POCATELLO — It’s a summer afternoon, but judging from the hustle and bustle inside Pocatello Electric, one might think it’s the middle of the holiday shopping season. The phone is ringing off the hook, and there is a constant stream of customers coming through the door.
Owner Mike Vigliaturo said that’s just another day in the office for him, and although he’s been working at the shop on North Main Street in Pocatello for 46 years, he still loves every minute of it.
One gets the sense that Vigliaturo is always in a hurry, but he seems anything but stressed. In fact, he seems ecstatic.
“I turned 68 a couple days ago. I’m not going anywhere,” Vigliaturo said when asked if he was thinking about retiring any time soon. “Oh, I just, I love the people. I love working with folks that come in and solving their problems.”
Pocatello Electric, which might be the oldest family-owned appliance store in the U.S., has been a staple of the Gate City practically since the city’s inception.
H.G. Shafer opened the original store at 340 W. Center St. in Old Town 117 years ago in 1902. In the 1930s, the business was bought by E.W. Hall. According to Pocatello Electric’s website, “The store sold radios, appliances, lighting fixtures and ‘gave free air and water at the curb’ — water for the horses and air for automobile tires.”
Al Vigliaturo, who worked for Hall, eventually purchased the business from his boss in 1973 and brought his son and now-owner Mike Vigliaturo on to help run the store. After 15 years of working for his father, Mike, along with his wife, Suzie, bought the business in 1989 when Al retired and has owned it ever since.
Pocatello Electric, which sells a variety of home appliances as well as offers repairs on what they sell, has won the Idaho State Journal’s Readers Choice award for best appliance store for 12 years running and has won the award for best customer service three years in a row.
Mike Vigliaturo said the biggest reason for the business’s success is its immense focus on customer service.
“We almost feel like we’re in the service business even though it’s retail sales because it seems like service follows sales,” he said. “If you don’t have a good support group behind you, people aren’t going to buy from you. And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve gotten best customer service the last three years. Most people who buy that expensive item today and a year from now are needing repairs on it, you’ve got to take care of them every bit as well as you did when you sold it to them.”
Since Vigliaturo took over Pocatello Electric from his father, it has grown from a $1 million a year business with 18 employees to an approximately $3 million a year business with eight employees.
“I think it’s going to do nothing but get bigger and that’s what I’m seeing,” he said. “So we’ve taken it, and we’ve tripled the business in a 30-year period and obviously made it more profitable. The more you sell, the more you’re going to make. We’re more efficient. We have computers, better delivery techniques.”
Also in the past three decades, Pocatello and the nation in general have seen a lot of changes.
Historically, Vigliaturo said, Pocatello Electric’s primary customers were housewives between the ages of 25 and 60. Now, the customer base has expanded to include more men, who in 2019 make more decisions around the house than they did before.
He also said the growth in the Gate City has benefited his business immensely.
“We’re seeing that new construction and growth in our city has expanded our business, made it larger,” Vigliaturo said. “We’ve actually grown by half again as much as we did five years ago, and I believe that’s because of population growth: new people moving in and new home sales and people trading homes.”
Vigliaturo said Pocatello Electric has been able to keep up with big retailers over the years for a variety of reasons. One reason is that people are doing more price comparing because of the internet than they ever have in the past. It’s easy to check the prices on, say, a dishwasher at Lowe’s, Home Depot and Pocatello Electric with just a few keystrokes.
“People start shopping on the internet and they’ll go to our website, go see what we’ve got to offer and they come in and shop us,” he said.
The fact that the business only sells American-made products that are built to last also brings people in the door.
“We sell Whirlpool, Kitchen-Aid, Maytag, JennAir, Amana, all American-built, all owned by the Whirlpool company,” Vigliaturo said. “So they’re serviceable. We can get parts for them. We can take care of them after. Because they are built in America, they’re being built to last. We’re seeing our products get 15 to 20 years average life. Other products built in Korea and China are getting seven to 10 years average life, so (we’re getting) virtually double what anybody else is getting.”
Though the long lives of Pocatello Electric’s products might mean the business doesn't see customers coming back very frequently, people are so excited about the quality of their purchases that they’re telling their friends and family about their experiences, meaning lots of people learn about the business via word-of-mouth, which is vitally important, Vigliaturo said.
Another thing that people love about the business is the delivery people go above and beyond to make sure customers are happy, Vigliaturo said.
“My delivery guys are the final people who customers usually see, and they’re phenomenal,” he said. “They go in and they do their job. They’re clean. They’re respectful. We get calls every single day, saying, ‘Man, those are the greatest delivery guys in the world.’ That’s all part of the big package.
Additionally, there’s a certain level of trust that Pocatello Electric has with the community simply because it’s been around for so long.
“Being in business 117 years hasn’t hurt,” Vigliaturo said. “Longevity tells people, ‘Oh, they’re there. They’re going to be there another 117 years. They’re not going to go anywhere. They’re going to take care of us.’”
The business is currently selling to third- and fourth-generation customers.
“Grandparents that did business, we’re seeing their grandkids and great-grandkids come in and do business because their grandma or grandpa did business with us,” Vigliaturo said.
Vigliaturo said they make a point of talking to every customer who comes through their door, partially because, especially in a business like his, if people come in, they are looking to buy something.
“Usually, people aren’t shoppers. People are buyers,” he said. “You have to realize that everybody is busy and if they’re walking through the door, there’s a reason. They’re going to buy, or they’re going to compare the price that they’ve been somewhere else.”
Vigliaturo said he and his employees also care about educating customers about the products they are buying.
“They’re coming in with a need, and we are more into educating them than into selling them,” he said. “We teach them about the product. We teach them about what we have and what it will do for them, and that’s satisfying their need, and that’s what I love about it. I love working with the people.”
The employees at Pocatello Electric also seem to enjoy working there.
Vigliaturo said he has next to no turnover. Some of his employees have been there for 30 years, but even his youngest employee has been there for seven years. He has the most turnover among his delivery people because it’s a hard job, but he said his previous delivery men were there for three and five years.
Another part of the business’s success is its effective advertising. A couple times a year, the business runs a full-page advertisement in the Idaho State Journal — as well as posting it on Facebook and on its website — with some super deals that include hundreds of dollars off appliances. Although the ads are expensive, Vigliaturo said spending the money is more than worth it.
After the most recent ad ran, he said he had people in his store with the ad in hand right when the door opened for the day. He sold a range-fridge-microwave package and two dishwashers within minutes of being open. The advertisement runs for three weeks at a time, and he said they will get 12 to 15 people per week in the shop during that run just because of the advertisement.
“I get an immediate response,” Vigliaturo said of the ads. “... People actually call and say, ‘When are you going to run your next ad?’ It’s amazing.”
Vigliaturo said running ads is an important part of his business, but he also said that businesses should be smart about what they’re advertising.
“You have to look at what you’re selling, what your competitors are selling it for,” he said. “Can you still make money on it, and can you draw those people in over what your competitor is doing and be able to pay for your advertisement at the same time? … If you do good ads and people purchase, they tell their friends, and they say, ‘You ought to wait until his next ad comes out if you’re looking for that dishwasher.’ We become a target. They start looking for us.”
Vigliaturo said he briefly thought about retiring, but instead decided that working gave him a purpose that he didn’t want to give up.
“There was a period where I thought, ‘Fishing might be better than coming to work every day.’ But then you catch a few big fish and you say, ‘It’s maybe overrated, so go to work,’” he said, gesturing to several huge mounted fish on the wall in the store. “I think it will keep me young and keep me alive. ... You have to have a place to go, and you have to have a reason to go there and to want to do that, and I do. I’m excited about it.”
Pocatello Electric is located at 258 N. Main St. in Pocatello and can be reached at 208-232-1981. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. More information can be found at pocatelloelectric.com and on Facebook at Pocatello Electric.