Plugged Into the Community: Hammersmith TV

Founder Les Hammersmith and manager Steve Sohns have made customer service the calling card at Hammersmith TV and Radio Shack in Sister Bay. Photo by Dan Eggert.

“Technology moves fast,” the commercial says. “We feel your pain…You buy it now, we buy it back when the new thing comes out.”

Best Buy’s new Buy Back program perfectly illustrates that in today’s technology industry replacement is often the first option for aging or broken gadgets. But for Sister Bay’s Hammersmith TV & RadioShack, the key to survival lies in service and repair.

Hammersmith has persevered for half a century as a small electronics business in a small community by emphasizing personal customer service.

“We have a service background here – we know how this stuff works from the inside out,” says manager Steve Sohns, who has worked at Hammersmith since 1983. “We’re always here to answer questions and help people.”

Founded in 1961 by Les Hammersmith, the business was originally located at the site of what is now JJ’s restaurant in north Sister Bay before moving to its current location at 10514 Country Lane. It became a RadioShack franchise in 1976, and is now one of nearly 7,200 RadioShack locations worldwide.

Customers are often surprised at the variety of electronics Hammersmith offers in their small Sister Bay store. Hammersmith must constantly fight the perception, especially among young people, that a trip to Green Bay is required to buy major electronics.

“It’s getting more difficult, because the younger generation is into the Best Buys and the big stores,” Sohns says.

But inside the store customers find a wall of high definition televisions, stereo equipment, and supplies from ink cartridges and recordable DVDs to iPod docks to satellite radios. Sohns will also order specially requested merchandise, but most of Hammersmith’s revenue, Sohns says, comes from installations, service and repair.

“Door County really can’t support us [purely on sales],” he says. “It’s the service work that keeps us going.”

Sohns says the company’s sales can significantly fluctuate from year to year.

“We’re driven by the market,” he says. “You have good years when something new comes out and everybody wants it, and then when the market is no longer needing that, it’s on to something else you hope.”

That inconsistent business is complicated further, Sohns says, by the nature of selling electronics in Door County.

“Door County’s kind of a tough area because usually what’s new in big cities doesn’t really hit us ’til the following year or two,” Sohns says. “There’s also technologies that we can’t utilize up here. We’re at the mercy of the powers that be.”

Hammersmith emphasizes finding the right solutions for its customers, not just the ones with the most megapixels or gigabytes.

“A lot of the hype that they put on these products is just smoke and mirrors,” Sohns says. “When we sell stuff to people we tell them the truth. We all gotta live together, so we’re not out to tell stories just to make an extra buck.”

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