In 1995 the Michaud family moved to Alaska from the Great State of Maine. When we arrived, we began looking for a location for a future business - a chimney cleaning and repair business. For over two weeks we scoured Anchorage, Eagle River, and the Mat-Su Valley before stumbling on a remote spot at mile 50.2 on the Parks Hwy. At that time the location was far away from the "Known World" and we knew that we could pursue the American Dream on this piece of property. While there was actually a local stove shop in the vicinity, it never seemed to be open. Later on we found that the owner had passed away three weeks prior to our arrival. We knew we had been destined to succeed.
We began to settle into life as members of the Mat-Su Valley. Sue began work in Palmer as a secretary for the A.R.R.C. and Jonathan started as a freshman at Wasilla High School. Having never been to Alaska before we hadn't known what to expect, both from the environment as well as from our neighbors but we were soon surprised by both.
The first winter was cold and being from the East Coast we never felt we could ask for help, but our neighbors continued to surprise us by pitching in and helping us through the tough times. Needing electrical power, an electrical lifeline was quickly pulled into services. After a while we got water service as well and soon had hot running water and toilets that would flush. We soon found that life in Alaska included neighbors that were much more than someone who lives next door... it's like they're a part of your family. We would never have made it without the help of our angel neighbors like Dan & LouAnne Navrot.
As our fireplace store started we began researching the best methods of getting word out about our little shop. While paper media was the best bet going, Word of Mouth was the most effective form of advertising and we focused on creating relationships with our clients from the very beginning. We knew that our store was a ways out of town, but decided that customer services and friendly help would characterize our store and set it apart. Then came the big day. We bought 4 Earth Stoves and an open sign, posted hours on the door and put the sign outside along with an "Alaska Fireplace" sign with big black letters. We were officially in business in early winter of 1996.
The '96 winter dumped tons of snow on the Mat-Su Valley. We had a 12 horsepower snow blower that we bought to clean up the front yard but soon found it to be no match for the volume of snow and had to hire out the snow removal. While the deep snow made access to the store difficult it did help us sell our fireplaces. We didn't make a killing, but by liquidating a few assets and selling the stoves and relying on the help of our neighbors, we made it by. By summer time we'd sold all of our stoves and began growing our product lines and establishing a sales territory. The Anchorage shops knew we were out in the Valley but were not worried because we were too far out of town and they assumed we'd soon fold and go out of business.
What the Anchorage shops failed to estimate was the "Damned Yankee Syndrome" of perseverance. A determined worker with a strong goal to succeed and a passion for his work is a very powerful force. Two things we had at Alaska Fireplace was strong goals and passion and we were determined that this "Tortoise" would soon beat the "Hare." Within a few years, we were becoming a sore spot in the local fireplace economy.
As Alaska Fireplace gained in ranks we have always maintained a commitment to our customers and paid attention to their needs. We have always excelled at, "Going Beyond" by providing warranty work and love to teach our customers the best way to use their fireplaces. As in any business we still run into difficult days, but we have kept our head and continue to take pride in high standards and a reputation that keeps bringing our customers back for more. We earn our reputation each and every day by putting our customers first.
One day in 1998 a man told us that Alaskans simply do not want an expensive fireplace.... they want cheap heat. You can never sell a good looking fireplace. He summarized by stating simply that, "You'll never make it out here selling too high a quality product."
We have always disagreed. We carry the best stove lines and fireplaces available on the market today. Our store has continued to grow which is proof that Alaskans do want a quality product backed by exceptional customer service and we're certainly not done growing.
We've invested heavily into our product, expanded into a store in Palmer, and advertised heavily on television, radio and newspaper... but the most important part of our company is.... YOU!
Word of mouth advertising for our company from satisfied customers is the best advertising we've ever had. You love the custom care, personal treatment and quality product that our store provides and you, our customer returns again and again for more. You've sent friends and family and have single handedly made Alaska Fireplace & Accessories, Inc. a household name.
So, thanks for being such great neighbors! We love being such a big part of the community and welcome any visits from you, our customers. Be sure to come on by any of our locations and see what new things we've got this year. You certainty won't be disappointed!
Have a wonderful day!
Dan, Sue & Jonathan