Like one of the world's richest real estate titans and reality TV impresarios, Eric Hart has something that makes him synonomous with business acumen and success: his name.
"My nickname was Trumpy--short for Donald Trump," says Eric Hart, owner of Nason's Appliances, 1158 E. Summit St. in Crown Point.
"I was always trying to do something to make money and always had a different idea. I love the guy. I was always busy whether it was selling baseball cards or something else. I wanted to be a stock broker and was trading commodies at age 18.
"I'd stay away from ‘The Apprentice'-too much bad publicity. But I've been successful at whatever I've done. I don't accept failure. I try to find another way. I'm driven and motivated and for me it's an everyday thing."
Hart, 32, graduated from Purdue University Calumet with a finance degree. He was a commodities trader during college and went on to work for Merrill Lynch and J. P. Morgan and as a financial adviser was in top 10 percent in the country for revenues produced.
Hart was an advisor for Nason's former owner, Jerry Noel. Hart purchased the company in 2007 from the Noel family which started the business in 1936.
The store, which has 10 employees, was originally located in a 2,800 sq. ft. showroom in Crown Point just two blocks north of its current 4,500 sq. ft. showroom in the town's Millennium Park.
Hart says he couldn't pass up the opportunity to own one of the largest appliance retailers in the state. He used personal investments to finance the purchase. "It was a good deal," he explains. "All the stars aligned. It was the perfect scenario."
The Noel family was on the verge of closing the store. "It was a hard business for the family to run and they were burnt out," Hart says. "We reinvented it by bringing in a more contemporary design with mid- to higher-end appliances. We were losing customers to other stores."
Last year, Nason's was named a Best Appliance Store and Best Home Entertainment Store in The Times and Shore's 16th annual Best of the Region.
"It's hard to compete because the margins are slim on new products," he says. "People are looking for a deal but a scratch-and-dent doesn't matter that much to them if they're saving $300 or $400."
Sales grew from $3.5 million in 2007 to $5 million in 2010. The national appliance industry was down double digits in 2009 but enjoyed overall growth in 2010 due to energy rebates. Indiana was the only state that didn't offer the appliance credit.
"Indiana was rough," says Hart. "There was no new construction and it's starting out slow again this year." This past January and February were among the worst months ever nationally, down 15 percent from 2010 which had higher volume due to the government programs.
However, Nason's sales were up 25 percent from the previous year even without the energy rebates ut that was due to poor performance in 2009.
Nason's is part of a buying group whose buying power exceeds $2 billion and puts Nason's on par with larger superstores. The manufacturers also support an effort to compete with sales programs.
He buys truckloads of appliances and has introduced high-end scratch-and-dents. Online advertising and involvement with community sports programs have also add favorably to marketing. The store also added a service department.
Hart is looking to expand to one or two more locations, possibly in north Lake County. The store would be more focused as an outlet center.
In addition to the appliance store, Hart started A Cut Above Lawn Care as a part-time business 11 years ago. Today it provides a steady revenue stream which was especially helpful in the lean times of 2009.
Hart would make The Donald proud. "There's a lot more room to go and I've always wanted to have multiple businesses," he says. "I'm always active and looking for different things to do. I'm not one to sit down and relax.
"I'm always talking and people are calling me with business ideas. I just haven't found the next best thing yet. Mulitple income sources is what I'm looking for. And a new endeavor.
"Nason's has been totally unexpected. I never dreamed I'd have anything this big, doing what I'm doing, being where I am at age 32. Never in my life. That's all I can say. My passion is to succeed and not be a failure. Failure is never an option."