Helping is good for business
Today, his focus is on yet another endeavor — rehabilitating used appliances for resale, providing appliance repair services and supplying appliance parts to do-it-yourselfers.
Davis was working as an appliance repairman for the Family Thrift Center when it expanded into McMinnville from its base in Sheridan.
He jumped at the chance to buy the business in the mid-1980s. Narrowing the focus to appliances, he renamed it AJ’s Appliance.
The store has been located at 615 N.E. Lafayette Ave. since 2001. Prior to that, Davis operated it out of locations on Third Street.
He had several partners over the years before teaming up with his current partner — his wife, Delores.
When they married in 1986, she was working at Pillsbury’s McMinnville pie plant on Orchard Avenue. But Pillsbury closed down in 2000, leaving her in the lurch.
“I was supposed to look for work,” Delores said. Instead, she started coming in to help Joe at the appliance shop.
“I realized I was married to my best partner,” Joe said, and they became partners in work as well as life. They operate the store in an old-fashioned mom and pop style, sometimes even asking their grandsons to lend a hand.
While the heart of their business is sales and repair, the Davises also offer parts and advice to those who want to fix it themselves.
“If anybody asks, within reason, we tell them how to fix it,” he said. “And we supply them with the part if we can.”
He said, “I’m not altruistic. I want to sell parts.”
Delores especially enjoys empowering women to become do-it-yourselfers. In fact, if a customer winces at that idea, Delores said, “I’ll get crabby and tell them, ‘Yes, you can do it.’”
Joe said he’s found that helping customers any way he can keeps them coming back. He said people typically have more than one appliance, and by helping them with one, he stands a better chance of getting their business with another.
“You’re serving yourself and you’re serving your community, all at the same time,” he said.
Joe said washers, dryers and ranges account for the bulk of his business. He said customers usually bring them in, which saves them money, but he has a technician who makes house calls as well.
When he graduated with his business degree, he had visions of wearing a suit to a job in an office, he said.
“I wasn’t going to work for myself,” he said. “But you never know how you’re going to get from A to B. I like what I do.”
He said he concentrates on appliances made in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. He said newer appliances don’t hold up as well and don’t always lend themselves to economical repair.
Both Joe and Delores enjoy working with customers.
“Everybody has a good story,” Delores said. “I get to hold all the cute babies and tease the kids. It’s fun.”
During the growing season, customers often bring in produce or plants to share, she said, and that’s a nice treat. “In the summer, if you come in, you’ll end up with tomatoes or apples,” she said.
If Delores is busy and the phone rings, she might ask a customer to answer the phone. “I tell them, ‘Just say AJ’s Appliance and ask them what they want,’” she said.
Delores likes to make the business fun. She said the resale of used appliances is the biggest part of their business, with repair coming second and parts third.
“We don’t charge anybody for estimates,” Joe said. “Plus, it’s free to get rid of.”
Joe was recently out for six months, while undergoing an experimental treatment at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland for thyroid cancer that had spread to his lungs and lymph system.
He’s grateful that Delores had learned enough to keep the store running, mostly by herself. “She knew nothing when she started,” he said.
He’s also grateful for the effectiveness of the treatment.
“I’m not cancer-free, but it’s not growing,” Joe said. And in the process, he lost 130 pounds.
He also feels he’s lost his singing voice, something he’s enjoyed since the age of 10, but Delores disagrees. “He sounds beautiful,” she said.
By far the best part of the business for them is working with people. Because they own the store outright, they can decide to cut the price of an appliance for someone in need, or even give it away.
Delores said one customer cried when they came to his aid. But she said, “I think all of us are one foot away from living out of a car,” so it seems natural to reach out.
“It gives you a very deep, warm feeling,” Joe said. “People are not just a dollar.”
Her outgoing nature has led Delores to receive numerous invitations to birthday parties customers are throwing for their children.
“I think people are not used to having that personal treatment,” Joe said, “and they like it. It’s our delight in this business.”
While admitting they’d like to retire eventually, neither Joe nor Delores think that’s in the cards for them in the foreseeable future. And while they aren’t really able to take vacations, as they’d have to close the store to do that, they don’t mind.
“I could have made a lot more money if I’d done it differently,” Joe said. “But I sleep well.”