BROOKSVILLE — The cottage site for Velva Darnell Electronics aptly foretells the experience customers can expect inside: homey folks — family, in fact — who become friends of the shopper over a computer, TV, recorder or radio.
Three generations of Waldmans, seemingly with audio and visual technology in their blood, span the spectrum of electronics know-how from 78 rpm record players to tomorrow's computers. They sell the new and repair the old.
They've been at it, in the 1925 frame cottage in the city's historic district, since 1984. Founder William "Sonny" Waldman's foray into audio electronics dates back to 1966.
"The thing is doing what you love. It's not work," said Brandon Waldman, 30, and third generation of the family business. Sonny, 78, and Eddie Waldman, 54, second generation and owner, nod in agreement.
"Our customers are really nice people," Eddie said. "We build rapport with them. We try to make it personal. Our No. 1 (goal) is customer service. All three of us are owners when it comes to customers."
"It doesn't matter whether it's $500 or $5," Brandon said. "We try to go the extra mile to help people out."
The men said big-box stores faced with repair problems usually advise customers to send the product back to the manufacturer. Chain stores with service departments often charge big upfront fees just to look at a problem. The Waldmans charge an hourly rate for repairs.
Sonny relishes problem solving, specializing in audio, TV and recorders. When a part is way out of date, he rummages through his "mad drawer," noting, "I never throw anything out." He can still provide a replacement needle for grandma's Victrola.
While Eddie manages the family endeavor, he fills a role in computer sales and service, which have made up about half of the business in recent years.
Brandon, who came on board two years ago, brought the enterprise to "a whole new level" with his computer expertise, his father said.
Eddie bought his son a computer at age 5. The youngster was writing computer programs at age 8. Now he's cloning computers, performing repairs via remote control and designing Web pages.
Each of the Waldmans is primarily self taught, avidly reading and being mentored by an elder Waldman (or two). Brandon used to work in the corporate computer world and studied computer engineering in college.
While repair work stations fill most of the cottage, salerooms are shoehorned into what might have been a parlor and dining room at one point.
The company offers most brands of computers, printers, laptops, tablets, TVs, Blu-Ray, Bluetooth, GPS, and satellite and vehicle radios.
"We try them ourselves first," Eddie said.
Sonny added: "We only sell brands that don't give us trouble."
Brandon issued a cautionary note on branding, saying chain stores touting low prices often sell known-brand electronics customized to the seller's specification. "Customized" usually translates to "stripped down," he said.
In a partnering arrangement with Microsoft, the Waldmans receive the next generation of computers and programs for testing and review before they're released to the public.
Moving forward, the company's biggest challenge, Brandon said, is changing with the times and the economy.
"Electronics change every year," Eddie pointed out.
Yet, Sonny added, "Whatever changes, we're going to be with it."
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]