Luxury Appliance Distributor Breaks Tradition With New Repair Business Aimed at Fixing Poor Appliance Service

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Clarke, a luxury appliance distributor, specializes in only a few brands, making it able to stock more parts and improve training. In the past, service was left to the appliance retailer and is often a weak link in customer satisfaction.

We just examined everything that was wrong with service businesses in general, and appliance service specifically, and fixed it point-by-point.

When it comes to service, the appliance industry is right up there with cable -- the perennial butt of bad-service jokes.

That is until Tom Clarke -- a distributor of luxury appliance brands -- decided to fix it.

Clarke grew up in the appliance industry and, in 1991, founded a luxury appliance distributorship to represent the toniest of brands -- Sub-Zero refrigerators, Wolf ranges and Asko dishwashers, Best ventilation systems, and KWC sinks and faucets. Customers complained when the service quality did not measure up to the brands' reputation.

As desirable as these brands are with affluent homeowners, service fell to the retailers who were getting poor marks from customers. Consumer Reports even singled out Sub-Zero for service deficiencies. Clarke saw a role for himself in mending this weak link in customer satisfaction. "Unfortunately, retail appliance companies regard their service divisions as unprofitable but necessary in order to win the right to represent and sell these brands. We felt that if we did it right, we could price our service competitively, keep customers happy, and make a profit."

Clarke recently introduced Clarke Customer Care -- aimed at fixing appliance service woes with superlative convenience, capability and courtesy. He attacked the three biggest consumer complaints -- poor scheduling, untrained and unkempt technicians and delayed repairs due to out-of-stock parts.

"We just examined everything that was wrong with service businesses in general, and appliance service specifically, and fixed it point-by-point." Clarke says.

Scheduling. Clarke says, "We trained our dispatchers to schedule service appointments with the customers’ needs in mind and to begin diagnosing the problem over the phone to make the service call more efficient."

Appearance. Adds Clarke, "Every Clarke Customer Care technician receives two full-days of training in human relations with a consulting psychologist. We also insist on a perfect professional appearance -- a clean starched shirt, disposable booties to avoid tracking in dirt, and soft tool bags to prevent scratching the customers’ floors."

Parts. Having to wait for an appliance service call is inconvenient enough, but having to wait again for the technician to return with the right part is even worse. Clarke explains, "Unlike retailers who have to repair numerous brands, Clarke services only the three luxury brands it wholesales, which greatly simplifies inventory and technical training. We also purchased Mercedes vans that are tall enough to stand in. We keep the vehicles immaculate and well organized. Every day we make sure each truck has 15,000 parts onboard. That’s 5,000 more parts than required by the manufacturers."

Dissatisfied customers vote with their feet by simply walking away quietly. "Almost as soon as we launched Clarke Customer Care," says Clarke, "We knew we were filling a void. Retailers began asking us to provide service to their customers and positive letters have been pouring in."

Rooted in Luxury Appliances. Clarke has played a major role in shaping consumer tastes for high-end appliances. The company built sumptuous, 50,000 square-foot showrooms in Milford, MA and S. Norwalk, CT where Sub-Zero, Wolf and Asko appliances are installed in superbly designed, live kitchens. Unlike wholesalers who deal only with the trade, Clarke welcomes retail consumers to visit and even cook in the kitchens. Clarke kitchen and appliance professionals are on hand to provide consumer information in a non-sales atmosphere. In addition, architects and designers often bring in their clients to get ideas for their new kitchens. All of which supports the brands on the retail level.

To position the company as the premiere information source on luxury appliances and underscore the link between its products and great cuisine, Clarke hosts gourmet food events with celebrity chef Ming Tsai, partners with Canyon Ranch, and organizes joint promotions with Gourmet, Elle Decor and Metropolitan Home magazines.

Three-Generation Family Business. Tom Clarke became involved with Sub-Zero in 1959, when his father Jim Clarke, Sr. began selling the brand at the family’s Stamford, CT store -- well before luxury kitchens were in vogue. Tom’s son Sean has now joined Clarke, making it a three-generation family business.

Likewise, its Marquee brand, Sub-Zero, is a three generation family-owned and operated company. Patriarch Westye F. Bakke pioneered food preservation with Clarence Birdseye and was a fixture among no-nonsense Wisconsin farmers who bought milk coolers from him. He also designed refrigerators to complement Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style homes. During an era when industrial designer Raymond Loewy streamlined everything from toasters to locomotives, the Bakke family insisted on Sub-Zero’s classic box shape -- a design theme emulated today by every US and European appliance company.

Westye’s son Bud joined the company in the late 40s. During the 50s, Bud pioneered total kitchen concept design and separate systems for the freezer and refrigerator box to eliminate odor transfer -- hallmarks of today’s Sub-Zero refrigerators. In 1981, Bud’s son James joined Sub-Zero and is president and CEO. The company continues to produce refrigerators in the US that are superbly engineered, hand-built and individually tested. In 2000 it acquired Wolf ranges.

Clarke Customer Care services Sub-Zero, Wolf and Asko brand products in Rhode Island, Central and Eastern Massachusetts, Southeastern New Hampshire, and the South coast of Maine. See details at http://www.clarkecustomercare.net/ or tel. 877-9CLARKE.

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Dick Pirozzolo
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