From a tiny general store in southern Fauquier County, Tolson Appliance & Design Center has become the Piedmont’s premier appliance destination with its longtime reputation of customer service and support
If you grew up in Fauquier County, you can’t remember a time when Tolson’s Appliance Center wasn’t around. There is a simple explanation for this; it’s because Tolson’s has been around since 1833, just 23 years after the town of Warrenton was incorporated.
As with many longtime businesses, Tolson’s has gone through many changes as it evolved over the years. The first Tolson establishment began on the edge of the railroad tracks in Calverton as a store named “General Merchandise.” As was typical for that day and age, a wide variety of items were sold such as clothes, paint, hardware, groceries, wagons, buggies, fertilizer, and even coffins. Through the years and succeeding management, other inventory was added gradually: dairy and poultry feed, then appliances (as a Frigidaire dealer), more hardware, and then electrical and plumbing supplies.
Tolsons as we know it today began when then owner Vince Tolson sold off the feed and hardware part of the business to Groves Hardware in Remington, and moved forward with developing the appliance inventory. He increased warehouse space and concentrated on selling a variety of appliance brands and then added vacuums to the portfolio.
In 1988, the store was purchased by retired Brigadier General Church M. Matthews, Jr. Following a successful 25-year career in the US Army, General Matthews decided to plant his roots in Warrenton, and saw an opportunity in Tolson’s. With Tolson’s reputation and skilled employees, General Matthews took the already-solid small business and expanded it by designing and building the red-roofed building where the business is located today.
In the newly expanded showroom, Matthews was able to offer additional moderate to high-end products to his customers. To complement the appliance business, he opened a kitchen cabinet and design business, Warren Cabinets. Both businesses soared under his command.
After Church’s death in 1996, the business passed to his wife, Elizabeth “Wooz” Matthews. Even with no business experience and certainly no appliance expertise, the store continued to grow, doubling its sales during Elizabeth’s 12-year tenure. She modernized the operation by bringing in computers to automate point of sale and inventories. The showroom was again expanded to bring in additional products for customers. Additional vendors, such as Miele, were added to give our customers further luxury and choice. When Wooz left the store to work with her own cattle operation on Thistle Hill Farm, she handed the reins over to their son, Church Matthews III, who was then working in the private sector after graduation from West Point and a five-year assignment to Fort Hood, Texas.
While continuing to work in in-vitro diagnostics, Church dove into the business with enthusiasm and worked on renovating the interior of the showroom. The carpet was replaced with polished concrete and the displays were updated with new cabinets and arranged to show more appliances. New staff joined, infusing the business with “can do” people whose sole mission is to provide a customer experience like no other.
Church explained, “In 2019, we changed our business model. The marketplace had become more transactional. This was not a market we could compete in. Tolson’s joined a buying cooperative that now allows us to compete directly with Lowe’s and Home Depot 99 percent of the time. In fact, we are more competitive because we deliver and install our own appliances as well as offer limited services. It is not farmed out like the box stores. This business model also allows us to order non-stocked items twice weekly so our turn around from purchase to delivery is that much quicker.”
In addition to their competitive pricing, Tolson’s hasn’t lost their outstanding customer service. Upon walking into the store, you’ll likely be greeted by a one-eyed golden retriever named Chloe. The staff at Tolson’s offers a tailored experience where they’ll help you find exactly what you’re looking for, rather than just the latest and greatest.
2019 saw the business take off, and 2020 has been mixed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Church said, “We saw a drastic drop in sales in the February-March time frame. Since April that trend has been reversed and we are selling more than we ever have. We also realize that there is still room for improvement. We are undertaking the task of transitioning to new software this year. While this has not been easy, it will allow us to improve many areas of the business and ultimately provide the customers a better experience. Our plan is to grow our business one customer at a time.”