1937 was a good year for two businesses to start small and think big.
The furniture store founded in the basement of a clothing shop in Nebraska became the largest home furnishings store in North America.
The electric company established that year in Denton County would one day become the second-largest electric cooperative in Texas.
But Nebraska Furniture Mart and CoServ Electric have more in common than their humble beginnings and exponential growth.
The two companies share a strong commitment to serving communities and individuals with integrity and excellent customer service.
As both celebrate their 80th anniversary as companies this year, a review of their relationship reveals even more similarities.
Rose Gorelick Blumkin moved to the U.S. in 1917, following her husband in pursuit of the American dream. She founded Nebraska Furniture Mart 20 years later in the basement of her husband’s shop.
Mrs. B (as she was known) believed that honesty and integrity would serve her well in life and in business, and these core concepts helped her establish what would become a Midwestern retail giant. Fate tested her resolve in 1975 when a tornado caused millions in damage to her flagship store. Determined, she rebuilt it “bigger and better.”
Though she sold 80 percent of the business to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 1983, Mrs. B remained a fixture at Nebraska Furniture Mart, greeting customers from her motorized cart at the age of 100. Today, her grandsons, Irv and Ron Blumkin, represent the third generation of the family at the company’s helm.
Denton County Electric Cooperative, as CoServ was then known, was chartered in May 1937 and began providing energy in February 1938 to the first lines just north of Krum.
DCEC headquarters moved to what is now University Drive at I-35E in Denton, and it stayed there until 1984.
In 2012, Nebraska Furniture broke ground on its fourth location. The facility off the Sam Rayburn Tollway in The Colony would become its largest location, opening in 2015 with 560,000 square feet of retail showroom and a distribution center of 1.3 million square feet, said Robert Kincheloe, facilities manager.
The company averages $700 million in sales each year. “It’s definitely a one-stop shop,” Kincheloe said. “It’s the Disney World of home furnishings.”
As Denton and Collin counties grew, so did CoServ. In 2016, CoServ installed its 300,000th meter – the 200,000th electric meter and the 100,000th gas meter as part of CoServ Gas, which was established in 1998. CoServ is the second-largest electric cooperative in Texas, and the eighth-largest in the U.S., according to the most recent figures compiled by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. (If CoServ Gas were an electric cooperative, it would be the fourth-largest in Texas.)
“We plan our systems to provide reliable service to our Electric Members and Gas Customers,” said President/CEO Donnie Clary. “We will continue to provide the excellent service they have come to expect.”
A Partnership Born
Originally from Texas, Kincheloe was working at another branch before beginning work on The Colony site. “The electrical piece of this puzzle on operation costs was going to be a huge factor in budgeting,” he said. At first, he considered the state’s deregulated market as a plus. “The thought of another co-op or municipality was not even on the radar.”
But after meeting with CoServ officials, Kincheloe said it became apparent that CoServ shared a lot of the same culture as Nebraska Furniture Mart.
“CoServ was very flexible and learned about our business and what we wanted to do,” he said, adding that it was obviously a great opportunity to form a partnership. “Just because they are a cooperative doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be flexible.”
CoServ also agreed to build the infrastructure for the new location. “That showed us that not only are they great partners, but they’re in this for the long term.”
With the idea of designing a building to last 50 years, the new partners looked at options that would help keep costs low and minimize load on the state’s electric grid, he said.
“When we moved to Texas, the electric grid was stressing due to growth,” Kincheloe said. (Since then, new generation has been added, reducing this stress.)
The company operates chillers at night — a low usage period — to create ice, which is then used to cool the retail area that on a busy Saturday can draw 48,000 customers through its doors. It also has a system that monitors usage in both the warehouse and retail spaces to pinpoint potential issues or spikes in energy usage.
“I think a lot of people think Nebraska Furniture Mart has deep pockets, but we don’t. We operate on a tight margin,” he said, adding that they budget with a 5 percent profit margin to be able to pass the best prices on to customers.
“We don’t just want a one-time sale. It’s all about building that customer loyalty,” Kincheloe said.
A story he likes to tell about how proactive CoServ is starts when 12 transformers were installed. Four were not working at full capacity. CoServ conducted thermal imaging, found the problematic four and immediately replaced them.
“That’s another thing that is different than a typical provider,” he said.
“Instead, CoServ identified a problem and said, ‘We’re going to take care of this immediately.’
“They take a lot of pride in ownership and customer service to make sure they are taking care of us,” Kincheloe said. “I love the way I can call somebody and talk to somebody live and they can give me detail about what is going on. “It’s proof in the pudding that this has been the right choice for us.”
In 2010, Nebraska Furniture Mart launched recycling processes and other “green” advances to demonstrate its desire to be environmentally responsible.
In 2009, CoServ installed its first solar array on a truck shed behind its corporate offices in Corinth. Six years later, it would open the CoServ Solar Station on the site of a former peanut farm in Krugerville, expanding its green energy portfolio to offer both wind and solar options to its Members.
Though coincidental, it has not gone unnoticed that both companies share the same green in their respective brands.
“We bleed green,” Kincheloe said. “At the end of the day it is all about customer experience and customer service.”
Mrs. B. believed in giving back. She supported many causes and community events, most notably the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home and the renovation of the Astro Theater into the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center in Omaha, Neb.
With the help of those it serves, CoServ created the CoServ Charitable Foundation in 2004 and has since provided $8.6 million to area agencies that provide assistance in communities across the cooperative’s service territory.
“Giving back to the community is an important part of the culture at CoServ,” said Vicki Sargent, Director of Community Relations at CoServ. “This is why the CoServ Charitable Foundation was created.”
A Shared Mission
As both companies celebrate 80 years of service, each continues its mission to serve the public with honesty and integrity.
And each is committed to taking care of its employees. Both companies offer training opportunities to help employees grow and understand their importance to their respective missions and overall successes. This, in turn, relates back to the customer experience.
“We’re creating customer loyalty, creating customers for life and we’re selling to their children and grandchildren,” Kincheloe said.
The customer experience is likewise important to CoServ.
“We believe that reliability is key to customer satisfaction. And, at the end of the day, knowing you can count on CoServ to keep the lights on and the hot water running is what really matters most to people,” Clary said.
“We feel privileged to be a partner with Nebraska Furniture Mart and look forward to our bright future together.”