By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
When Don Johnson joined his father, Sam, in the family’s Ocean City appliance business in the early 1970s, the marketplace was dramatically different than it is today.
“When I started, there were seven appliance dealers in Ocean City,” Don recalled.
He paused for a moment before adding, “We’re the last one.”
Actually, Johnson’s Appliances & Bedding has been around for a lot longer than the 1970s. After returning home from serving in the Army during World War II, Sam Johnson teamed up with his brother, Irv, to found the business in Ocean City in 1945.
Both Sam and Irv, now deceased, were electricians by trade and made their living repairing appliances.
Then came a pivotal moment.
“They figured that as long as they were going to fix them, they might as well sell them,” Don said of their decision to start an appliance business.
Now Johnson’s Appliances is celebrating its 75th anniversary, thriving in a business generally not known for longevity. Does anyone remember the failed Circuit City and Silo electronic chains, for instance? And what about those six other now-gone Ocean City appliance dealers that Don Johnson mentioned?
Don, 66, who has been joined by his 30-year-old son, Brett, as the next generation of the Johnson family in the business, said the key to survival is being able to adapt to rapid changes in the marketplace and provide outstanding customer service.
“It was the philosophy when I took over from my dad. I said we need to change, adapt and grow,” he explained.
Over the years, Johnson’s Appliances has moved to different spots along Asbury Avenue in downtown Ocean City as the business has expanded. The last move was in 1972. Johnson’s took over a former car dealership showroom at 930 Asbury Ave. at that time and transformed it into its flagship location.
Wanting to expand its reach into southern Cape May County, Johnson’s Appliances opened a store in North Wildwood in 1999. The North Wildwood store is at 2510 New York Ave.
“It’s the knowledge of the business that keeps us moving and keeps us growing,” Don said.
Johnson’s bills itself as the oldest independent appliance dealer at the shore and serves all of Cape May and Atlantic counties.
Among its products, it sells refrigerators, washers and dryers, dishwashers, mattresses, grills and ranges.
Johnson’s is in the midst of its Black Friday sales event through Dec. 2. As a special promotion in celebration of its 75th anniversary, it is offering a free one-year extended warranty on any new appliance purchased between now and Dec. 31.
“This offer is in addition to the warranty provided by the manufacturer and is our special way to give back to the community that has supported our business all these years,” Johnson’s says in its promotion.
Indeed, 75 years is a very long time for a family-owned business. Don currently has no plans to retire, but when that day does come, his son Brett will be ready to guide Johnson’s Appliances into the future as the owner.
“It was a sense of what I was going to do,” Brett said of his transition into ownership after returning to Ocean City following his college days at the University of Oregon, where he was a track star and sub-4-minute miler.
Brett is the fourth generation of the family to be involved with the business. After Sam and Irv opened Johnson’s Appliances just after the war, their father, also named Irv, worked in the store following his retirement as Ocean City’s fire chief.
Brett, whose specialty is sales, has strengthened the ties between Johnson’s and local businesses, builders and designers. Brett has also been working with the store’s general manager, Gary Press, 65, to expand Johnson’s digital marketing and sales.
Don, Brett and Gary have blended their sales, marketing and operating skills to keep Johnson’s Appliances competitive and respond to the needs of customers.
“Our business is truly about customer service,” Gary said. “We understand the uniqueness of the marketplace.”
Don stressed that Johnson’s intimate knowledge of the appliance business gives it an advantage over big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
“There were always some major marketplace players. Some have gone away,” he said about Circuit City and other defunct electronics chains. “Now, there is Lowe’s and Home Depot. But they don’t do the same thing as we do.”
Nor have they been in business for 75 years.
Johnson’s Appliances & Bedding store locations include 930 Asbury Avenue in Ocean City (609-399-1598) and 2510 New York Avenue in North Wildwood (609-522-1421). More information is available at www.johnsonsappliances.net