s been tough to handle all of our growth spurts over time, they have also served as a sign that we’re doing something right.
Steve has very openly recognized that, without becoming an internet retailer, the business would have died out. “Goedeker's probably would have gone the way of many retailers that have left this market in the last few years, such as American TV & Appliance, Circuit City, Ultimate Electronics, and dozens of independents,” he said.
But as it stands, Goedeker’s has enjoyed great success over the years, and the business has continued to grow. For comparison’s sake, we started with only 15 brands and around 4,000 products. Now we carry over 200 brands and boast a selection of over 180,000 available items, and these numbers continue to rise.
Even now, our designers have been working hard to make our site look even better! And they’ve also been working to develop a mobile-optimized version of our online store, which is set to roll out sometime within the next few months. The navigation has been streamlined for the large percentage of visitors who check out our site through their phones.
We have also been providing jobs to those living in and around the St. Louis area. “We have been able to grow and have gone from 15 employees to over 80,” Steve explained. These include a variety of positions, from online marketing and product data specialists, to customer service representatives and warehouse staff. And, of course, we still have a handful of sales staff who work with customers at our local showroom.
Vision of the Future
Goedeker’s has a highly customer-centered business model, so Steve’s number one priority is to continue improving our level of service. He wants Goedeker’s to be known as the company that is best at handling customers, and he aspires to do customer service like no one else.
“I really want to set a new standard in the way we take care of customers,” he remarked. To accomplish this, we need to more intuitively select and train employees that will meet that standard for service. If we employ the right people and strive for this goal, he said, the sales will naturally follow.
For Mike, it has been satisfying over the years to see markers of progress. Running a business is a science, where you are continually digging in and soaking up knowledge. “It’s been an eye-opening learning experience,” he said. While it is inevitable that you will make a lot of mistakes as you go, he is hopeful that we can look back and remark on how green we used to be and how much we’ve improved.
Truly, if you are going to survive in the business world, that means you have to keep learning more every step of the way. “I am still a brick and mortar guy, and now the young people not only learn from me but I am learning from all the bright young people on our team,” Steve said. This dichotomy helps keep Goedeker’s headed in the right direction.
Thanks to Steve’s hard work, forward thinking, and deep-rooted faith, Goedeker’s weathered the storm. For any business to last 60 years, knowledge and intellect are good to have, but you also must be open to seeking out creative solutions and not fearful of change. Not to mention, with God on your side, anything is possible.
Our outlook for the future is decidedly bright. If we simply continue putting the customer first, adapting with the times, and trusting in God, Goedeker’s will certainly be around for many more years to come.