Andre Blanleil gives a hearty laugh and retorts: “Gawd no, I’m never retiring. You die when you retire.”
The retirement question is a natural now that Blanleil is in his late 50s and the third generation of the family is firmly entrenched in the Andre’s Electronics Experts empire.
“Why would I retire?” he asked rhetorically.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I love what I do. It’s an exciting and ever-changing industry and I get to work with my two brothers and my two sons and hopefully soon my third son too. Plus, my golf game isn’t good enough to retire.”
The business started in the 1970s when Blanleil’s father, the late Andre Sr., opened a TV repair shop on Springfield Road.
The flagship Andre’s store continues to be on Springfield Road.
When Andre Jr. joined the business in 1981, he suggested to his dad they also start to sell TVs.
Who knew that over the next 35 years, Andre’s would explode into one of the biggest electronics chains in B.C., with 21 stores in 13 communities from Kelowna, West Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Kamloops, Quesnel and 100 Mile House to Castlegar, Cranbrook, Nelson, Williams Lake, Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Andre Jr. may be president and the second-generation namesake of the business, but Blanleil’s two brothers are also involved.
Maurice is a partner in all the construction the company does to house its stores and Rene works at the West Kelowna store.
The third generation is Blanleil’s two sons, Kyle, who oversees all the Telus cellular business, and Chad, the marketing manager.
The third son, Travis, is taking business at the University of Vermont, where he’s on a hockey scholarship.
He could very well return to Kelowna and start a career with Andre’s.
Blanleil credits the chain’s success to a trifecta of philosophies.
“You always have to be getting better. You have to be relevant and you always have to change what you do and how you do it,” he said.
As such, Andre’s has ridden the electronics wave from tube TVs in the 1980s to the incredible line up of flat-screen, curved-screen and high-definition smart TVs that dominate the market today.
Along the way, the chain also went big into Telus cellular, car and marine audio, other electronics from stereos, cameras and accessories to laptops and tablets.
Appliances have also become a big part of the business.
One of Andre’s latest coups is becoming an authorized Apple dealer.
“We always had Apple smartphones through our Telus cellular business,” says Blanleil. “But as an Apple dealer we can now also sell Apple TV, iPads and Mac Books. Apple is a great brand and it will help drive even more business into our stores.”
Also along the way, Blanleil found it was better for business to build the complexes his stores would be in rather than pay rent to a landlord.
As such, there are many other tenants in Andre’s buildings that pay rent.
And Andre’s has diversified into owning other types of businesses beside electronics, thus the Andre’s Car Wash at the West Kelowna location and a liquor store beside the Castlegar electronics outlet.
With 140 great employees, two brothers and two of his sons taking care of day-to-day business, Blanleil has been about to focus on the bigger picture.
That means he worked months on the Apple negotiations; is heavily involved with Power Group, the national buying group that acquires electronics at good prices; and the new customer first initiative.
“Every customer who spends over $500 gets a call in the evening from us asking if they are satisfied,” said Blanleil.
“Fortunately, 96 to 97 per cent are. But If someone isn’t happy with the TV they have, we replace it. If the installation didn’t go correctly, we do it again. And the fixes are always done within 48 hours.”
Blanleil is also well know for his 21 years on Kelowna city council from 1993 to 2014, where he advocated for business and demanded fairness for taxpayers.
He retired from council to concentrate on Andre’s growth.
But he hasn’t completely ruled out politics in the future.
“I really miss that world and the people,” he said.
“So, I would never close the door on running again.”
In the meantime, Blanleil has just enjoyed a week holiday in Cabo San Lucas.
“It was a last-minute thing,” he said.
“Black Friday is so crazy in the electronics business that I thought I could get away after that and before the Christmas and Boxing Day rush.”