FOR 80 YEARS, THIS RED BANK BASED FAMILY APPLIANCE RETAILER HAS WEATHERED A VASTLY CHANGING HOME DESIGN AND APPLIED TECH MARKETPLACE
BY KATRINA MUSTO • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Leading a family retail business that’s been around for three generations and nearly eight decades is no small feat. Just ask Michael Belforti, who, alongside his wife, Diane Joy Belforti, runs the family owned and operated Better Housekeeping Shop in Red Bank.
The business started in its current location in Red Bank in 1939. (It was originally called Good Housekeeping Shop, but a certain magazine with a similar name contacted the owners and asked them to rename the store.) Paul Joy, Diane’s grandfather, began the business after moving from Maine to New Jersey. He had worked in the appliance industry as a manufacturer’s sales representative, but decided he wanted to use his expertise in a retail setting, so he gathered his savings, took a leap of faith, and started the business.
Today, Red Bank is known for its active downtown, which has abundant dining and nightlife options. Back then, though, downtown was also a central location for shopping at a time long before strip malls became ubiquitous a neighborhood where Monmouth County consumers were able to find just about everything they needed.
“[During World War II], metal suitable for manufacturing appliances became very scarce,” said Michael Belforti. “What Paul Joy did at that difficult time is a cornerstone of what this family business is all about to this day.” What Joy did was brand his company as deeply ingrained within its community, which included doing everything he could for its people whether that meant allowing them to buy on credit or fixing an older appliance instead of replacing it with a new one. “It was much different than the world we live in today,” he added. “Buying on credit to Paul meant people paid what they could over time. No set amounts, no definite payoff period. It was a handshake, and people always paid.”
Before long, the second generation came to the fore Bud Joy, Paul’s son. After graduating from Upsala College, Bud joined the company, and guided Better Housekeeping Shop through a new era of shopping, as well as expanding to other locations in Monmouth County. (Today, along with the Red Bank store, there’s a showroom in Long Branch.)
“My father saw many big box and appliance/electronics stores come and go, and weathered this disruption. They impacted many small businesses in various sectors, but not Better Housekeeping Shop,” said Diane Joy Belforti the third generation of Joys. “He had the vision, faith, and work ethic to keep driving forward, and our customers remained loyal to us because they knew we were here to stay. And we’ve been faithful to our community—supporting and servicing thousands of people, schools, and charity organizations throughout our tenure.”
Diane eventually married Michael Belforti, and he joined the business in 1989, adding another line to this multi generation family enterprise. Michael’s innovations include embracing the internet shopping era and building a state of the art tech infrastructure. The company also belongs to the largest independent appliance cooperative in the United States, which offers significant additional buying power.
Shopping for a major appliance can be a challenge. Belforti and his staff understand this, and take pride in guiding customers to the right models for their needs and budgets. That includes brands like GE, Kitchen Aid, Whirlpool, Dacor, Weber, Miele, Sub Zero, Wolf, Viking, Thermador, and La Cornue.
“Our team is comprised of basically home appliance Ph.D.’s,” Michael Belforti said with a smile. “We know the ins and outs of the industry… product lines, and manufacturers. We know which ones are a good investment and which you should stay away from. Our business relies on referrals and relationships. We cannot differentiate ourselves with just products, though. That is, any retailer that carries GE refrigerators carries the same refrigerators. How we differentiate ourselves is through service.”
“After three generations, we know customers by name, and [HOME + DESIGN] pride ourselves on that,” Diane Joy Belforti said. “We know their families, friends, and neighbors, all because of word of mouth referrals throughout the years. People often stop in to say hello when they’re out to dinner or shopping in Red Bank, and we catch up and share family stories, as many of us have grown up together in the Monmouth County area.”
Besides consumers, the store has a network of architects, interior designers, builders, and kitchen designers who depend upon them. Even for these pros, buying a major appliance is often stressful, but the ownership crew has decades of experience working with homeowners and their teams to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Where is the future of home appliances? Belforti recounted some experiences while attending a recent Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, where he observed what he describes as some exciting trends. The hottest thing today, he said, is smart appliances and other applied technology that brings connectivity to the kitchen, including Wi Fi integration and full color touch screens.
One especially noteworthy appliance Belforti saw at the show was Dacor’s 42 inch, four door French door refrigerator its most interesting detail a “Fresh Zone,” a compartment that can function as either freezer or refrigerator, with temperature adjusted based on what’s being stored. The Dacor also has a Wi Fi enabled camera that allows users, via smartphone and app, to check, from anywhere, what’s in the refrigerator.
Still, Belforti explained, survival requires more than enthusiasm for the cutting edge. It’s about, he said, a family friendly attitude and devotion to employees and customers.
“Our employees are nothing less than members of our family,” he said.
Better Housekeeping Shop
46 Monmouth Street, Red Bank
732.741.4310 / betterhousekeeping.com