BizLex Q&A: Barney Miller – Smiley Pete Publishing


Barney Miller’s, a downtown Lexington staple since 1922, celebrates its 100th anniversary. The store, founded by Barney Miller of yesteryear, is now run by the founder’s grandson and namesake, Barney Miller. The company has continued to move with the times and, from radios to integrated electronic systems, has kept abreast of the technological curve. Business Lexington spoke with Miller to get an overview of this company with deep roots in Lexington.

How did Barney Miller’s get its start in downtown Lexington?

My grandfather – the first Barney Miller – was from New Hampshire. He came to Kentucky and met and married my grandmother, who was from Shelbyville. My grandfather asked his stepfather what was going on in auto parts in Lexington. According to the story, when my great-grandfather spotted Lexington, there was literally a horse race going down Main Street. It was around 1919 or 1920. There was maybe a car dealership or two in town at that time.

In June 1922, my grandfather opened an auto parts business on Main Street. Within a few years, cars started arriving with the parts and accessories he sold. He changed strategy and launched into the first radio stations. We believe we have sold Kentucky’s first car stereo. It started a trend of being an early adopter.

In 1939 we moved down a few doors on Main Street to the building we are in now. On the top floor were Congress Bowling Lanes. The steps leading up to our warehouse are hand painted by Congress Bowling Lanes.

My father, Harry Miller, was born the same year the store opened. He went to the University of Kentucky and started working mornings at Barney Miller. The family went to the 1939-1940 World’s Fair [themed ‘The World of Tomorrow’ and held in New York City] and saw a very early demonstration of a television. We sold Kentucky’s first television to Calumet Farm.

Over the years we’ve done all kinds of different things. At one point, we were probably the only place in Lexington that sold records. We had listening booths where customers could play records.

My grandfather passed away in 1965. My father in 1999. They are great guys who left a legacy of customer service, early adoption and good citizenship. I became president of the company in the early 80s.

What is the company’s priority today?

Things are moving at the speed of light now, as far as technology is concerned. We do a lot to learn about current and future markets. About 30 years ago we got into home systems, before the term “home cinema” was coined.

We do not sell computers, but we sell just about everything else including networking, audio/video equipment, furniture – from seats to racks and stands for equipment – lighting controls, motorized blinds, HVAC controls, cameras and alarm systems. After installation comes the work of making sure everything works and is programmed to the client’s liking.

We have an approximately 7,000 square foot showroom with six home theater thumbnails. One room has a 133 inch screen and an amazing sound system. We have a conference room upstairs. We also have a bit of a retail presence – people can walk in and buy a Sonos amplifier, stereo or wireless speaker system – but around 95% of our sales are installed equipment and systems. for our care.

How do these systems work?

For a good night scene, for example, you can press a button on your phone, iPad or keyboard and it makes sure the garage door is down, it arms the alarm system, it turns off. televisions and lights around the house and prepares the house for sleeping.

And then there’s an entertainment button, which can adjust window blinds, turn on lights to preset levels for the kitchen, dining room, family room and patio. He can turn on the TVs on ESPN with no sound but with music programmed to play. We want to make sure you only have one remote for any TV.

We want you to have one app on your phone where you can view your security cameras, adjust your thermostat, change your music, turn on your fireplace or ceiling fans, just about anything you can imagine.

What business projects have you undertaken?

We just did a full setup for Rubicon, a downtown business. We have created a conference room and gathering spaces in different offices. We’ve done about 15 conference rooms for Alltech. We’ve worked for Valvoline and the University of Kentucky, restaurants, veterinary clinics – just about any type of business you can imagine.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

I believe the pandemic has helped our business. The home theater sector in general has seen a strong rise. Unfortunately, soon after, we started seeing backorder issues. We encourage people to order electronics, appliances, furniture and any other items as far in advance as possible. A whole industry has emerged from groups of dealers exchanging necessary products.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs starting out?

Don’t start a business if you are afraid of work. Make sure you are very organized. If you have employees, make sure they have good job descriptions and know exactly what they are supposed to do. Make sure you have a relationship with a financial institution. You can’t run a business with a credit card, so you need some kind of support. Make sure you understand the accounting numbers or have someone review them with you every month.

You need to pay attention to where your marketing dollars are spent and what works best. We just did a six month marketing campaign with TV spots, billboards, radio and social media. That’s great, but really, local do-it-yourself marketing — guerrilla marketing — is also very effective.

Civic engagement, networking and relationship building are also important. The Building Institute of Central Kentucky has been good for us. We recently hosted a Commerce Lexington group [a networking event celebrating Barney Miller’s 100th Anniversary]which was a great crowd to have here.

What future for Barney Millers?

I am 61 years old. My lottery ticket hasn’t quite been used up yet, so I’m a little late in retiring. My stepson, Brent Miller, has just started working for us full time. He will be the fourth generation to work here.


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