Even with a successful discount retail chain to his name, Rob Nicholson won’t hesitate to stop and pick up appliances tossed by the roadside.
And despite the pandemic, the founder and president of East Coast Appliance continues to watch as his Norfolk-based business expands into the Richmond market.
“We’ve been waiting for a site in a particular area,” Nicholson said. “Our intent is to have a minimum of three stores in the Richmond market; it’s all about property availability.”
After 10 years of searching and waiting, Nicholson said he found the ideal spot on Midlothian Turnpike for his seventh store.
Initially a La-Z-Boy furniture store and then the Salvation Army Family Store and Donation Center, the almost 1,600-square-foot building fit the bill for Nicholson’s needs: location, accessibility and square footage.
“We like to be in well-established retail traffic patterns right next to our competitors because we outperform them,” he said. “The only worse thing than being next door to your competitor is not being next door to your competitor.”
The vacant building was only on the market for a few days when he made the offer and closed on the building.
“We’re a 100% real estate-owned company, so we own our stores,” Nicholson said.
The total investment is $2.75 million for the new store, including $2.4 million for the building and another $350,000 for renovations, he said. The satellite store will open in late 2020 or early 2021.
“The building is in really good shape … there won’t be a lot of modifications to it,” Nicholson said. “We’ll go in and redo the concrete, open it up, take everything out, paint it, make it pretty, clean, make sure everything is functional and pack it full of appliances.”
Nicholson started East Coast Appliance in 1988 as a small appliance retail sales and service operation with less than 3,500 square feet in Virginia Beach. It expanded in a warehouse format to six locations, including two in Virginia Beach, one each in Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, Newport News, and Norfolk.
Store showrooms display several hundred appliances at any given time, with roughly 40% new merchandise and 60% ready-to-go and new scratched and dented machines.
Despite the continual growth of his business, the Navy veteran said expansion is a stretch because of the pandemic. Inventory shortages are causing a lot of struggles within the industry, he said.
“There are so many unknowns, but I’ve been waiting for so long to find a property,” Nicholson said. “I’m scared to death. You don’t know what’s going to happen on the other side.”
Yet, with people spending more on home-focused items, Nicholson is also optimistic about the economy making its comeback.
He has kept all 101 employees on board and plans to hire another 10 to 12 for the newest location including delivery drivers, an installer and sales staff.
“There’s no one like us up there in the market,” Nicholson said. “And when it comes to appliances, we’re experts at what we do; so we’re as good as it gets. We compete with the nationals and we out execute them — that’s our niche.”
Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-222-5356, [email protected]
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