This “Retail on the Run” Q&A with David Pidgeon, the Co-Founder, President, and CEO of Dallas’s Starpower, also ran in the June 2021 issue of Dealerscope.
What’s the history of Starpower?
The original concept when we started our first store here in Dallas in 1995 was to be better than a Circuit City or Best Buy — to be a step up from them, with more knowledgeable people and nicer product lines. We weren’t necessarily higher end, but our focus even back then was to give our customers more service than what they were used to. But that isn’t who we ended up being. As Starpower evolved, we discovered that people didn’t just want better equipment and better service, they wanted the whole package — the service, the installation, and so we started developing the capacity to handle larger and larger orders.
Customers were asking for more installations and bigger projects, and to be able to do their home in Aspen or California, so we wanted to have the expertise to do it. So we changed the company’s philosophy to be more about the service than the product. And so we grew all of our own teams. We have all of our own programmers, all of our own installation teams — we don’t subcontract — and that enables us to handle all of these very difficult jobs that many people cannot. Today, we’re one of the largest custom installation companies in America. Even though we’re based in Dallas, we fly all over the country. Our largest job was $3.3 million — and that was residential, not commercial, and included everything for the house.
We started getting famous for taking care of celebrities and athletes all over the country. Pierce Brosnan, Dirk Nowitzki, Roger Staubach, Martin Sheen — name a celebrity or professional athlete and there’s a decent chance we’ve worked with them at some point. Over the years, we became more and more of a luxury concept, aimed at that luxury customer who wants the best installation and extraordinary service, without excuses, and who will become repeat customers. Our big thing is about service and taking care of people. And when you do a good job, you continue to get referrals. Two-thirds of our business is repeat referrals.
As in our early days, you can still come in and buy an off-the-shelf Sony 85-inch TV and have it delivered by us and installed or just dropped off. We do a lot of that business, too, but we only do it on the better products. We only carry the better products from major brands, but we often have special deals. In that premium space, we’re often more competitive than bigger stores, because we’re buying that higher-end product in quantity.
How many stores do you have?
We have five stores, four in the Dallas area and one in Phoenix, and some additional warehouses. We have two different concepts: Home theater showrooms in Uptown Dallas/Knox, Addison/Prestonwood, and Scottsdale/Phoenix that are each about 5,000 to 10,000 square feet; and in Southlake and North Dallas, we have two prototype showrooms, each of which has electronics, automation, and appliances, all under one roof.
About 11 years ago, Starpower bought Ed Kellum & Son, which is a high-end, very customer-service-oriented appliance retailer that has been in business since 1948. We still have one Ed Kellum store that’s just appliances about two blocks away from our Uptown/Dallas Knox Starpower showroom, but the prototype locations in Southlake and North Dallas have dedicated Ed Kellum stores built right into the showroom.
The prototype concept was awarded “Best Showroom” by CEDIA in 2017. We spend millions of dollars on the interior of our showrooms. They’re interactive, so you can see what things will look like in your house, and experience them live and in person. They’re full working kitchens that you can cook in if you want. We also have cooking demonstrations, parties, and events, too, to give you an idea of how the kitchens work. And then all of our stores have home theater rooms where you can sit down and watch an entire movie just as you would at a movie theater, complete with D-Box motion-effect seats. We have a $200,000 listening room with all the best speakers; you can just sit there and listen to a pair of speakers and experience all of the special sound-proofing — there’s about $50,000 worth of it in one of our rooms. It’s a room where you can experience what it’s like to listen to two-channel.
All of our stores are designed by Phil White, who worked on 3,200 locations for The Limited, as well as all the Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret stores.
Did the pandemic affect how you do business in any way?
Absolutely. We typically run more than 100 in-store events a year, but last year we weren’t able to run any events in the store because of the pandemic. Because we carry major appliances, consumer electronics, and do automation and networking, we were deemed essential, so Starpower never closed, but we couldn’t do events. But now we’re just starting to open up with smaller events in the store, and we also have outdoor spaces where we do cooking demonstrations with outdoor grills and other kitchen appliances.
In what ways is Starpower different from the competition?
Starpower is all about the experience. We’re not looking to sell a customer something; we’re looking to give the customer an experience that they’ll be satisfied with and remember.
How do we do that? For example, we communicate on multiple levels. Before the delivery, we notify them that we’re coming, along with who is coming (all of our people are in uniform). Then we communicate during the installation, follow up after the installation, and then follow up after we follow up. They’re in our database and our salespeople are trained to continue to follow up with them to not only make sure they’re happy, but to take care of them in the future.
I come from a fourth-generation family home furnishings company, and my father always taught me that if you take care of the customer, they’ll take care of you, and so that’s always been my philosophy. The goal of our company is to just be the best that we can be in giving customer service, to have the best reputation for that out there. If people are saying good things about Starpower, that, to me, is the best compliment I can get — a referral.
We take care of people; we put them on a pedestal. And that’s how we outdo our competition, because most of our competition is focused on the sale and how they’re going to get on to the next one. We’re focused on how we’re going to make a relationship with a customer, and continue that forever. It’s what has allowed us to continue to grow.
What is Starpower’s e-commerce or omnichannel approach?
Even online, we try to drive our customers to be able to interact with our people by phone, chat, or email. We’re still not trying to sell TVs; we’re trying to give an experience. Most people buying online, in general, aren’t getting what they truly want, maybe because they don’t know what they want and don’t have anybody to explain it to them. Yes, you can just buy things on our site, but most of our customers who start online usually request a [quote] then interact with our personnel. They might say, hey, I just need a 75-inch TV and I need a mount and I need it installed. We’ll go through all that with them, but sometimes we’ll find out, after talking with them, that they have enough room to put an 85-inch in there, and it’s only a $400 difference, and they usually want that. So even via virtual channels, people want that expertise. We give them all the options so that they make the right decision.
Name three things that the management team at Starpower has implemented that you attribute to the success of the store.
Cross-function collaboration. First, our focus on the customer experience means that the entire team, from sales to installation to administration, must work together to deliver that experience. Second, our management prioritized safe ways to bring everybody together through the pandemic, to enable them to work and keep giving our customers a great experience, support each other, and make it a positive time. The third thing was being able to adapt during the pandemic. We lowered our advertising to focus exactly and better on our exact customer — the luxury consumer — rather than try to focus on all of the different types of customers. We’re not trying to get the guy that wants just one $399 TV; we want to spend our energies giving our direct customer the best experience.
What are your goals this year?
Number One is to give the customer an even better experience — that’s always the goal and we’re always looking to improve — but this year we are also looking to make Starpower a better experience and environment for our team. We continue to try and upgrade that with special events for our employees and added incentives and achievements. We have cookouts, bowling nights, basketball games for the entire team. We’ve had Texas Rangers, Dallas Mavericks, and Dallas Stars nights — different ways to help our employees not only enjoy themselves, but also to connect and experience the camaraderie.
Do you have any plans to expand in other ways or sell other categories?
We’re very big into leather and automation, and we’re expanding into shades and adding to our lighting solutions. We hand-make all the leather seating, sofas, bar stools — anything you want. We have a factory that can custom design and build that right here in the Dallas–Fort Worth area.
You can buy a TV anywhere, but you need a specialist to build the perfect furniture, to program the automation, to install your shades — you can’t just buy those online and think that somebody can come and do it the right way. You need someone to help you pick these things out in person.
Is there anything in the building of your business that did not go the way that you expected, and that you learned from?
The greatest mistake we made was assuming that people came to us because they wanted the product. I didn’t think that installation was an important part of the equation. But as I mentioned earlier, we were able to see that and course-correct. That’s what’s allowed us to grow into who we are today.
Do you have a favorite section of the store?
That’s tough, but I’d say my favorite part of all of our stores is our ultimate theater, which is everything you’d want in a theater, from buttery-soft custom leather seats and sound-proofing to a producer’s level of audio and the very best picture from a 157-inch projected screen. There are fiber optics on the ceiling with special coverings. It’s so exciting and just makes you say “wow, this is what I would love to have in my own house.” All of our stores have these theater rooms, which have the same equipment, but different designs from traditional to contemporary. You wanted me to pick just one, but I also love our outdoor cooking and outdoor living areas outside of the stores, where we have events to show people what their patio, pool area, or backyard could be.
How does Dealerscope help you in your everyday business?
Dealerscope has been a leader in the industry of communication for many years. It helps give you the real instances of what’s going on throughout the industry, and that can be interesting and intriguing. I’m in Dallas and Scottsdale, but Dealerscope helps me find out what’s going on in Florida or elsewhere. I can’t be everywhere, but Dealerscope helps give me the pulse of the industry.
David Pidgeon is the Co-Founder, President, and CEO of Starpower.
Tom is the Editor in Chief of Dealerscope.