Jason Agren’s father founded Agren Appliance and four years ago, he bought the business from him. Headquartered in Auburn, the company has five retail locations, two warehouses, 86 employees and plans to keep on growing.

1. How many roles have you held within the company?

My father made it very clear that the more jobs within the company I could learn, the more competent I would be at understanding how the business worked. Although not on the payroll, I was sweeping sidewalks and cleaning appliances at the age of 12. By the time I was in high school, I was delivering and installing appliances during the summers.

Toward the end of high school and during college summers, I was working in sales and marketing. When I came back into the business full-time, I worked in marketing, corporate development and outside sales. Eventually, I was promoted to vice president and was in charge of running the day-to-day operations. I have been acting as owner/president of the company since 2010.

2. What are three keys to holding your own — and growing — in the face of competition from national chains?

Your people. When I took over as vice president, the first thing I did was focus on hiring the right people. I spent several years hiring and training the right people. These people are still helping run — and grow — my company today. It is all about your people.

Customer service/service. This is how my father successfully started the company and this is what we still hang our hat on today. Our company is not perfect, but we always do the right thing for the customer at the end of the day. Exceptional customer service is very expensive. We take care of issues that, in many circumstances, are not our fault. This is all part of taking care of the customer, and it is — and always will be — the foundation of our business.

Competitive pricing. It is very simple in today’s retail environment: You offer the lowest price, or match pricing if you are higher than the competition, or you will not last. The toughest message to communicate to the public is that we match pricing, or offer better pricing to start. People inherently think that we are more expensive because we are an independent dealer. That is not the case.

3. What went into the decision to purchase Vic’s Appliance Center this winter?

The timing happened to be perfect. Around the time that I was considering opening another location in the southern portion of the state to increase our footprint, I was approached by the former owner of Vic’s Appliance. He was ready to get out of the business and operated his store on the same principles that we ran ours. He wanted the new owner to continue to take care of his customers and support his community, so it happened to be a perfect fit.

In February of this year, we purchased the business, which included the building and all of the inventory. We were able to keep 16 of the 18 employees and the store is now successfully operating under the Agren name.

4. What is a policy or issue you’re following this spring at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on Agren’s?

Although obvious, I would say that the presidential election is my answer. Regardless of the outcome, the election cycle up through November will certainly impact my business. From the cost of television advertising to the uncertainty of the outcome, elections are not good for durable goods purchases.

Additionally, depending on who takes office, issues like foreign trade and foreign policy with Asia, for example, could affect the appliance business as a whole.

5. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

Technology — specifically mobile technology. The millennial market is already important, but it is going to be incredibly important in a very short period of time. The way they integrate mobile technology into their lives is astonishing. From fitness tracking devices to smartphones that take your blood pressure and report it to your physician, I believe mobile technology will become even more important in our daily lives.

Add increased spending power to the millennial generation’s deep relationship with technology and mobile technology will explode.

6. You’re stranded on a deserted island that has, remarkably, one outlet. You can only have one appliance to help with daily living. Which do you choose?

The new Samsung Family Hub refrigerator. The refrigerator has a 21.5” LCD screen located on the top right-hand door (that) acts as the digital command center. The screen allows you to post, share and update calendars, pin photos, share your kids’ works of art and leave notes. It also offers options for music streaming that you can play through the built-in speakers or connect to your Bluetooth wireless speaker. You can even watch your favorite TV program on the LCD screen.

As a new innovation, the refrigerator has three high-quality cameras inside that take photos each time you open the door. If you are at the store and want to know if you have a particular food, you can access the camera images on an app from your phone. This is definitely the appliance you want to have on a deserted island.

Six Questions for the CEO is a monthly feature on the faces and names that keep business interesting. Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected]


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