Five Questions for Kevin Luskin

Co-Owner of The Big Screen Store, The Sofa Store and Fit! Gym talks about home entertainment trends

  • Kevin Luskin is co-owner of the new combination outlet of The Sofa Store and The Big Screen Store in Glen Burnie.
Kevin Luskin is co-owner of the new combination outlet of The… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
September 27, 2014|By Lorraine Mirabella | The Baltimore Sun

Kevin Luskin comes from a Baltimore-based retail family known for building businesses on cutting-edge home products.

Today, it's curved-screen, smart televisions. But at one time it was refrigerators.

Luskin's father, Jack, and uncle, Joe, started the Luskins' home appliance business after World War II by convincing consumers to switch from iceboxes to refrigerators. Jack Luskin eventually expanded into electronics and grew to 60 stores in 21 states with the help of his famous slogan, "The Cheapest Guy in Town."

Kevin Luskin and his brother, Cary, are continuing the retail tradition with The Big Screen Store, a growing chain of a dozen stores in Maryland and Virginia that started in 1996, around the time the former Luskins went into bankruptcy. The brothers have taken an approach similar to their father's: undercutting today's competitors such as Amazon and warehouse clubs and stressing the latest in home entertainment.

The chain became a Samsung specialist about a year and a half ago and now carries nearly every Samsung TV, including curved-screen, high-definition versions.

"Times have changed in the TV business," Kevin Luskin said. "Virtually every TV we sell is smart. TVs are now upgradable software-wise to accommodate the latest and greatest apps."

But the chain is evolving even further, as the Luskins plan to merge another of their retail concepts, The Sofa Store, into any future Big Screen locations. Last week, they opened such a combination concept at Cromwell Business Park off Interstate 97 near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. It is the second combination store of its kind, joining the first in Towson.

Kevin Luskin recently talked about their growth as an independent retailer and the latest home entertainment trends.

What are some lessons in retailing you learned from your father, Jack (now retired in Florida)?

I worked with my dad for 25 years of his career. My brother, Cary, who is my partner in everything we do, worked with him for 30 years. We were lucky. We not only had him as great father but as a mentor. Because of that, we enjoyed a second childhood and adulthood with our dad. He taught us about perseverance, drive, charity and honesty. In our business, we always put our customers first by putting ourselves in their shoes. We learned early on what it meant to people who struggled and had to finance an appliance or TV purchase — basics in life that many of us take for granted. His lessons are never forgotten. Our customers' trust, and belief in our company and our people, means everything.

What do you think will be the next big thing in home entertainment/TV sales?

The dawning of the new age of TV is called 4K Ultra HDTV. Samsung's latest models are its second generation. Program content is already available via Netflix and other smart apps built into the TV and accessed within a consumer's home network. This is the first time that the Big Screen TV viewing experience is actually ahead of what is available in movie theaters. Customers love it because they can see it especially with the larger screens — it's available in 65 inches 75 inches and 85 inches, and the 4K is four times clearer than current HD.

What are the biggest challenges ahead for independent retailers?

In business today, to be relevant, you have to be different. You have to be best of class. You have to run your business so you can survive leaner times. You have to embrace inevitable change with speed. Most importantly, you have to treat the people who work for you as family, and you must put your customer's satisfaction in position one — no matter the cost. Retailers have to be unique — so do airlines, and restaurants, and doctors and professionals and so on. If you're not different and/or appreciably better, you will be treated as a commodity — that's a hard way to go. Today, people have access to and demand the best.

How has TV/electronics retailing changed over the years you've been in business and why combine the Big Screen and the Sofa stores under one roof in future locations?

Our business has always had high-tech dynamic products — most people underutilize them and don't get the utility they deserve from them. … We demystify the technology and install everything the way it's supposed to be so it can be enjoyed the best way. Despite offering personalized service, The Big Screen Store must be "spot on" with regards to online and big-box pricing. We know customers expect more from us, being a specialist, but we know they expect that best in class service — at the same price. That's our formula: best products, killer service, spot-on pricing. There is no other way.

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