Brothers Darin and Ken Rieman, have grown Custom Distributors–which began with two employees and a pickup truck in 1985–to an enterprise with 76 employees and retail locations in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Tampa. They share with us their take on appliances: past, present and future.
What launched your family into the appliance sales arena?
KEN: With our father’s and his business partner’s financing, our Uncle Bob and I started driving door-to-door to residential building sites and taking orders. Darin joined us straight out of college in 1991. We both were raised with a strong work ethic thanks to our dad’s influence. We had a salt delivery business. We took people’s garbage out. We knew how to keep a ledger. We had all sorts of odd jobs. Dad was trying to get us prepared.
You’ve been around for 35 years. How would you sum up the evolution of appliances in that period of time?
KEN: In 1985, the highest-end appliance you could buy was a JennAir 30-inch range with a downdraft. Convection ovens were just starting to be part of the conversation. Finishes came in black, white or almond. Harvest gold was on its way out, avocado green had already left the building. We saw the first stainless steel piece in 1987. It was a Viking Range. At the time it was incredibly industrial looking. Today, 90 percent of the appliances we sell are stainless steel.
How are technological advances shaping the market?
DARIN: Today’s consumers are interested in speed and steam for faster and healthier cooking. Also there’s a race among manufacturers to get all of the different product lines “connected.”
What does it mean for appliances to be connected?
DARIN: Smart apps and appliances working together to make life a bit easier.
KEN: For example, artificial intelligence is used to inventory the contents of a refrigerator. Connected food apps then suggest recipes for dinners based on those contents.
A range can be connected with a hood to signal the start of the exhaust fan. A refrigerator can serve as a command center with a touch screen featuring Wi-Fi, voice activation, cameras and more.
If someone’s budget allows them to be extravagant on one appliance. What would you suggest they buy?
KEN: A professional range. It’s the focal point of a kitchen.
What makes a range professional?
- They are often 48” wide and can be as wide as 60”
- They should have both a low and high range BTU. For example, low for melting & simmering, high for blackening & stir frying.
- A convection oven. It cooks up to 25% faster with fan-circulated heat, without the usual hot spots created in a traditional oven.
Tip: Cookware used during convection cooking, should have low, or no sides to allow the circulating air to reach all sides of the food.
How do you help your customers select the right appliance?
KEN: We often see customers three times before they make the purchase. First, they may be overwhelmed with the choices, we help them shrink the field based on budget, size limitations and of course, their needs. On the second visit, they begin to finalize their choices. On the third and final visit, they make their selection.
DARIN: We are here to help the customer pick the best appliance package for their needs. Our sales team knows the appliances we sell. They go on two immersive trips a year, where they go to the factory and learn about various appliances in great detail—how they’re built, their features, how they work. It’s hands on. Plus we have training every week.
Does “connectivity” mean there’s more to break?
DARIN: It’s really the opposite. Smart technology monitors the performance of the appliance and suggests the most efficient settings. The most recent technology will be downloaded to the appliance to keep them at peak performance.
How do you feel about colorful finishes?
KEN: Every appliance manufacturer is experimenting with color. Our industry pays a lot of attention to the auto industry for color and design inspiration. But right now we’re seeing a bit of matte white, matte black, and definitely black stainless steel.
What do you do with the appliances you remove from a home?
KEN: We try to re-purpose them whenever possible. If they are working appliances, we donate them to local charities. If they no longer work, we recycle the materials. Also, we are proud to say we recycle 50 to 60 tons of cardboard each year.
Article published July, 2020 Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus
Photography: Connie Kimsey