Edison Neighborhood

It's 80 years and counting for George's Appliance Co. in Kalamazoo's Edison Neighborhood

The independently owned home appliance store says business has never been bad.
Editor’s note: This is the latest story in Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series.
 
Rows of new washers, dryers, freezers, stoves and refrigerators fill the 7,000-square-foot showroom inside George’s Appliance Co. on the southern edge of the Edison Neighborhood in Kalamazoo.

They are all shiny and new. George’s sells only new home appliances, some with “smart” technology features -- a lot of silver, black, white and clear surfaces. It’s pretty fancy stuff.

But the store at 1025 Miller Road is anything but fancy. In the face of competition from national appliance retailers like Best Buy, ABC Warehouse, Lowe’s and Sears, it has a comfortable, familiar feel – like a place you’ve been before, perhaps with your mom or dad; surely you have if you’ve lived in the Kalamazoo area for any length of time.

“It’s always been there,” says Tammy Taylor, executive director of the Edison Neighborhood Association. The store is on Miller Road, the street that separates the southern part of the Edison Neighborhood from the northernmost part of the Milwood Neighborhood.

Tom Miyagawa stands inside the family-owned business Monday as his wife, Mary, performs some paperwork. She serves as bookkeeper for the business.

“They’ve been a longtime partner in the neighborhood,” she says of George’s Appliance Co.

George’s is a family owned business that has been at 1025 Miller Road since 1982. It celebrated its 80th anniversary this week (March 1).

“Big Box stores are easy competition,” says George’s co-owner David Miyagawa. Big Box is a moniker for large national or regional retailers who are said to need only four white walls to set up a location.

Where “Big Box” stores may have modern motifs with halogen lighting, George’s has wood paneling and large windows. Where large national chains may have enthusiastic salespeople and appliances surrounded by even higher-tech machines, George’s has owners, Dave and Tom, with family pictures, newspaper clippings and a funny old sign or two.

The two men are brothers. And they are decidedly laid back. But they are very engaged with their client base, who they say are primarily middle-aged and older people who place a higher value on service.

“People come here for the personal services and because we tend to carry better products,” David Miyagawa says. “Big Box store people shop (there) more because of price.”

Referring to people over 40, Tom Miyagawa says, “A lot of older people just don’t like Big Box stores.”

He says Big Box salespeople aren’t as knowledgeable about their products “and they don’t service their products. Service is a huge thing.”

Inside George’s Appliance Co. at 1025 Miller Road in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood.

The men say they have had steady and stable growth in sales for years, even during the 2008 to 2010 recession years. They have sold at least one (clothes) washer/dryer combinations for less than $400 but have a higher-end combination that sells for just under $2,000.

“Business is good,” David Miyagawa says. Although February is a slow month (people paying off Christmas shopping bills and trying to file their income tax returns), he says, “We don’t really have a big ‘up’ year or a big ‘down’ year.”

While they would not disclose sales data, David says over the past year, they have consistently sold 40 to 45 Speed Queen washer/dryer combinations per month.

New home appliances are arranged in rows in the 7,000-square-foot showroom of George’s Appliance Co.

George’s top-selling brands are GE and Speed Queen but it also represents Sub Zero/Wolf and Zephyr. It's a Brand Source appliance expert, meaning it has technicians who can do high-quality repair and maintenance work on products the store sells.

How can an independent store win against low-priced competition from a national chain?

“Mostly because we service what we sell,” Thomas Miyagawa says. “And we generally know what we’re talking about when we talk to customers, where a Big Box store usually doesn’t.”

He says the business has had “a lot of customers for years and years. And then their kids.”

And despite their location between two medium- to low-income neighborhoods (Edison and Milwood) they have specialized in sales of middle- to high-end appliances, making more of their sales outside of the immediate area. Customers come from places like the Winchell, Bronson, and Portage areas, as well as Vicksburg, Schoolcraft, Richland, Plainwell, and Otsego. The men say they do business from Battle Creek to South Haven.

The Miyagawas grew up working in the family business -- dusting off appliances and performing other chores as children. George’s Appliance Co. is an enterprise that started in 1940 by their late grandfather, George. Their father, James Sr., became president of the business after George died in 1959. David, Thomas, and their older brother James Jr. took over the business after their father retired in 1997. James Jr. died unexpectedly, however, in 2015, and James Sr. died in 2018 at age 88.

The business now employs seven people, including the two brothers. They say the toughest part of managing the operation is keeping good workers.

The business, originally located on West Michigan Avenue, relocated in 1970 to The Southland Mall in Portage. In the late 1970s, it opened a second location – in the Westwood Plaza on Kalamazoo’s West Side. That location was closed after a few years, however. And in 1982, the business opened on Miller Road in space that was once part of the Van Bochove’s greenhouse.
Inside George’s Appliance Co. at 1025 Miller Road in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood.
David, 63, says he is not sure what's in the future for the business. He and Tom, 59, are married but neither have children to whom they can pass the business. No public celebration was planned to commemorate the store’s anniversary.

They estimate that 50 years ago Kalamazoo may have had 15 to 20 independent appliance stores. But they closed through the years, leaving the lower-priced, higher-volume Big Box stores as many consumers’ primary option. The Miyagawas say consumers should not be surprised to see more independent appliance stores reappear.

“If anything there might be more independents,” David says. “There are a lot of them in Grand Rapids.”

Taylor says she’s not surprised at the success of George’s Appliance Co.

“No, because they back their appliances up with quality service,” she says. As a consumer, that’s a big deal, she says because, “knowing that when I buy an appliance that somebody is going to be there to help me hook it up or help me if something goes wrong and they’re prompt and there right away, that is more important than almost anything.”

Photos by Fran Dwight. See more of her work here.

 

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.