Warners’ Stellian: Selling Appliances with a Sustainable Business Model
Sep 30, 2013 08:25AM
By Michelle Hamburger
Warners’ Stellian (WS) began in 1954 when Jim Warner was hired at Stellian Company, an appliance store in St. Paul. “My father started as a salesman,” says Jeff Warner, current WS president and Jim Warner’s son. “He was offered the opportunity to buy the business and he accepted the offer.”
The Warners are proud of the multi-generational business the elder Warner established. His efforts have had a profound effect on the entire family. All nine Warner children have been employees at one time or another and four of the siblings still run the company. Today, Jim Warner’s grandchildren also maintain positions in WS, carrying on their grandfather’s legacy.
Being a family-owned business has played a powerful role in community relations and overall customer satisfaction. One of Warners’ Stellian’s promises is that customers will build a relationship with an individual, not with a corporation. WS staff members strive to offer a more personal shopping experience than at “big box” stores, and the result is an increasingly loyal customer base.
With more than 50 years of experience as home and kitchen appliance specialists, Warners’ Stellian’s small-business mentality has helped it remain strong and continue to grow. Today there are eight retail stores between the Twin Cities and Rochester.
Jeff Warner says WS has worked hard to change misconceptions about the company. “The common perception is that we are high quality; that we are a good business, but that we are expensive,” he says. He adds that it’s true that his company has expensive brands available, but that they are only some of more than 50 appliance brands that will easily suit any budget.
Over the last decade, WS has incorporated a sustainability program to improve its carbon footprint. Any remodeling includes energy-saving updates such as natural heat venting and low-flow plumbing fixtures. As a way to save fuel usage, delivery vehicles automatically power off after five minutes of idling and delivery routes are carefully planned to minimize transport costs. WS also claims to have the largest selection of Energy Star appliances in the state.
In 2009, WS purchased a Styrofoam densification machine, which grinds down Styrofoam packaging and condenses it into heavy logs. The logs are then loaded into trucks and shipped to be repurposed as new packaging. Jeff Warner says seeing the amount of recycled Styrofoam is incredible, because people don’t realize how much waste even small companies generate. “You see the mountains of pallets and here we’re able to sell it again to be used as new packaging,” he says. “It’s pretty neat.” Cardboard packaging, wooden pallets and scrap metal were already being recycled, but the compactor made it possible for more than 85 percent of Warners’ Stellian’s trash to be accounted for.
The compactor helped earn a Sustainable St. Paul Award in 2011. The award was presented by then-Mayor Chris Coleman, who recognized WS for its significant investments in waste prevention and reduction, recycling and composting. WS also was honored for donations made to Merrick, Inc., a nonprofit organization for adults with disabilities.
Most recently WS installed more than 400 solar panels and reflectors on the roof of its corporate headquarters and warehouse in St. Paul. The solar panels power about 20 percent of the building’s electricity and will recoup its own cost within a five-year span.
Sustainability is important to both WS and to the Warner family. “Sustainability efforts are expensive, but they’re the right thing to do,” Jeff Warner says. “Otherwise the stuff that our industry uses goes into the Earth and it does not biodegrade.” He believes that knowing the realities of appliance waste and not doing something about it is wrong.
He admits that environmentally conscious efforts aren’t always easy and can sometimes backlash. “We set ourselves up to be vulnerable to the press or to those who whistle-blow or point fingers at us,” he says, adding that there are people who may never be satisfied no matter what a company tries to do. Even so, he says that WS has no regrets over the steps it has taken to make a difference. “We are doing the right thing, which feels good.”
Michelle Hamburger is a marketing/sales representative and freelance writer for Natural Awakenings. She can be reached at [email protected]