Safeguarding a legacy for the fourth generation

How a New Jersey retailer reinvented itself during the coronavirus to keep the family business running

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Oberg & Lindquist, a New Jersey-based home appliance retailer, has thrived as a family business for three generations. And Debra Oberg, the business’ first female president, knows how rare it is for a small business to survive for as long as her family’s has. To ensure that Oberg & Lindquist made it to a fourth generation, she significantly invested in the business by enlarging the showroom, increasing inventory and expanding delivery capabilities.

Despite the daunting odds, her efforts made her feel confident the business was on good footing. But when the coronavirus hit she learned overnight that the way Oberg & Lindquist had done business for more than 70 years would need to fundamentally change.

“I was selling appliances by the time I was 13,” Oberg says. “My father taught me it starts with relationships. Anyone can make a sale, but not everyone can make a customer.” To keep existing customers and make the new ones the business’s future depended on, Oberg knew they’d have to find some way of recreating the exceptional customer service they were known for, but do it outside the showroom.

In just a few weeks, Oberg & Lindquist had to transition from a showroom-based store to an exclusively online retailer. That forced Oberg and her team to adapt to a drastically different operating model. All customer inquiries and issues were now conducted via telephone calls and video chats, while in-person deliveries had to keep moving with added safety protocols.

“It was incredibly stressful, but we wanted to stay connected with our customers,” she explained. “We were available from 10 AM to 7 PM every day to talk to customers, answer questions and help them get what they needed. Buying an appliance is a very personal experience, and we needed to ensure that the relationship remained core to our business.”

It wasn’t just logistics that proved to be a challenge. Oberg needed financial help, badly. “Every day, I woke up wondering what lay ahead for us,” she notes. “How would I pay utilities and healthcare, keep paying the salaries of my employees and be able to buy the inventory I needed for my customers? I didn’t know what each day would bring.”

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When she heard about the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Oberg’s first call was to her bank. “I’ve only had one bank my whole life,” Oberg emphasizes. “My grandfather always told me, ’You trust and stay with your bank.’” She credits Karla Yasmin Aquilar, a Bank of America small business relationship manager, with helping her through the PPP loan application process.

With New Jersey’s phased reopening plan, Oberg & Lindquist’s doors are open again, and Oberg and her team are serving customers in person, though only by appointment. What has the experience of seeing her business through a public health crisis taught her? “We all have to trust what got us here and take it day by day,” she notes. “Running a small business is about sweat, tears and more sweat.”

As of May 2021, we’ve provided more than $34 billion in support by funding small business client loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. Learn more about how the Bank is supporting clients and communities and their small businesses during this unprecedented time.