Fifty years after opening in Yellowknife, the electronics shop owned by the Williams family is taking a new direction under a new generation.
Known for years as Roy’s Audio Video Unlimited, the YK Centre West mall shop re-branded as Williams Electronics on July 2 with a renovated interior.
The name change also represents the passing of the torch to Robin Williams from his father Roy.
Robin had worked as the managing partner of the store from 2001 to around 2018, when he stepped aside to work with NWT Tourism and was elected as a city councillor in 2019.
Over the past six months he discussed with his father taking over the company and managed to secure some bank financing to purchase it, which he did on June 25 for less than $500,000.
“’What’s the most appropriate name for the store?’” Robin thought in June as he contemplated what to call his new business. “It was a little shop beside the Gold Range called ‘Williams Electronics’ in 1971. My father’s brother Merlin came from Wales and opened it, then my dad came in 1972 and worked as an apprentice. Now, exactly 50 years on I’m bringing that name back to Yellowknife. And we still have that same passion for electronics and sales.”
His plan for Williams Electronics is less about blazing a new path than it is focusing on the shop’s core strengths of customer relations, home electronics installation and audio and video systems.
He points to such “whole home solutions” as distributed audio that comprises multiple speakers throughout a home, smart thermostats and doorbell cameras.
“And of course television! I plan to bring it back to the old days when we had a range of brands on the floor. Our continued affiliation with Audio Video Unlimited will help us keep the same pricing as Best Buy and shops in the south. We can procure products at southern prices. That comes from being directly affiliated with the brands as a dealer and not just a distributor,” Robin said.
He also wants to refresh the shop’s connection with local businesses to be able to supply them with products.
“With COVID-19 winding down – hopefully – I hope we’ll see tourists back in town and we’ll become the aurora capital of the world once again and people will want to take (pictures) of that beautiful aurora that dances above us. We want to bring in full frame cameras, action 360s and digital SLRs.”
Many other aspects of the store will remain the same, such as the retail lineup and the added Bell mobility phone and subscription sales.
Maureen Williams, Robin’s mother and the former co-owner of Roy’s feels very grateful that the business was in such good shape when it was passed onto her son.
She’s well aware of the fact that the pandemic caused pain for so many businesses while Roy’s enjoyed increased sales when Yellowknife was in lock-down. Cellphones, televisions, computer equipment, cameras, microphones and headsets sold fast as corporate and government employees settled into working from home.
“You almost feel guilty because you don’t want to toot your own horn while other businesses are suffering. We’re so fortunate to sell what we sell because it was what everyone had to have for remote access,” she said.
Not every month since COVID-19 arrived in the NWT has been smooth, though.
The N.J. Macpherson outbreak in May dried up customer traffic almost completely.
“We had some of our weakest days throughout that and it didn’t just snap back once people got out of quarantine. It’s better now,” Maureen said.
The pandemic was among several twists and turns in the business’ history.
Since Maureen began dating Roy in 1988 she has seen the shop through several tumultuous and glorious periods. She started off in the company working in its video store side.
“We were here throughout the 1990 recession, the Giant Mine strike (in 1992), Walmart opening, the Gulf War,” she recalled. “And Yellowknife was just roaring at that time. We had four locations back then. And then we rolled them all into one location. It seemed like the money would never end.”
The opening of the Ekati Diamond Mine in 1998 and Diavik in 2003 helped stimulate the local economy and buoyed sales at the shop which was called Roy’s Radio Shack at the time. It became Roy’s Audiotronic in 2005.
“And there was the 2008 financial meltdown, that really hurt. And when online sales really started to make inroads you felt like every year you were doing less.” Maureen said. “You have to weather the tough stuff so you’re still standing when the good stuff comes.”
Audiotronic had to declare bankruptcy in 2010. Roy reopened as Roy’s Audio Video Unlimited the same year.
Maureen acknowledges that the people who they don’t see in their shop are the ones who buy online, a customer demographic that is difficult to win over especially as more young people move to Yellowknife.
“We still see many people who say they want to keep their money here and ask us if we can match Amazon’s prices. We’re really thankful for them.”