Do it FOR me.

I wonder how many of you have the proper tools and expertise to install a free-standing wood or gas stove, or a gas range/oven for the kitchen?

Despite the ever-increasing demands on people’s time, I STILL come across vendors who just don’t get the full-service concept and why it makes them more money than the lazy “Ill carry it out to your car….IF you ask me.” model.

Example: One of the local home stores, who of course doesn’t have a web site (DUH) has this completely wrong. They have a great selection of wood stoves, pellet stoves and gas/propane stoves (in this case, I mean freestanding fireplace types, not kitchen stoves).
If you go into this store and attempt to purchase a stove (and we’re talking about a $1000-2500 purchase), they will help you…. carry it to your vehicle. That’s it. They don’t install. They don’t remove the old one. Put yourself in the place of any one of the following people: busy executive, 2 job couple who value their limited weekend time, single mom, young married couple, tool-challenged guy, older couple, and similar.

We’re talking about people who don’t have some combination of the time, the vehicle, the expertise and the strength to load the new stove, carry it home, put it in the home, remove the old stove, install the new stove, hook up the gas (if necessary), cut an exhaust hole and install the chimney/stove pipe/exhaust, carry the old stove out to the vehicle (if necessary), and take the old stove to the dump (if necessary).

What in the world is going through your mind when you sell $1000-2500 items like a 6 pack of beer? Here’s why this is such a big mistake: If you DONT do these things, and someone else does, that someone else is going to get a lot of people’s business because there is a substantial number of folks out there who simply dont have the time, vehicle, strength, expertise or DESIRE to do all those install tasks.

Back to the example store…the in-store people are very experienced. They are experts in their topic, yet they are hamstrung by inane management policy.

Down the street from this store, there’s a full service store (more than 1, in fact). For an extra hundred bucks, they’ll bring the stove to your home, remove the old stove and take it to the dump (if necessary), install the new stove and, if needed, hook up the gas, install an exhaust port, stove pipe and/or chimney as necessary. Note that if a gas fireplace or free standing stove is involved, a certified plumber has to hook up the gas in many states.

Naturally, the full service stores also provide warranty and repair service for the stoves. Now, if you do this right, its an income stream, but unfortunately, no one does.

When I say right, I mean the stove store creates a subscription program. WHAT??? You cant do that, only magazines and newspapers have subscriptions!!! (sorry, that was your brother in law telling you that you cant do that, lets move on). How does the subscription program work?

How about this: During the winter (stove use) months, you offer to check on the stove at least once in the middle of the season, plus a beginning of season and end of season check. 3 visits, say $99 per year (you figure out what price makes sense for you). Remember, the best time to sell is when you’ve just sold someone something.
For that $99, you stop in 3 times. You check the function of the stove, spend $15 worth of time cleaning the stove pipe (more if its a chimney, since you have to climb up on the roof – but this is far less common in free-standing stoves), vacuum out the junk in the stove, make sure everything is safe, and make an appointment for the next visit (which is already paid for via the $99 annual fee). Before you leave, you give them a little gift, a refrigerator magnet with your smiling face (no one does this) and your phone # for service emergencies, or a little cheapo mini-broom, or a bottle of juice to clean the glass on the stove, just dont be boring about it.
You sell this as an upsell during the purchase. Some folks will bite, some wont – but if you are a full service store, you already have the staff so you may as well accept the cash flow. Here’s the secret that many people miss: Because you are there 3 times a year (or whatever) to check, adjust, clean and do any quick repairs – you are their “official stove repair shop”. Who do you think will be called when they need repairs, build a new home and need help with a stove, have a friend who needs a referral for a stove, and so on? YOU, because you are the one visiting their home 3 times a year to take care of their stove and keep it functional and safe.

We recently had the SAME type of experience when replacing a gas kitchen stove/oven. One store (Sears, you know that place “where America shops”) was the put-it-in-your-car-and-wave store. No install service, no nothing. Nowadays, most gas stoves are dual-fuel, meaning the range is gas and the oven is electric. So not only do you need plumbing skills to hook up natural gas or propane (and know the difference at install time – there’s a very important difference you MUST know) AND you must have electrician skills because of the dual fuel aspect. You may even have to install a new plug for higher voltage.

The other store, Burton’s Brand Source (a local retailer, http://www.burtonsbrandsource.com), offers full service and even managed to let us talk them down over $400 on the stove + included installation and removal of the old stove. At no extra charge (yeah, its in the profit).

Which is more attractive? The curb drop off, or the full service install? Which store got my business? The latter, of course.

Which store are you? The latter or lamer?

UPDATE (March 4, 2008): Remember that store that doesn’t offer installation? They’ve now gone out of business. They’ll blame Home Depot, or the economy (oh my, it’s a recession!!), or anyone but themselves, but you know the real reason.