Lawrence’s Mrs. G, an appliance and electronic store, has has aimed to provide stellar service to its community for over 80 years, and perhaps no one would know better than Tom and Chris Gray, a father and son team who have been long time members of the Mrs. G family.
Tom Gray, 72, began working for Mrs. G in June of 1967 after serving in the U.S. Army for 14 months. He currently works as the store’s general manager.
“My first position was actually a stock person,” Tom said. “I got out of the Army and went back to school and I was looking for a part-time job. I came in and started as a stock person, and then the next day, I put a tie on and came in as a salesman.”
Tom, who lives in Lawrence, explained that Beatrice Greenberg, who owned the store at the time along with her husband, Abe, had interviewed Tom and had told him he was not a stock person—they both thought he looked professional and had a good demeanor with customers. The next day, Greenberg told him to “Put a tie on, and when you come back in tomorrow, you’re on the sales floor.”
The Greenbergs opened the store in 1935 first as a plumbing business in Trenton. Greenberg’s image became the store’s logo when the name changed to Mrs. G, her nickname.
Even though he’s been with the company for 50 years, Tom says general manager was never a goal or target that he shot for. At the time, Greenberg was his mentor, he said. He was working part-time while attending a technical school for computer science, but Greenberg didn’t want him to leave Mrs. G. She wanted Tom to have a steady job.
Tom, after completing courses at a technical school in Trenton in 1967, had a few job offers in his desired field of computer science and had decided to put in his weeks’ notice for Mrs. G. Greenberg, in return, offered Tom a signing bonus to stay with her. Tom agreed to the offer and was named manager from there on. His decision to stay with Mrs. G was simple: he was comfortable there.
Chris, who graduated from Lawrence High School in 1990, grew up around his father working at Mrs. G, so he was familiar with the business of appliances. Chris began working for Mrs. G with a part-time position back in 1988 when he was in high school and explained that Greenberg herself was a factor in his decision.
“When I was in high school, Mrs. G was certainly a grandmother to me and a huge mentor in my work life,” Chris said. “She had kept asking me to come work for her and get my working papers as soon as I turned 15 or 16 or whatever it was back then. So that’s what I did to get the job.”
With his father’s blessing, Chris began working for Mrs. G in 1988 as a small appliances salesperson, selling clock radios, Walkmans and disc players. Chris learned so much about the business and the trade that he went to Penn State University to study business.
When he graduated from Penn State, Chris went back to work for Mrs. G while applying for other jobs. He soon decided to get a full-time position with Mrs. G but not before being interviewed by Greenberg herself. Chris did end up getting the full-time position in 1994 and is now currently the assistant general manager.
As father and son, Tom and Chris Gray have been able to work as a solid team through their years at Mrs. G.
“He’s my boss,” Chris, a Robbinsville resident, said. “We make decisions here on a daily basis, we put our heads together and figure out if it’s a customer problem or an issue with the computer. We put our heads together and figure out a solution. We’re a family in this business more ways than one, even with our other employees. It’s a small business, so we treat each other like family.”
Now that Tom and Chris have been with Mrs. G for a combined 70 years, they have more than a few memories to share. Tom remembers the gas line explosion that leveled the Ewing Township location back in January of 1972 and was worried about his future at the time. Chris remembers bringing his friends from high school to the 50th anniversary celebration in 1985, where there were 1,000 people in attendance that included a Mummers band.
Chris also remembers the move to the current Mrs. G showroom location and how everyone on the staff still kept the old location open and did a great job conducting business. The toughest moment, though, was when Mrs. G had passed away. Chris explained that she had always given him advice on either business or just in life in general. She was easy to talk to despite being a demanding boss, but she was someone you respected, and he says he learned a lot about business from her.
In the 20 years working for Mrs. G., Chris has learned plenty about the industry as he has seen the transformation of appliances from when he started selling clock radios to now with smart devices. To Chris, it doesn’t make for a dull moment and instead it’s an exciting industry right now.
“Retail industry isn’t easy, but what I like about it is its dynamic,” Chris says. “When we were selling TVs you always had the new generation of television coming out with the latest technology. Now with new appliances coming, they now connect wirelessly with Alexa and Google.”
With the father and son duo working hand in hand for all these years, there’s bound to be some lessons learned.
“Advice is a daily thing,” said Tom. “We don’t work together as father and son. Father and son was there when we were at home, together as a family and in here we are managers and we work together as closely as any two people on the planet could ever be. Maybe since we’re so close as father and son, I think most of what I’ve done is guide him and steady his hand at times, and he is smarter than I am.”
Chris laughs at the last statement, but Tom doesn’t budge.
“He knows more about what goes on around here than I do,” Tom says. “He has the capacity to learn more, so he probably advises me today.”
Chris says he has tremendous respect for his father. “I love working with him and I know that not everyone in the world could say that, but I look forward to seeing him every day that we’re working together,” he says.
Chris is excited to see the second part of his father’s life kick in. He knows that they won’t be at Mrs. G forever. Tom and his wife, Lana, have been married for 49 years. They have three children—Chris, Lynn Vandevelde and Stephanie Zorn—and one grandchild, Lucas Zorn.
Tom says that sooner or later, he won’t have the desire to work 50 hours a week as he does now. Someday he plans on retiring, but he doesn’t know just how to do it yet.