Not too long ago, the independent retailer seemed endangered. Unable to compete with the purchasing power and supply of national chains, the mom-and-pop shop seemed destined for the dust heap.
In retail, however, everything is cyclical.
Waterloo Regional Electronics (WRE) is a single store in downtown Elmira, located in the lower level of the Elmira Shopping Village, selling electronics, including iPods and digital camera accessories, memory sticks and cards, AV and computer essentials, headphones, batteries and off lease HP computers and laptops.
It’s a family-run business operated by Peter Collins.
“Mostly we are retail electronics and we have most of the accessories people would need to get there stuff working or keep it going or to hook it up differently to make it do other functions,” said Collins. “Generally someone will walk in with a camera or recorder and they have lost or don’t have the cable to hook it up to the computer, and I will have what they need.”
For every convenience electronic devices bring us, there is an equal and opposite frustration when they slow down or lose capacity – Collins offers service and upgrades to computers. He’s capable of adding memory, installing new DVD drives, and increasing the speed of older computers by cleaning up programs and removing some viruses.
“I am not a technician; if someone comes in with a computer after they spilled a beverage into it I will refer them elsewhere – that is not what I do” said Collins.
Collins has 35 years experience in electronic retail: he began working for Radio Shack in 1976 and stayed with the company until a year and half ago.
“It was a major change and since I have been doing it all my life; I decided to reinvent the electronic store,” he said. “The main thing is I have learned to deal with people’s needs in electronics and come up with a variety of solutions even if it is not within my store.”
Collins has taken a different approach when setting up his storefront, creating a customer-friendly and enticing environment as opposed to a dark and overly jammed store, as is sometimes the case in the industry.
“I am use to being in an electronic store where it is congested and not really customer friendly – I wanted to change that with this store,” he said.
The store boasts 1,400 square feet and is very open with a lot of floor room available for Collins to set up his product gondolas, which are on wheels allowing him to float the store to re-merchandise it without having to tear the store apart.
Setting up shop in Elmira was a no-brainer for Collins, who no longer wanted to commute to work outside of town and saw the need for an electronic store in the area.
“I live in Elmira and I have never liked commuting to work, even when I worked at the Conestoga Mall, plus there is no place in Elmira or St. Jacobs or even Waterloo to really get your electronics; I feel there is a demand for a store like this. There is no local supply of the items I sell.”
With a hardware store next door and a vacuum store around the corner, Collins jokes that the area is slowly becoming the tech corner of Elmira.
“I had a ham radio operator in recently and they liked having the local access to switches and fuses, not necessarily exciting stuff but important stuff,” he said. “I have had feedback from customers telling me my prices are good and reasonable. I offer very good value and I am less expensive than the big box stores but my first focus is service and good value.”
Collins is looking to build a foundation before he expands to other products, saying even though he has the experience it takes time to grow a business.
Not one to turn his back on older sometimes outdated devices, Collins offers turntables, phone cords, and tape deck cleaners as well as his more state-of-the-art gadgets.
“I care to have the products that customers want. Some of the items may be a bit old school but I want to make sure I have what any customer may need. Today you can hook up a turntable to a stereo or listen to it through a computer. Once it is hooked to a computer, people are able to burn a CD or dump it into a MP3 player,” said Collins. “People have collections of records or tapes and don’t want to rebuild the collection these devices help them with that and I know how to help people set them up.”
Coming up with a name for the store, WRE, Collins wanted something that implied the area the store was located in and items for sale.
“The store is in the Waterloo Region selling electronics and we are regional in respect that we are in a small community – even though Elmira sometimes feel like a village it really is a part of the bigger Waterloo Region area and customers coming here come from all over. It has been an under-serviced retail environment.”
The store is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday thru Wednesday, staying open until 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.