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Local appliance dealers brace for rebate day

MANATEE — It’s being billed as the Black Friday of the appliance world

April 16 — the first day the 20 percent energy rebate for appliances goes into effect — will be a red letter day for appliance sellers who are busy stocking inventory and placing advertising for the event.

“We expect hundreds of people,” said John Rice Jr., of Rice’s Appliances & HDTV in Bradenton. The store, which is opening next week for the first time, will open at 4 a.m. April 16 for early shoppers.

With at least 30 percent of his customers already asking about the rebate, Tom Jessup, owner of Jessup’s Appliance Warehouses, has ads ready to launch to take advantage of what he expects to be a two-day frenzy of selling at his Bradenton, Sarasota and Venice locations.

“They’ve changed the rules on it, so I’m hoping people won’t be too confused,” he said.

Both dealers and others across the state are worried about the confusion created by the state’s Energy Star Appliance Rebate Program changing the rules for the program financed by last year’s economic stimulus package. Florida has received $17.5 million for the rebates, while other states have similar programs for the $300 million in federal funds.

State officials are expected to release today the address of the Web site consumers will use to register for the rebate after purchasing an appliance. After reserving a spot, customers will fill out an application form, which, along with the receipt, must be submitted for the rebate. Originally, plans were to use a telephone system for reservations.

“Floridians will need to purchase their appliance first, then download the rebate information. The Web site will not allow you to reserve your rebate until 11 a.m. April 16, giving citizens almost two weeks to purchase their appliance before securing their rebate,” said Sterling Ivey in an e-mail Wednesday from the governor’s press office.

But Rice and Jessup don’t think the rebate money will last that long.

“There are no guarantees you are going to get the rebate, this probably won’t last but a day or two,” Jessup said.

“Our message to people is to get in as soon as possible. They should clean Friday off their calendar, call in sick to work,” Rice said.

Both have ordered extra inventory — refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, freezers, hot-water heaters and air-conditioners — for the event.

“We probably have a month’s worth,” Rice said.

The anticipated rebate not only has shoppers talking, but also waiting.

“They are window shopping, getting ideas and getting prepared to buy,” said Rice. He and Jessup said sales have been down in recent weeks, while consumers wait for the big day and its 20 percent-off promise.

A shopper from St. Petersburg on Wednesday scanned the rows of ranges and refrigerators at Jessup’s in Bradenton, and said he and his wife are replacing their dishwasher, refrigerator and stove, but will probably wait until April 16 to get the appliances at an estimated $500 savings.

But with the economy down and consumers still tight-fisted with their money, appliance dealers are looking forward to a boon in sales.

“It is a great thing to have this,” Jessup said. “It gives businesses a boost and it’s a chance for consumers to save a lot of money.”