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Two families cook up an appliance shop to savor

Al Greco starts his workday at 4:30 in the morning. At that hour, only store mascots Daisy the chow, Missy the cocker spaniel and the warehouse manager are on hand to greet the co-owner and manager of the APSCO Appliance Center.

Greco and his longtime friend and partner, Darrell Hoag, establishedAPSCO Appliance Centers 32 years ago in Largo. They recently completed a $300,000 renovation, update and expansion project at their retail stores in Largo and Clearwater.

In the Largo store, which is the company's headquarters, improvements include a remodeled kitchen showroom with several color-coordinated kitchens displaying new appliances. New walls in the main showroom highlight rows of built-in refrigerators, built-in ovens and other new appliances, like Whirlpool's new Polara refrigerated range.

That's right, the range combines cooking with refrigeration. It keeps a meal cool during the day and then cooks it at a specified time. When done, it keeps it warm. If the food remains in the oven too long, it automatically cools it. Price tag for a stainless steel version: $1,900.

The customer service station in the Largo store also has been remodeled in natural wood. The colorful double stained-glass panels at the entrance are the artwork of Greco's wife, Myrna, who is bookkeeper and company treasurer.

Greco's daughter, Laura Greco, 33, recently joined the family business at the Largo headquarters as marketing manager. She moved here from Atlanta, where she worked the past dozen years in advertising and marketing.

"I wanted to be closer to my family and to help my dad slow down a little bit _ although I don't think he ever will," she said. "He's a workaholic. He enjoys it _ it's his hobby."

Greco, who will be 73 this month, said he has no plans to slow down. He manages the Largo sales and appliance center at 4520 East Bay Drive. Hoag manages the Clearwater sales and appliance center at 2436 State Road 580.

The two men, friends who met a little more than 50 years ago when they were in the Navy, operated an appliance technician school in Boston for 12 years before deciding it was time to seek a warmer climate.

From a small beginning in 1972 as a service business, APSCO has grown to include three retail stores in Largo, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, a parts and service center in the original store in Largo, warehouses and other properties in Pinellas County.

"We got the service business going and then started selling appliances in 1975," Greco said. "It was a slow start, but consistent."

The business has remained family owned and operated with a total of 72 employees.

Family members working in the business include sons Darrell Hoag Jr., who is service manager, and Eddie Hoag, who handles the parts department, along with Eddie's wife, Trish, who works in customer service in the parts department.

The sales centers are open seven days a week and deliveries are made six days a week.

"The sales people are on salary, not commissions," Laura Greco said. "And the delivery drivers are full-time employees of APSCO and our technicians are factory-authorized for all the appliances we sell. The only thing we contract out is installation services," she said.

The elder Greco said the 8,000-square-foot building has room to expand. "We own the house and 2-acre property next door," he said.

APSCO sells and services major appliances in a variety of sizes and prices _ refrigerators, ranges, washers, dryers and dishwashers, as well as some wall air conditioning units and some specialty items such as built-in wine coolers. Refrigerators range from $329 for a stand-up to $6,000 for a built-in. Oven ranges are priced from $229 to $8,000 for a combined gas and electric range. Washers and dryers are priced from $249 for top loaders up to $1,000 for a front loader. Dishwashers range from $189 to $1,200.

Jeff Lopatin, for many years a clothing manufacturer and now a broker associate with Nations Real Estate in Belleair Bluffs, has spent at least $300,000 since he has been buying appliances from APSCO.

"I began buying from them when they first opened," he said. "Where else are you going to find all those choices? You can't beat the quality of the products, and they'll match anybody's price.

"They're just nice folks to deal with. Every customer is valuable to them. I'm always going in there to see what's new."

APSCO's revenues totaled $19.6-million at the end of its fiscal year last June.

The company is listed 47th among the top 100 major appliance retailers around the country in the most recent edition of TWICE business journal. The businesses were ranked according to total sales.

LARGO BUSINESS

APSCO Appliance Centers

4520 East Bay Drive, Largo

+ Major appliance sales and service with showrooms in Largo, Clearwater and St. Petersburg

+ 72 employees

+ "It's a pleasure to go there and spend money. If we had more businesses like APSCO, it would be great."

Jeff Lopatin, an APSCO customer for more than two decades.

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