This is the first interview in a series of sitting down with some local business owners and asking them about their journey. The goals are to help others learn from their triumphs, mistakes, and to celebrate them as business owners!
Chris Welvaert– owner, True Gorge Stoves and Spas
How long have you owned your business?
8 years the end of January 2019 (Congrats to them!!!)
I was nine years in Seattle in the specialty stove business then I moved to Hood River. I spent one year in the contracting business and decided it was much too broad. At the time a stove store had just closed in Hood River, there was a void, so I jumped back in.
How many employees do you have?
How do you do training?
We have a weekly team meeting before work, it’s about an hour.
There was a time I was wondering if it was worth the payroll and time. I had an employee move to Spokane and start working for a store there. He called me and said that he felt very disconnected, there were no meetings, no team meetings. He didn’t feel like part of a team and the entire place felt chaotic. That was great affirmation from an employee’s perspective to keep doing what we’re doing.
What incentives or activities do you do with employees?
We have our weekly training, and everyone has access to a shared Google calendar where they can write anything they wish to bring up or have addressed.
We just started an employee retention program, it’s a simple IRA. When I set it up the financial manager said, “you know, most small businesses don’t do this”.
Yes, I could keep that extra money in our bank account, put in more savings for kids’ college, etc. When I worked in Seattle, the company I worked for did this for us. I came to Hood River with a bit of savings in there which I used some of to start this business.
What do you feel are the best things you’ve done for your business?
- I’ve built the business organically with very little debt. I bought and paid for small orders. The trend is to mortgage yourself and borrow to be able to have much inventory on the floor. The reps encourage it, wanting to fill our showroom. I have taken out a small business loan and another for a vehicle but we’ve worked really hard to pay them off as soon as possible.
- One fun staff incentive we have is a money grab bag reward system for meeting our sales goals. The staff loves it and it helps us keep serving our customer’s needs at the top of our minds when out in the field.
- We also have Training and To Do manuals. This has helped me to be able to step away from my business more and be confident that the same level of service and quality is being carried out when I’m not on the floor.
- Weekly Meeting
- Training Manual
What two accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m very proud that we have the highest reviews of all fireplace stores in Oregon. We’re second in Washington, third in Idaho and California.
Our motto is People Over Product.
If we sell good product, the product sells itself. Repeat business is a huge in this small community. I had a client come in from Moro. After we helped him and completed his job he told me why he had come so far. He said, ‘The reason why I came here were your reviews and particularly your response to the negative review.”
That meant a lot. I remember when we received that review. It wasn’t even factually based but I did what I always do: research. I Googled, ‘how to respond to a poor review’. I’m a researcher with most everything.
If hindsight were 20/20, what would you have done differently, earlier?
There are definitely three things.
- Don’t do a handshake contract partnership. Data shows partnership relationships don’t work often. I had a funny feeling but ignored it.
- Be 100% on board with my wife. She definitely wasn’t a fan. It’s important for my wife to be enthusiastic for the big and small things, otherwise it’s simply not worth it. Two months into a five year lease my partner left. (Ouch!!)
- I would have put more thought into changing our name when my partner left. My wife wasn’t a fan of the name True Gorge Artisans. At the time we had just paid for graphics and licensing of the name and now I was a solo business owner without a partner. I was reluctant to spend that money again to rebrand. Two years later we were still getting calls from people asking if we did bread and jewelry. Artisan is not a name you connect with stoves. Now we’re True Gorge Stoves and Spas.
What are the most recent or the most impactful books/podcasts/etc. for you?
I’m a listener learner. If I pick up a book I fall to sleep.
Currently I’m listening to Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell (Samantha lights up with excitement as that’s my #1 favorite Customer Service read – click HERE to read my review.).
I’m really liking it. The author said that not everyone’s customer service looks the same and it was reaffirming to read that. He did some crazy stuff!
I also recently read The E-Myth (Samantha freaks out once again! Recommends every entrepreneur read.). It’s an excellent read. Not every person wants, or should, become a manager and that’s where many entrepreneurs trip up.
“A business owner has to be willing to change”Chris Welvaert
“If you are going to have employees, you’re going to have turnover.”Chris Welvaert
Do you have a business owner you’d like me to interview? Shoot me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org
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