One of the rules of selling consumer goods is that price may get you the customer the first time, but service keeps that customer after that first sale.
That has been the rule at Weygant’s Appliance & Mattress south of Platteville since Bob Weygant opened the store in 1949.
“We stress our service in helping our customers,” said Dennis Pulver, who has owned the store since he and partner Ray Gadke purchased the store from Weygant in 1974. “It doesn’t matter where they bought it — the first place they turn for service is Weygant’s Appliance. We service what we sell, and we try to help everybody else out.
“We give good service, treat our customers right. There’s a misconception that an independent store can’t compete on price; I just dare them to come in. They can find out we can compete with anybody. When you buy an appliance, the first question should be, How do you get it serviced? And if they give you an 800 number, customer beware.”
Weygant’s now is under new ownership, with Aaron Pulver, son of Dennis and Trudy, taking over, and Ray Gadke, who purchased the store with Dennis Pulver, retiring in September.
“In 39 years we went through a lot of generations of customers,” said Gadke. “Mom and Dad would come in and buy, and then their kids would.”
Bob Weygant opened the store in 1949. The store was located at what is now the Pizzeria Uno Annex on what now is West Business 151.
Pulver and Gadke met at vocational school in Eau Claire. Pulver went to work for an appliance, refrigeration and plumbing store in Medford. When Trudy got a job teaching special education in Platteville, the Pulvers moved here and Dennis started working in commercial and institutional refrigeration. Gadke, meanwhile, moved to Florida.
“He had more of an appliance background, and I had a refrigeration background,” said Dennis Pulver. “My landlord was Bob Weygant, and we got to be good friends. And I ran into Bob on the street one day, and he said, ‘You’re buying me out.’”
Gadke said Weygant’s health “wasn’t the best, and Dennis called me one day and said Weygant’s was going to be for sale. So we decided to make the move back to Wisconsin.”
Gadke worked in sales, and Dennis Pulver worked in service and installation. Paula Gadke also worked in sales and office bookkeeping. Trudy Pulver worked full-time as well.
Weygant recommended Pulver and Gadke hire an appliance repairman, who has worked for Weygant’s for 35 years. One employee retired in late March after working for Weygant’s for 30 years.
“Probably the biggest thing that helped us over the years was the service part,” said Gadke. “Service was a big part of our sales. Another thing was our long-time employees we had — we had people who were with us practically all 39 years.”
In the 39 years Gadke co-owned Weygant’s, a lot of the business changed.
“The appliances themselves, how they’ve changed,” he said. “We were selling wringer washers at that point. Appliances have gotten so much more efficient over time. The old refrigerators used to cost $1 a day to run them.
“I did purchasing. We joined a buying group, which the rest of appliance [store] groups are now in. Now you have the purchasing power of the big-box stores; you’re paying the same price.”
For many years Weygant’s had an extensive refrigeration business beyond selling refrigerators as home appliances. “We put everything in from central air to walk-in coolers, commercial ice machines,” said Pulver.
Grant County is a unique retail market, according to Pulver.
“Grant County is different than other counties because jobs and average income is less than it is in Milwaukee and Madison,” he said. “We have people now here from Chicago and ask why we’re so cheap; they can’t believe we’re so accommodating.”
“We’d have customers who’d call and say we want a refrigerator; bring out whatever you think,” said Gadke.
It may seem odd that a store that emphasizes service encourages its customers to try servicing their own appliances first. But that’s an extension of customer service.
“Because labor is getting so high, we encourage people to fix it themselves if you can,” said Pulver.
“If you’ve got an appliance you can replace for $500, how much do you want to stick into it if it’s 10 years old?” said Gadke. “When you figure the longevity of appliances isn’t what it used to be, are going you going to stick a lot into it?”
The word “service” generally includes delivery and installation of an appliance. That leads to its own challenges.
One woman purchased a dryer that was too large to get into her house’s basement without disassembling it outside and reassembling it downstairs. “I told her when you’re ready to move, don’t call us,” said Pulver. “Six months later, she called us and we had to do it again.”
One man purchased a freezer to replace his old freezer, which was located in his basement. After a tape measure confirmed that the old freezer could not be removed from the basement, Pulver called the man and asked him how he had gotten the old freezer into the man’s basement in the first place. The answer: The old freezer had been put in the basement before the house was built on top of the basement. Pulver and his employees had to cut the old freezer apart to remove it.
Appliances more often than not break down or stop working when they’re most needed — for instance, during preparation of holiday dinners. Pulver once sold a refrigerator on Christmas Day, and a freezer on Easter.
“A lot of them know your home phone number, or they say stop by on your way home, and it’s not that simple,” he said. “But that’s how over time you build your customer base.”
“Usually when a refrigerator breaks down, it’s an emergency,” said Gadke. “Being a small business, if they buy one in the morning, we’d get it there that afternoon. And your hours weren’t 8 o’clock to 5 o’clock.”
One Christmas Eve, a woman couldn’t get her oven door open. “She didn’t buy that range from me, but she never bought anything else from anyone else after that,” said Pulver.
Callers for service are sometimes not relaxed about their situation. “Some of the time, they’re stressed, and there’s no reason to be stressed,” said Pulver.
“Especially if people had more than one problem with an appliance, they may not be in the happiest of moods,” said Gadke. “It all goes back to customer service and giving them options.”
Pulver got service calls for commercial refrigerators on three consecutive Independence Days. That prompted him to make service calls to all of Weygant’s commercial customers on July 3.
Another time, Pulver missed his own surprise birthday party because of a bulk tank service call.
Weygant’s got out of commercial refrigeration a decade ago. “It got to the point where a lot of after-hour service calls were on me, and it was too hard to get anybody else to go,” said Pulver.
The 1993 floods were the last straw for Weygant’s at its location in front of Rountree Branch. The store moved to its current location at 5973 Highway 80–81 in 1995.
“We thought it would be bigger than we ever needed,” said Pulver. “We moved appliances from the old store, and we were one-quarter filled.”
“If you check the value of appliances 30 years ago vs. today, and you compare to houses, cars, and about anything else, appliances are about the best value you’re ever going to find,” said Pulver.
The decrease in prices and durability of some consumer goods may make some believe they are unrepairable and almost throw-away items.
“Tell that to the guy who has a $2,000 refrigerator,” said Pulver. “Everything’s gotten more expensive, not just with appliances. Parts are more expensive. Fuel is higher. The cost of training schools is more.”
Refrigerators have grown in size and features.
“Eighteen cubic feet was a big refrigerator 30 years ago,” said Pulver. “And now they’re over 30 [cubic] feet. And try moving one of them into an old farmhouse. It’s almost unheard of to be able to buy a manual-defrost refrigerator anymore.
“In rural areas we still sell a lot of freezers. When you have a freezer at home, your mentality changes when you’re shopping.”
About 75 percent of Weygant’s stove sales feature glass-top stoves. Gas stoves, which comprise 30 percent of Weygant’s stove sales, now have solid-state ignition, eliminating pilot lights.
Dishwashers “used to be a luxury,” said Pulver. “But with housewives working today and the speed of life today — kids have sports and Mom and Dad were working — nowadays you can wash dishes cheaper — a full load cheaper than using a double sink.”
Washers and dryers have changed as well.
“Front-loaders will use half of the water and one-third of the bleach, detergent and fabric softener of the old one,” said Pulver. “But efficiency doesn’t always mean clean clothes,” particularly in the case of cleaning farmers’ clothing.
Appliance colors have flowed and ebbed in popularity, with one exception.
“White never changes,” said Pulver. “White 10 years ago is white today. Anybody who buys an odd color and then tried to match it 10 years ago, that leaves a sour taste.”
Aaron Pulver is one of the seven Pulver children who worked at Weygant’s. Gadke’s son helped as well.
“They’ve all been involved a little bit, Aaron probably the most,” said Dennis.
Even though Aaron is now in the business, that doesn’t mean Dennis and Trudy are not.
“I think of these older fellows, they never really retire; they just fade away,” said Dennis. “I enjoy helping people. … You’ve got to be able to separate the two and unwind and realize there’s something other than work.”