Sears Hometown has a new owner
Local businessman Joseph Koch is now at the helm
Sears Hometown, located in the Crossroads Mall, has a new owner. In early June, the enterprise was purchased by Joseph Koch a local businessman who also owns JJK Rentals, which has properties in Fort Dodge, Pocahontas and Rockwell City.
The business handles some of the merchandise lines that are sold in full-service Sears department stores. Unlike those stores, however, the Sears Hometown outlets are locally owned through a franchise arrangement. To make it possible for local owners to handle the cost of having a large and expensive array of products on the floor, Sears owns that inventory even though it does not own the store.
“We get the product from Sears,” Koch said. “The way they work, I don’t buy the product. They own it. When we sell it, we get a cut back.”
Koch said his store is an unusually large, well-stocked representative of the Sears Hometown network of stores.
“I think this is the biggest Sears Hometown in Iowa. It’s about 11,000 square feet total with the warehouse,” he said. “The showroom is 10,000 square feet.”
Sears Hometown specializes is a subset of the products traditional Sears stores carry.
“We have a full line of kitchen appliances,” Koch said. “The appliances are the big driver. The majority of our business is appliances. Everybody needs a washer and a dryer and a fridge and a stove.”
He said the store offers the Kenmore brand in addition to other options.
The store also stands ready to meet the needs of apartment building owners and home builders.
“We do bulk buys on appliances for landlords and people doing construction,” Koch said. “You get a better discount if you buy more items.”
That’s an aspect of the business that he said he plans to expand in the months ahead.
There is much more to Sears Hometown in Fort Dodge than meeting customers’ appliance needs. The store also sells bedding, tools and lawn and garden equipment.
“We have all your mowers,” Koch said. “We carry Craftsman. We started carrying Husqvarna. We have a whole line of yard equipment. We carry a full line of Craftsman tools and DeWalt tools. We carry mattresses. We just actually remodeled and brought in bunch of new items. We added the whole DeWalt line of tools. We added power tools from Craftsman.”
At the moment, lawn and garden products selling briskly.
“We’re moving through a lot of push mowers and riders,” he said, noting that when winter inevitably returns his store will stock an array of snow removal products.
Given its size, Sears Hometown has many products on the floor. Special orders for items that are not, however, are welcome.
“Customers can get on our website and order through that,” Koch said. “We stock a little bit but a lot we order in. Typically, we can get it in a week. If we have it here in stock we can get it out the next day. I can jump in the truck, load it up and get it out there. We do delivery in a 35-mile radius. We will go outside of that, but we try to stick within that 35 miles.”
He said a making sure potential customers understand what his store has to offer is a priority at the moment.
“Just getting people to know we are here and we what we actually carry,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize everything that we carry.”
Koch is a hands-on owner. He works in the store regularly. Before making the final decision to purchase the business he worked at Sears Hometown for a time to evaluate whether or not he wished to buy it.
“I started working here knowing that I was thinking about buying it,” Koch said. “That was for about four months. It gave me an idea of what I was getting into.”
He said the workforce currently includes six people, but will probably be expanded.
“We’re trying to hire a few more,” Koch said.
He said one thing that sets this store apart from some other places appliances and other products are sold is the quality of the professionals who are part of his team.
“It’s not like a box store,” Koch said. “We actually have salespeople to come and help you and take care of you. We have training courses through Sears. They train you on how to sell the product and how everything works.”
He noted that Randy Lohmeier, one of his key sales associates has worked for Sears and subsequently for Sears Hometown for 46 years.
In 2015, shortly after Sears Hometown in Fort Dodge was launched, Lohmeier was asked by The Messenger to explain his sales approach. He said the key to the success of Sears Hometown is taking care of customers properly.
“It’s important to give the customer a personal touch,” Lohmeier said. “You try to sell a good product. You try to be honest.”
He said the way a sales person communicates with customers has a lot to do with whether they hold a store in high regard.
“Ask questions and listen,” Lohmeier said. “Suggest. Don’t be overpowering. A lot of people ask me if I would buy a particular product and I tell them ‘yes’ or ‘no’ honestly. I think people value that.”
Koch said that customer-focused sales approach is very much part of his business philosophy.
“We’re a locally owned business,” he said. “I live right here in town. We’re here to take care of you. We’re not a big corporation. We’re here to stay as long as we get support from the community. Everything Sears has we can take part in.”
He said he is highly competitive in pricing.
“We price match,” Koch said. “If you can find it cheaper, we’ll match it.”
After just a few weeks as the store’s owner, he is bullish about its prospects.
“Hopefully it keeps rolling,” Koch said. “We’ve been increasing on sales every day. As long as that keeps happening, I’m a happy camper.”
Meet the new owner
Koch graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1998.
“I worked for Slumberland Furniture after I got out,” he said. “Then I went to Fort Dodge Distributing. I worked there for 13 years. From there I started my rental business. I have 27 rental properties. Fifteen are single-family houses and 12 are apartments.
“In Fort Dodge I don’t have a problem keeping houses full,” he said. “Especially with that meatpacking plant coming in.”
Asked why he was interested in buying Sears Hometown he had a straightforward answer.
“I like a good challenge,” he said.
Koch said he is enjoying being the owner of Sears Hometown.
“I want to make it a thriving business in the community,” he said. “It should be a lot of fun.”