Norbert Bruce, who is known for his outstanding customer service, has retired from John Boos & Co. Showroom & Outlet in Effingham.
By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Chances are if you have been in John Boos & Co. Factory Showroom & Outlet in Effingham, you know Norbert Bruce.
And chances are, if you have been in the store, he remembers you … and where you are from … and what you purchased!
Norbert Bruce has become a popular figure for the company with his unforgettable customer service and his attention to detail.
However, it will be the end of an era for the store, as Bruce will be retiring this month after 11 years of service. Friends and customers are invited to come and wish him well from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28, at the outlet store, located on the corner of Fayette Avenue and Willow Street in Effingham.
After retiring from Fedders Air Conditioning after 32 years of service, Bruce was approached by John Boos President Joe Emmerich, who offered Bruce a position at the Showroom & Outlet.
“I was invited to work here by our president,” said Bruce. “He knew that I had purchased a lot of these items in the past, and he knew I had a passion. He found out I was retired and said, ‘Why don’t you come and sell it?’”
Bruce jumped at the opportunity to work at the store, where he was able to share his love of the John Boos products that he had grown up around.
When Bruce first encountered a John Boos Butcher Block, it was a bit of tough love.
He recalls the John Boos Butcher Block in the kitchen of his parents’ restaurant in Effingham. But in those days, he wasn’t busy using the block as a work surface. Instead, it was a common hiding place, which led to him often bumping his head on the large heavy block.
“My parents had a massive block back in the kitchen that was a work station,” recalls Bruce. “I use to play under it and bump my head on it, so that was my first impression of the blocks — a crease in my little forehead.”
Being around Butcher Blocks, Bruce noticed the quality and the craftsmanship of the blocks, and as an adult, he began purchasing Boos Butcher Blocks for his home. Those purchases included blocks and work surfaces of all sizes and for all purposes.
After beginning his job at the outlet store, Bruce quickly discovered that he not only had a passion for the Boos Butcher Blocks, but that he also had the ability to connect with customers.
With visitors coming from all over the United States, and even from different countries, Bruce started a guestbook to keep track of those coming in.
“I have met a lot of wonderful people, and they have all become my friends. I have had a wonderful time working here,” said Bruce. “I inspire people to do the things they don’t even think of doing with our butcher blocks.”
Because he is so passionate about the product and is often associated with the store, he said some folks even mistake him for John Boos, who died in the early 1900s.
“It’s all about passion,” he said. “Customers think I own the company because I am so excited about the products and the way I gush about the products.
“Some even think I am John Boos,” said Bruce with a smile.
Bruce has even been a Yelp superstar with his rave internet reviews.
“Yelp actually called up and asked how I had over 4,700 positive hits. They said they had never seen that before,” said Bruce. “I took that as a compliment. I told them I just treat everyone the way that I like to be treated and maybe even just a little better.”
Although Bruce was flattered by all of the Yelp reviews, he said his proudest moment came when his excellent customer service was pointed out in a letter from the White House in May of 2013.
The letter read: “I want to let you know about a special employee you have in Norbert Bruce. He went above and beyond in assisting us in our purchases at Boos. His helpfulness and utmost assistance was outstanding. We will definitely come back to the Outlet Sore because of Norbert’s superb customer service.”
The letter was signed by Carole Parmelee, Former Chief of Staff to President Clinton’s Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
“This was a high point,” said Bruce. “It made me feel special, and it confirmed that I was doing a good job.”
Bruce had other positive encounters throughout his time at Boos, including being asked to design the winners’ trophies for the American Royal in Kansas City, the largest barbecue contest in the country.
After designing the Butcher Block trophies, Bruce was able to attend the three-day event where he met with several famous Food Network chefs, including Guy Fieri, who took home one of Bruce’s trophies that year.
“It was a really big honor. They wanted a trophy that was more in line with barbequing and food, so I created a trophy for them,” said Bruce. “Events like that really increased our visibility. Also, I got to meet a bunch of other Food Network people and that was a lot of fun.”
On the local front, Bruce also worked regularly with Firefly Grill on products for the restaurant and even created plate-like tasting butcher blocks for the restaurant to pass out samples at food shows and festivals.
With his outstanding customer service and his enthusiasm for his work, it is no wonder that he has become synonymous with the outlet store.
“It makes me very proud when people come in looking for me, and they say, ‘Are you Norbert?,’ because they have heard about me,” said Bruce.
Although Bruce is looking forward to retiring with his wife, Kathy, on their 52-acre farm along the Little Wabash River, he will miss his time at the store.
“It is a wonderful company,” said Bruce. “I told the president 11 years ago that if I were rich enough, I would pay him to let me work here.”