by Megan Schiffres
Much has changed about the town of Kilmarnock over the last 80 years, but one thing that has remained a constant fixture in the town since 1939 is Noblett Appliance Inc.
When he first opened the store 80 years ago, George Noblett’s business primarily sold propane to power the relatively recently invented refrigerator units and home freezers that proliferated the U.S. after World War II. After eventually expanding his company to sell the appliances that his propane powered, Noblett sold it in 1978 to Bud Hudnall, a Florida businessman with no experience in selling appliances but who grew up on a farm in Kilmarnock.
Hudnall, who was born the same year Noblett opened its doors on Main Street, says he has always been interested in household appliances and remembers being intrigued by his family’s first refrigerator as a child.
“As a kid I laid down and looked underneath the refrigerator and I would see fire, and then you open the door and it’s cold. Isn’t that fascinating? I thought it was a good business, I knew it was an honest business,” Hudnall said.
Under Hudnall’s leadership, the business grew so much it had to expand into the former John Deere dealership next door in order to build a showroom big enough to accommodate all the brands they partner with. Then, in 2000, Hudnall sold his company to his son, Joe, who spent every summer growing up working in his father’s shop and preparing to take over one day.
“Other than working on appliances, I’ve done everything here from installing to being service manager to sales and parts,” said J. Hudnall. “It was something I just knew would continue.”
Although it originally opened as a propane supply company, Noblett has transformed over the decades to accommodate the shifting needs of its customers. Today the business primarily sells appliances and mattresses to residents of the Northern Neck, because according to J. Hudnall, they are some of the few products that people still want to purchase in person.
“You never know with companies like Amazon. Thank goodness appliances are something that people really want to touch and feel and see,” J. Hudnall said.
According to J. Hudnall, his business is able to compete with multinational corporations like Walmart and Amazon because Noblett offers a level of service and care that larger companies can’t. For example, if an appliance purchased from Noblett malfunctions, one of its technicians can come to your home and repair it within hours.
“It’s always the day before a holiday or a house full of company, that’s when things go awry,” said J. Hudnall. “We have in-house, factory-authorized warranty service technicians that can respond, you can deal with the same person you purchased your appliance from, to get it fixed.”
Noblett also employs sales associates eager to help advise their customers on what kind of appliance or mattress will meet their individual needs.
“I feel like when people come in here they’re made to feel special and like we’re here to help them, and we are. But I feel like sometimes when you go to Lowes or Home Depot or other box stores, people are there to write up your sale but they’re not really there to help you understand why you want this one and not that one,” said Mariane Walker, sales associate at Noblett since 1983.
To celebrate its 80 years in business, Noblett has been offering its customers the chance to enter a free raffle and win a prize from its showroom every month. To enter the raffle, simply stop by Noblett during business hours and leave a business card with Walker.