When Dale Nelson started repairing small appliances in the garage of his home, East Fillmore Street was a dirt road, and Nelson’s shop was surrounded by horse pasture.
The city has grown up to surround that property now, but the lot still houses Nelson’s legacy, Nelson Appliance Repair.
Now owned by Bret Geihsler, an employee for some 30 years, the business has faced a lot of challenges, including today’s “throwaway” culture and the availability of parts and cheap appliances online. But Geihsler and his crew have managed to find the niches that keep them in business.
Nelson Appliance Repair is one of the few places in town where you can get a broken lamp fixed, and the shop is an authorized service center for small appliances including vacuums, carpet cleaning machines, mixers, high-end espresso machines, slow cookers and space heaters.
“We work with big brands in vacuums including Bissell, Hoover, Royal, Dirt Devil and Dyson,” Geihsler said. Other brands for which Nelson is authorized to provide warranty and out-of-warranty service include Mr. Coffee, Norelco, Oster, Sunbeam, T-Fal, Krups and DeLonghi.
The shop also sells or obtains hard-to-find parts for do-it-yourselfers who want to work on their appliances or need replacements for items such as air cleaner filters, vacuum cleaner belts and blender gaskets.
Dale Nelson founded the shop in 1957.
“Word of mouth started to bring him a lot of business,” Geihsler said. “A few years later he tore the house and garage down and put up the shop.”
Nelson originally operated three businesses out of the shop, but the appliance repair business grew rapidly and took over the space.
By the late 1980s, when Geihsler was hired, Nelson Appliance had established relationships with many manufacturers, who referred customers to Nelson for repair work. Fixing vacuums, toasters, electric shavers, mixers and lamps kept Geihsler and about seven other employees busy.
The shop launched a website and started offering parts for sale in the late 1990s.
“That took off quickly,” Geihsler said. “We were one of the only entities that offered blender parts and replacement coffee pots. We had to expand the shipping department to keep up.”
When Nelson retired and moved to Missouri in 1996, one of his co-workers bought the business.
“She moved away in 2004. She offered the business to me and I bought it,” Geihsler said.
About that time, things began to change.
“We were finding that parts we were selling were being sold [on the internet] for less than we were buying them for,” he said. At the same time, manufacturers were changing their business models, ending service center contracts and focusing on selling new machines.
Since 2002, business has dropped by about 60 percent and has remained at about that level, forcing Geihsler to cut back staff to four people.
“We had a couple of really tough years in 2010 and 2011,” Nelson said.
By then, prices on items like toasters and electric shavers had dropped to the point where it was less expensive to buy them new than to pay for repairs.
Geihsler was able to maintain referral business from some manufacturers, however, and has developed new relationships with manufacturers such as DeLonghi, maker of quality espresso machines. Geihsler has become expert at repairing them.
“We have to keep an eye on trends and things coming into homes like espresso machines,” Geihsler said.
Another niche for Nelson is children’s ride-on toys such as scooters and battery-operated cars and trucks made by Razor and Power Wheels.
Lamp repairs have always been a mainstay of the business and “now has really gone up for us,” he said. Nelson also picked up business after the demise of many local vacuum shops during the recession.
One positive trend is that many consumers are tiring of the throwaway culture.
“We have that conversation a lot,” Geihsler said, and a recycling philosophy has become a selling point.
As Nelson Appliance’s website puts it: “In today’s green, waste-conscious world, it is important to make an effort to return any broken or non-working items to usefulness if we can.”
Word of mouth, repeat customers and limited advertising are still bringing business through Nelson Appliance’s door, as well as the shop’s reputation for quick repair.
“We try to turn lamps around within a day or two,” Geihsler said.
Other items can take a week or more, depending on how long it takes to get parts.
Geihsler said business has been tight this summer, typically a slower time, but he looks forward to a pick-up this month and plans to stock a lot of mixers for holiday shoppers.
“Once the kids get back into school,” he said, “things should start coming back, building as we get to the holidays.”