MIDDLETOWN – J.R. Zaleski had an early introduction to the world of appliance repair.
“Somebody would call in and ask for their dishwasher to be repaired, so my dad and I would go out to their house and fix their appliance,” said Zaleski. “At 7 or 8 years old, I would go along with him and carry his tool box.
“Even though I was very young, I made sure that I learned every part of the business,” said Zaleski. “I started dealing with customers at a very young age as well. Customers are somewhat apprehensive towards interacting with a kid over the phone, but they would talk to me and realize I knew something about the business and it would ease their worries.”
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His dad Alexander’s business, which started out of their house in 1970, grew to become Community Appliance, the Route 35 store that sells all different types of devices, particularly clothing washers and dryers, as well as dishwashers and refrigerators.
“The best thing we did at that time was just growing the business into a successful, good size business and putting the grind in everyday,” Zaleski said. “We did not take days off and we even worked when we were sick. We are able to make time for family, but still make the business do well because everything is in place from what we put in motion over the last 47 years.”
After his father worked out of their house for 13 years, the family opened their first retail store off Route 35 where Whole Foods is now located currently. They moved in 1990, and again in 2003, buying the property where they’re no located so rent is no longer an issue.
Finding those early customers was the toughest part. “The hurdle was getting the customers in the door in the beginning and being concerned about making it another year,” Zaleski said.
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His own boss
It was clear that Zaleski had a passion for this business from a young age and he never wanted to do anything else. He loved being his own boss and knew that it was something that just fit for him.
“My dad started me out on the delivery trucks and then I transitioned into retail,” said Zaleski. “Once I turned 19, I was working full-time on the sales floor. One thing that makes this business worth while is that it is always changing and there is a good amount of competition, not only form other small businesses, but from the big box stores. For me, I have been doing it for so long and it is just in my blood.”
One thing that really keeps Zaleski coming back is his interaction and relationship with his customers. He has built a good reputation in town and his customers know that he is always there, in case they need anything from him.
“We still have customers that we have dealt with for the last 30 or 40 years,” said Zaleski. “Some customers will call us on the phone and ask us to deliver and install a washer and they don’t even have to come into the store. It’s all about being a part of the community doing the business.”
Appliances have become more high-tech over the years. Smartphone apps enable customers to control and engage with the settings on their appliances remotely.
“It’s pretty much all major appliances,” said Zaleski. “With laundry, people shop at our store for bigger capacity, but with refrigeration, customers will go as far as shopping for appliances that have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection, so they can use their phones to interact with the devices themselves.”
One new trend with appliances is a black stainless look, and this style can be applied to more than just one piece of equipment.
“There is a black pigment being put into the stainless,” said Zaleski. “It’s becoming very popular with customers because of the way it looks and has been selling very well for the last 15 years. Before that style became trendy, it was vanilla or white, which was always the go-to color for a long time.
“The reason that these colors and styles are so well liked is all because of the generation, meaning that the younger customers love to have all of the bells and whistles on their appliances,” Zaleski said.
As for the distant future of Community Appliance, Zaleski hopes that one of his three children will eventually take it over. His daughter just started working there a few weeks ago.
“Hopefully, one of my kids will take over the business,” said Zaleski. “We put so much blood and sweat into it that you don’t want to just turn the key and see the business go under. My daughter is learning the ropes right now and we are teaching her the ins and outs of things like answering the phones and learning to use the computers. There is a lot to learn, but I want to relay all aspects of this business to my children, just the way that I learned everything myself.”