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This article by Euna Kwon Brossman was prepared for the February 11, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Mrs. G’s Living Legacy
The store itself has become a landmark in its 30-plus years on the Route 1 corridor between Princeton and Trenton. Next to Party City, across from Jiffy Lube and the Shell gas station, it’s the low flat building the color of desert sand, a structure that wouldn’t necessarily catch your attention. What’s more intriguing is the sign “Mrs. G’s TV and Appliances” accompanied by a picture of a smiling woman with blue eyes and blonde hair.
“People thought Mrs. G was a made-up name, like Fanny Farmer. They didn’t realize that there’s a real person behind the name,” laughs Beatrice L. Greenberg, who is indeed the real Mrs. G, as she has been known affectionately to four generations of appliance customers in the greater Trenton area.
Like a true lady of her time, she won’t reveal her age, but she’s been in business for over 60 years. She and her husband, Abraham, opened their first store, a plumbing and appliance supply business on East State Street in Trenton, selling galvanized boilers, toilets, and bathtubs. It was 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and back then, says Mrs. G, “you couldn’t buy a job, it was such hard times.”
Since then, the world has emerged from the Great Depression and revolved through many cycles of pullback and prosperity. There’s also been a technological revolution that’s changed the essence of the way people live, work, play and think.
Through it all, Mrs. G ran her business, staying true to her own standards of quality and integrity. Her husband ran the register. She did what she did best, standing out on the floor, chatting with the customers, selling the products. The couple raised a daughter, Barbara.
Mrs G. lost her husband about 12 years ago. The blonde hair has faded and she no longer sells out on the floor. But today, decades after opening that first store, her business is thriving, and she is still very much the queen of her domain.
Her desk is located strategically near the front of the store, so she can greet customers when they walk in, or pull out a basket of lollipops for children. From this favorite spot, she can keep an eagle eye on everything that’s going on, following a work ethic that still has her working seven days a week. Now, on most days, she eats lunch at her desk as she keeps up with the mail, reads the latest literature on her stock, and oversees her staff.
She rules with a firm hand. On this day, she is explaining to a new staffer why it’s important to save time, do things correctly the first time, and communicate correctly to the customer. “The most important thing is making the sale, and being honest and up front with customers. They know they’re getting quality,” says Mrs. G.
The story of Beatrice Greenberg begins in Atlantic City in the early part of the last century. She was born to parents of Russian and English stock who ran a shoe business. When she was only five years old, tragedy struck. Her mother, only 27, died of the flu, leaving behind a devastated family, which included her two older sisters and three-year-old brother. When one of her sisters came down with diphtheria, her father sent Beatrice to live with a great aunt and uncle in Philadelphia. They ran a kosher meat market, and separated from her siblings, without many toys, the young girl spent many hours alone, playing on the store floor in the sawdust.
It is there that one of her earliest and most vivid memories was formed. She recalls customers coming in with a young daughter about her age, who had the most beautiful red shoes she’d ever seen. Right then and there she says, she learned what it was to want something with all your heart. “I cried and cried and cried for those shoes,” she says. “I had to have them, and finally, my great aunt took me to 4th street and bought me a pair of red shoes and they were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen and I wore them to bed that night. And to this day, I’ve always owned two or three pairs of red shoes.”
Mrs. G smiles at the memory of the young and stubborn five-year-old she once was. “In a way, it explains my own get up and get it mentality, says Mrs. G. “I think that’s why I was so driven.”
Her store is one of a rare and dying breed, a genuine Mom and Pop that not only has survived in the cut-throat climate of big-name competitors like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy, and more traditional stores like Sears, but has flourished.
Mrs. G’s sells more than 70 brands of TVs and appliances, including Amana, Sharp, and GE. The store has been recognized by GE for selling the company’s products for more than 60 years, and for being one of its top independent retailers.
Mrs. G credits part of her success to a well-trained staff of about 20, including a store manager who has been with her for over 30 years, eight salespeople, and a corps of drivers. Salespeople help customers coordinate installation with several certified subcontractors.
How has she been able to stay in business so long and to keep her prices competitive with the large national chains that have been sprouting up all over the Route 1 corridor? Mrs. G’s is an active member of a national buying co-op of independents that purchases directly from the manufacturers, in fact, giving them over $6 billion in buying power, bigger than many of their larger competitors. “That helps us keep our prices very appealing,” says Mrs. G.
Mrs. G was also a shrewd marketer, making the decision early on to carry high-end, high-style appliances that appeal to a knowledgeable clientele that wants the best and latest in cooktops, refrigerators, TVs, dishwashers, and other appliances. She knew that about 70 percent of the decisions to buy appliances are made by women, and she designed her store to have maximum impact on those who might want a total makeover of their kitchen.
“Mrs. G’s sets themselves apart from the big-box stores because they’re able to adapt quickly in the marketplace when it comes to the latest technology,” says Paul Lawver with the B/S/H/ Home Appliance Corporation, Pennsylvania-based distributors of Thermidor, Bosch and Gaggenau, high style kitchen appliances.
Every so often the store hosts live demonstrations of the latest in kitchen technology. On this day, Lawver is in the store giving customers a first-hand look at steam cooking techniques. He’s been working with Mrs. G for years. “I like to call her a trooper. I’ve never known her to take a day off. She knows the business and she knows what’s right and wrong and she really knows how to run things and that’s what makes her successful”
A stroll around the store reveals gleaming products like Viking built-in refrigerators and Wolf ranges. There are high end European lines, Miele and Gaggenau are customer favorites, and there’s also the latest for the home theater.
Digital TVs are big business. On the floor, there’s also a SubZero 48-inch dispenser refrigerator with a $7,399 price tag. There’s a Maytag with a high spin speed that extracts more water, requiring less drying time. It also has a smart system that allows a higher water temperature for whites. The washer carries a $1,099 price tag.
There’s a high speed Sharp convection oven that can cook a seven pound chicken in 34 minutes flat, juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside. The tantalizing aroma of baked chicken permeates the store as Debbie Schaeffer, Mrs. G’s grand-daughter, and the third generation of family women to work in the store, kills two birds with one stone, so to speak, by demonstrating the oven and making dinner for her grandmother at the same time.
“We have an extremely knowledgeable staff that is up to date with the new technology, and with the new appliances. We’re usually the first ones on the block to have them,” says Schaeffer. She credits her grandmother’s success to a combination of good street smarts and being loving to her customers “I try to be the same exact way, and to follow her example.”
Debbie’s mother, Barbara, is Mrs. G’s only child. Barbara used to help run the store and had an active role in marketing before she moved to Florida. Debbie says she has fond memories of coming into the store when she was in high school, and playing Tennis Tourney, one of the early video games. The mother of 10-year-old twin daughters graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in civil engineering and started working in the store part time three years ago at her grandmother’s request. “Mom-Mom wanted me by her side,” she says with a fond smile.
Does she envision her own daughters eventually taking over the family business? Only if they want to, she says. For now, they’re happiest in the store when they’re baking cookies with their great-grandmother.
Mrs. G says she is happiest when she can give customers the assurance that their purchase comes attached to a face, her face, and to a name that means integrity.
Art Kirikian of Lawrenceville has been a loyal customer for 35 years. “Every major appliance, we’ve bought from Mrs. G. The salespeople are the best, the service is cordial, they don’t press you to close the deal, but they know the products, they do their homework.”
Mrs. G also has a strong belief in giving back to the community. Several years ago she donated two TV towers to the town of Lawrenceville so police and firemen could transmit their radio signals. She also contributes prizes for local auctions.
“I like to support the schools and hospitals” says Mrs. G. “They’re the people who are shopping in the store. I love to help when I can.”
Why are you here every day, when you could retire, join your daughter in Florida, I ask Mrs. G. You’ve worked many years, don’t you feel you deserve it, I say.
“What would I do, stay home and stare at the four walls?” she retorts, with an indignant twinkle.
As for all her years in business? Does she have any special thoughts, and what does she treasure most about her experience? “I feel like I did my job. I can say I knew what I was doing. I can say this is my field and I was the best.”
— Euna Kwon Brossman
Mrs. G’s, 2960 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville 08648. Debbie Schaeffer, marketing manager. 609-882-1444; fax, 609-883-3063. Home page: www.mrsgs.com
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