Retail Excellence 2013:: Vance Pflanz, President of Pflanz Electronics
Vance Pflanz is not only a premier purveyor in Sioux City, Iowa, of the immersive home entertainment experience. He and Pflanz Electronics, the business he has built as its president, are products of total immersion in the CE trade.
It’s been that way from the ground up, in 1958, when Pflanz, a hobbyist who built Dynaco PAT-4 and Stereo 120 audio components from kits, started out as a franchisee repairing TVs and selling vacuum tubes to other hobbyists. “We used to sell the audio kits, too, and when customers wired them together, sometimes they didn’t work.
Then they’d bring them back to me, and I’d fix ’em,” Pflanz said.
Fast forward to 2013. Pflanz no longer sells DIY kits. Instead, he sells complete solutions that he and his team make sure customers know how to use and enjoy before they walk out the door. What has not changed, though, is that Pflanz still sells the cutting-edge CE. And he runs his 25,000-square-foot showroom and Internet sales businesses with as much enthusiasm as he did on day one.
“I’m excited about 4K,” Pflanz said. “That’s what we’ve been advertising. It’s the next evolution in TV, and it’s here now. What I like about it is that every customer who comes into the store is a potential buyer, because nobody has it.” A showcase retailer for Sony, Pflanz recently hosted a 4K Sony event that attracted plenty of clients, as well as local TV coverage on the nightly and morning news programs.
How does Pflanz, whose single store competes in a marketplace with giants like Best Buy, Sears and Walmart, remain the venue of choice for the display of the next big thing for vendors like Sony?
“Vance is not only a smart businessman who knows his customers extremely well, but he is also known as the nicest person in the consumer electronics industry today,” said Mike Fasulo, executive vice president for Sony. “Vance has supported Sony in so many areas over the past 40 years, and our relationship continues to thrive as one of our truly valued partners.”
Sony and Pflanz’s other suppliers know the value that word of mouth holds in his ability to attract customers. While he is using social media, Pflanz credits the street buzz generated by the company’s customer services, as well as TV and radio advertising, for drawing a new, younger demographic online and in-store. He also does a five-minute weekly radio spot and an hour-long radio call-in show to spotlight new technologies and keep Pflanz Electronics front and center among listeners as the area’s electronics expert.
That “expert” reputation has served Pflanz well in his core competencies—video, audio and car electronics—and new categories such as satellite and broadband installation, which he took on with DISH Network. “We have a lot of customers who come in who are frustrated with satellite services because they can’t understand the people they talk to,” he said. “It’s worked really smoothly, because our guys are familiar with networking, so it’s a natural for them.”
Foot traffic, always a challenge, has been up lately at the store, which Pflanz attributes to a combination of customer loyalty and the fact that the industry as a whole is entering a “replacement market” where people who bought HD TVs in 2004-05 are now seeking new and larger screens. “Those sets are not economical to repair,” Pflanz said of the older TVs. “We sold a lot of TVs in that timeframe, and now, we’re getting a lot of people in the store. It was just last Saturday that we sold four 60- and 70-inch TVs as replacements.”
Pflanz also has a reputation for community outreach that helps to cement his brand with local residents. He has worked with organizations including Albums for Alzheimer’s and Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as community projects.
Topping that off is his deeply ingrained belief in the need for independent retailers to help each other thrive. That’s the main reason he has been a prominent fixture in industry organizations that champion the independent dealer. He was chair for two years of the CEA’s Audio Video Retailer Division, is a past president of Brand Source’s HES (Home Entertainment Source) division, serves on the HES board, and is a past HES Dealer of the Year.
“Vance is extremely innovative and embraces change,” Jim Ristow, executive vice president, HES, said. “Where a lot of people 20 years his junior are stuck in their ways, Vance is innovating and looking for the next way to grow his business. He always has a positive attitude and he uses this to help shape HES.”
Pflanz’s son and daughter are both in the business, which helps free him to devote time to industry activities. “I believe in what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re trying to help the independent retailer by gaining access to lines of equipment and better pricing so they can be competitive in the marketplace. And I think that’s necessary to keep the independent channel of distribution alive and well. I’ve worked hard at that, and I think it’s helped us. I also think it will help many dealers that are like us.” DS