One of the mainstay, small, family owned businesses in Wheeling is Duvall TV and Appliance located at 1125 National Road. The place has been here (not always at its current location) since Harry Duvall founded it in 1947, and the reason it has endured the influx of the big-box stores over the years is the treatment Harry lavished on his customers.
Despite Harry’s passing in 2007, I still will not buy a television set or any other appliance somewhere else because Ted Miller and his brother, Greg, who purchased the business in 2004, have carried on the tradition of superior customer care and exemplary public relations that Harry established and practiced during his lifetime at the store. And they have accomplished this by employing an outstanding staff comprising the following: Jim Simpson, sales manager; Wendy Tronka, office manager; Chuck Shultz, electronics technician; and Jason Treuman, installation technician.
My relationship with Harry began back in 1966, when I was teaching English at what was then Linsly Military Institute (now the Linsly School). In addition to my teaching duties at that time, I was the head housemaster at Merriman Hall, the grade-school dormitory, and my wife and I had a spacious apartment in the building. But the one thing we did not have was a color TV set, and I decided that it was something we desperately needed.
Now keep in mind that back in those days color TV sets were a real luxury, and the picture quality on some of them was not that great. (Even the good ones weren’t in the same galaxy as the HD sets of today.) Thus, my main hesitancy in purchasing one of them was the fear that I wouldn’t really like it after I got it. Enter Harry Duvall.
Because Duvall’s was in such close proximity to Linsly and because I had heard good things about the place, I sojourned there to see what might eventuate. At the store Harry himself greeted me, and although I never had heretofore met the man, we soon were chatting like old friends. (Harry was a master of congeniality.)
After the obligatory amenities, our conversation turned to color television, and when I told him about my concern, Harry alleviated my trepidation in a big hurry by offering to install a set in my apartment free of charge and sans a down payment. He told me I could keep it for a week or so, and if I didn’t like it, he would send someone to get it, again free of charge. At first I thought my ears had deceived me. Businesses didn’t operate like this, did they? Well, Harry did.
However, his generous offer did not come without a simply stated warning: “I doubt that you’ll want me to come and get it.”
Of course Harry’s words proved prophetic because after the set had been delivered and installed, the first show I turned on was “The Virginian.” And as soon as I watched James Drury gallop into my living room in brilliant color, I was hooked. Score a big one for Harry and Duvall’s.
That first color TV set served my wife and me well until the picture tube (Those were the days.) inevitably went bad in the early 1970s. I had since left Linsly for a position on the English faculty at West Liberty State College (now University), and we were living in very nice house on the campus. Unfortunately the picture tube chose a Monday for its untimely demise. As I recall, I discovered this tragedy when I returned home in the middle of the afternoon.
Of course as soon as I realized what had happened, I immediately picked up the phone and called Duvall’s. On that particular day Harry was out, but I talked to his son, Alan, whom I knew from my association with his dad. Now mind you, I made this call during midday, and after I told Alan the sad tale of my TV’s passing and before I could say anything else, Alan (whose father obviously had trained him well) said, “I’ll bet you want to watch Monday Night Football tonight.”
Although I really hadn’t anticipated this response, I said, “Well, that would be great.”
And within 90 minutes a brand new TV set was in my living room!
Now these two stories should make the point about the way Duvall’s treated its customers, but I have saved the best one until last. This story is one I always used in my journalism classes at West Liberty to illustrate the very epitome of practicing good public relations.
At the time of these events my wife and our children were living at our current address in Dawn Ree Drive, off GC&P Road near Tablerock Lane. It’s about a 15-minute drive from our place to Duvall’s, and once again we were in the market for a TV set, but this time we wanted to get one enclosed in a nice wooden cabinet.
When we walked into his store during the morning, Harry met us and took us up to the second floor, where we encountered a veritable plethora of TV sets. After browsing among them for a time, we finally chose a gorgeous set encased in a beautiful dark wooden cabinet in the early American style of a dry sink. And then the following conversation ensued.
“When do want us to deliver it?” Harry asked.
“You know me, Harry,” I replied. “As soon as we can get it.”
Harry smiled and said, “I’ll send it out today.”
Now that kind of service is remarkable enough, but the best is yet to come. At that time the Kroger store was located just up the road from Duvall’s where the new addition to St. Michael’s now sits. We left Harry’s store and stopped at Kroger to buy a quart of milk, and then we drove home. Counting the quick stop at Kroger, I would estimate a total of 25 minutes elapsed from the time we bid Harry farewell and arrived home.
As I walked through the front door, the phone was ringing, and when I answered it, the voice on the other end said, “Mr. Hanna, this is Duvall’s. We were just at your place to deliver a TV set, but no one was home. When can we come out?”
And they were back within 20 minutes!
That’s the kind of service and customer care that has kept Duvall’s in business for 68 years, and that’s why I continue to buy my appliances there.
Here’s a final thought: If I know nothing else, I am certain that since Harry’s passing, the angels have never missed a single play of every Super Bowl.
(Photos by Steve Novotney)