Mississippi’s largest homegrown appliance empire began 62 years ago with a stockpile of lumber.
In the 1950s, James C. “Cowboy” Maloney was a residential builder in the Jackson area. With the post-war building boom rapidly transforming Jackson into Mississippi’s first city, the contractor and his wife Dolly carved out a comfortable living to support their family of three sons and a daughter: Con, Bridget, Eddie and Johnny. As a way to provide better prices for his construction, in 1952 Cowboy and Dolly opened Maloney Supply Company as a local lumber yard, offering building materials at wholesale pricing. Maloney soon realized he had failed to factor in a crucial detail: his targeted consumers – building contractors – were also his direct competition in the construction business. To overcome the hurdle, Maloney retired from the construction business to concentrate on his new retail/wholesale venture. In addition to lumber and building materials, he began selling built-in appliances used in residential construction. Creative marketing, personal customer service and affordably-priced appliance additions to his lumber lineup helped Maloney Supply flourish.
“We quickly evolved to a full line appliance dealer and from there became a TV dealer when the first television station came on line in Mississippi,” said Con, the eldest of the three Maloney sons who now share the reins of the appliance empire.
With the 1953 introduction of two local television stations – UHF Channel 24 and WSLI Channel 12 -- Maloney’s interest was piqued in the television set. Cowboy was only able to acquire this new product wholesale if he would agree to an initial purchase order of six. Still not convinced there was a public demand for the product, Cowboy mentally set aside four for himself and his three brothers, deciding he could eventually get rid of the extra two by placing them in the Builder Bargain Corral. To his surprise, the entire order immediately sold as soon as they were delivered.
“Dad and his brothers didn’t even get their televisions out of the first order; all six were gone by the end of the day. Then Dad ordered 12 more for an even lower price, and those flew off the shelves too,” said Con, now CEO of Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City.
A new business was born. The local lumber yard quickly transitioned into a household name for general appliance sales and The Cowboy Corral soon became the largest television dealer in Mississippi.
In the mid-1960s, after committing to his mother and father that he would open the family business to his younger siblings whenever they were ready to enter the working world, eldest son Con bought the growing enterprise from his parents. Leaving a lucrative career with Maytag, Con continued the family tradition of selling lumber and appliances under one roof. And, as the younger Maloneys graduated college, each joined the family business.
“It’s the best of worlds, retail-wise,” explains Johnny, who came on board after graduating from Ole Miss in May 1978. “You’ve got Eddie who’s great with finance and Con who’s the best at marketing and I stay in between.”
Bridget no longer works in the family business, but “when she did, she was one of the best sales associates we ever had. She could sell ice to an Eskimo,” Johnny bragged.
In the mid-1970s, Maloney’s Cowboy Corral moved from its original location at 119 Mayes Street in northwest Jackson to Harding Street near the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in downtown Jackson. Only a few years later, the move would prove nearly disastrous. When the historic 1979 Easter Flood inundated the Capital City, the Pearl River’s overflow ruined all the lumber supply that did not float away. Left in the aftermath was a rusted, waterlogged and mildewed mess.
“We only had about $5,000 in insurance just in case the plumbing backed up and ruined some of our materials. We didn’t think we needed more because the levee was built to protect that area,” Con recalled. “In the midst of the storm, we heard the water was topping the levee. Our lumber bins were 7 ½ feet high, we got eight feet of water and lost everything.”
With no insurance money to replace the building materials, the Maloney brothers received help from a federal government disaster loan. Appliance manufacturers also rallied to get the trio back on their feet.
“We didn’t miss a lick. We cleaned the building, cleaned and repaired the appliances we could salvage and the manufacturers sent in people to completely refurbish our inventory,” said Con. “We were back in business in just two weeks and everything sold. As people began to rebuild, our wonderful manufacturers offered special disaster relief pricing to help flood victims. They, and the government loan, saved us.”
Following the flood, the Maloneys decided to focus strictly on appliances and electronics.
In 1991, the brothers purchased the Mississippi Gulf Coast franchise Electric City and its 25 locations across the state. The business created an equal partnership among the brothers and was rebranded as Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City.
“We went in together and everything was split equally, and it was good for us,” said Eddie. The new franchise gave the Maloneys the first real opportunity at expansion, adding several stores to its namesake.
The Maloneys have not only made a name for themselves in Mississippi, but have also earned a position of standing among larger national retailers. While visiting Las Vegas for an electronics expo, Con stumbled upon RCA’s latest and greatest prototype, the DSS, or digital satellite system, which the company was proposing to launch through DirecTV and USSB. “I called my friend Joe Clayton, who was the head of RCA at the time, and told him this was going to be the biggest thing ever and that he could count us in—it was going to be fantastic!” Con recalls.
When RCA was ready to launch, Clayton remembered what Maloney had said and approached the brothers with the opportunity of a lifetime. “Do you want to sell the very first home satellite system?” he asked. Tech writers buzzed about which retailer would be chosen to launch the new technology. “They suspected one of the big names, but we kept quiet because we knew it would be us, and it was going to be big,” said Con.
Since that day in 1994, with the introduction and very first sale of the DirecTV DSS Satellite, Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City has also claimed the inaugural sale of the first Sirius Car Audio System. Their most recent national launch was the debut of the Dish Network High Speed Internet from the Maloney stores in Jackson.
The induction into the NATM (National Appliance and Television Merchants), one of only 10 members nation-wide, has afforded the Maloneys not only invaluable partners in the industry, but also the buying power to compete with vastly larger big-box competitors.
“The other members of NATM are all far larger than us, but we share ideas. If it’s good for one, you share, and we all come out ahead,” said Con. The sharing of marketing information and industry news has become a vital part of the Maloneys’ success. Their involvement in the national organization is costly but, as Con said, “the large price tag is well worth it.” NATM membership has given their customers almost limitless product and brand options at reasonable, competitive pricing.
The Maloney brothers agree they continue strive to improve, not because they are the “home-team” for customers in Mississippi, but because the company was founded on their parents’ principles of bringing the best products to their customers at the best price.
“We were founded with the realization that, as a Mississippi company, we would be held to a higher set of standards. We strive to exceed customer’s expectations. Our major goal is not to ask for business because we're the home team, but to match or beat any price in the market place plus stand behind every product that a customer stands in front of,” said Con.
The mom-and-pop business now employs more than 200 associates, operates more than 40 delivery trucks and has expanded into 12 locations, including the “Cowboy’s Kitchens” store in Ridgeland -- one of Mississippi’s largest retailers of products from Viking Range company, another Mississippi-based business. Cowboy Maloney’s Electric is the only major company in the Jackson market with a service department.
“I think the most amazing thing, aside from what we’ve been about to accomplish nationally, is that siblings can work together for 35+ years and make it work. It’s very satisfying,” said Eddie.
“It’s really great,” Johnny agreed. “It works.”