Walt's in The Arizona Republic
50 years and still growing
Longtime TV store keeps pace with changing business
Special for The Republic
Mar. 8, 2007 12:00 AM
Robert Hendley, 37, is chief executive officer and majority owner of Walt's TV & Home Theater, a Tempe company celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Hendley started working for Roger and Helen Wolters, the original owners of Walt's, when he was 14 and his father was the service manager. In his 23 years with the company Hendley has advanced from picking up lunches and installing antennas to operations manager and ownership.
He and his brother Steve bought the business in 1997.
"They had lots of offers but most people just wanted the name," Hendley said. "They made me an offer, I put up some money to show I was serious and they carried the company for me."
Walt's service department, one of few in the Valley, constitutes about 20 percent of the business and brings customers to the sales side.
Walt's used to include everything under one price tag, while competitors charged for each service. Hendley said he realized everyone didn't want everything and created a pricing structure for Walt's based on customer needs. He said that turned the company around in growth.
"Your competitors are your best teachers if you listen," he said. "It hurts, it's hard, but you can learn a lot."
Hendley said the price drops in the industry over the past 24 months have been close to an unprecedented 80 percent. Typically, prices in consumer electronics have dropped no more than 7 percent, he said.
"We would never have imagined that, although we have seen a steady decline in the reliability of products the last seven years from every manufacturer," Hendley said. "When all the key high-tech components manufacturing moved to China within an 18-month period there was a disruption of distribution channels. Then you add in the new technologies like HDTV."
He said the company's biggest business mistake was think that the customer is one piece of a larger system.
"Once we understood the customer is the reason for the system, things changed," Hendley said. "If everything wraps around the customer, you naturally make decisions that are customer-friendly and happy customers make profitable companies."
He said he has seen a lot of changes in the industry over the past couple of decades. Customers now shop online first, narrow down their choices and then go to the store. A company's choice of products and its online reputation are becoming critical.
"Of those who shop online, 54 percent buy at the first store they enter and 20 percent buy at the second place," Hendley said. "Perception matters. You can't charge more because you are better. You have to be better and charge less."