For 75 years and counting, Woodruff Appliance and TV has been providing the Northwoods with all its home appliance needs, keeping the motto, “Where service is more than just a word.”
“That’s the kind of philosophy the family has had: No matter who your customers are, you treat them all the same and you treat them with respect,” Sally Knapstein said.
Beginning with Ray Knapstein Sr., to his son, Bob Knapstein, and his wife, Sally, and finally to their sons, Ray, Dave and Rodney Knapstein, Woodruff Appliance has stayed a family affair.
“We’ve got a lot of repeat customers. A lot of people will come in and say, ‘I bought my first fridge from your grandpa,’” Dave said.
Hardware store turned appliance
Woodruff Appliance and TV wasn’t always known for its appliances.
“Woodruff Appliance started out as Woodruff Hardware, and that originally was where the Walgreens is, at that corner,” Sally said. “Of course at that time there weren’t many washers and driers. That came later on ... about the 50s.”
In about 1960, the Knapsteins purchased the building where Woodruff Appliance is currently located.
“This used to be a hardware store here, and it was called Badger Hardware. We bought them out and put the appliance and garden stuff over here for the room,” Sally said.
With the new addition came a new name for the business.
“In the years between 1960 and 1980, this store was called The Annex,” Ray said. “We had fertilizer, lawn mowers – it was all garden. And we had water heaters in here, too.”
The year 1980 was one of change for the family business. Woodruff Hardware was sold to FOK, a hardware distributing company in Minneapolis, and there was one more name change made.
“1980, that’s when we switched the name to Woodruff Appliance and TV,” Dave said.
Like many Northwoods businesses, winter is a difficult time of the year and has been since Woodruff Appliance first opened its doors as Woodruff Hardware, particularly before the advent of credit cards. Prior to plastic payment, customers relied heavily on charge accounts over the slow winter months.
“So you can imagine what it was like: They’d start charging in October and they’d pay their bills in July. It was hard to keep going,” Sally said. “But that was way back in the 40s and 50s. Then Visa came out and that was our savior.”
Even today the Knapsteins agree that the store’s biggest hardship is the winter season.
“Surviving the winter to make it to summer, and doing good in the summer to make it through winter – that’s the way it is, and nothing has changed over the years,” Ray said. “It’s better than it used to be though. We used to have days in the winter time where ... we would get $100 or $200 in for the whole day, and it was all service.”
But with the season’s snow comes business.
“Snowmobiling has helped, cross country skiing has helped. Snow helps us just as much as anybody else. It’s trickle-down,” Ray said.
Service with a smile
Growing up with the family business, the third generation of Knapsteins has the knowledge and skills to back up its products.
“We started working here when we were 12 – every one of us,” Dave said. “And right now we don’t have an employee that has been here less than 15 years.”
And with technology advancing at a rapid rate, Woodruff Appliance employees stay on top of their training.
“Everything has become more complex, so the repairs are a little bit more different now. Everything is high-efficiency and electronic,” Dave said. “But the advantages are we install it, we install it right, we take care of it. It’s not just somebody dropping it off at your doorstep and leaving. If you do have a problem – we’re there. We’ve got one number to call.”
The dedication to its customers and its local service is what sets Woodruff Appliance apart.
“Somebody buying a $300 dryer, that might be a bigger purchase than somebody coming in and buying a $10,000 refrigerator. So you treat everybody the same,” Dave said.
“To some people, that dryer is bigger than a house full of appliances,” Sally said.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.