Spokane Journal of Business

Fred's Appliance to enter Montana market with two stores

Retailer expects to open in Missoula next month, Kalispell later this year

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Spokane-based Fred's Appliance Inc. plans to open a new retail outlet in Missoula, Mont., in April, and is working on securing land to build a store in Kalispell, Mont., says Troy Varness, the company's general manager.

The Missoula store will be the company's first foray into Montana, Varness says, adding that the company, which has operations in Washington and Idaho, plans to continue expanding farther east into the state in the future.

Fred's Appliance currently operates a total of six stores in Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, and Kennewick. Two of those stores are what are called "ding-and-dent" retail outlets, which sell appliances with slight cosmetic damage. Varness says the two new outlets in Montana will be full retail stores with warehouse space.

He says the Missoula store will occupy a 29,000-square-foot leased space in a retail center at 4949 Buckhouse Lane, where a carpet-and-flooring store and a high-end furniture store also are located.

Plans for the Kalispell store are behind schedule, Varness says, but Fred's Appliance still hopes to open that outlet by the end of the year. The company initially eyed retail space it intended to lease, but that plan fell through, so it now is looking at buying land it can develop, he says.

"There are not a lot of available buildings to lease," he says.

Varness says Fred's Appliance is looking to acquire enough land to build a 25,000-square-foot store.

The company has hired a general manager in Montana, Doug Standley, who will oversee both the Missoula and Kalispell stores, Varness says, and he expects to hire between 15 and 20 employees at each location.

Fred's Appliance currently has 130 employees, up from last year around this time when it had around 120 people working for the company. Varness anticipates the business will see continued employment growth. He says sales have been strong so far this year, adding the company saw the best February sales numbers it's had in 15 years.

"All indications are this year is going to be a little better than we've had in the past," Varness says.

Fred's Appliance posted double-digit sales growth last year and beat the industrywide average of a 4.4 percent increase in appliance shipments, he says.

Industry trends for this year are projecting appliance sales will be flat or down slightly, Varness says, adding one fact that may change the projections is the health of the new home construction market which drives a lot of appliance industry sales.

He says the new home construction is starting to take off nationally.

The National Association of Home Builders says builders began work on 780,000 new homes nationally last year, a four-year high going back to 2008.

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