Manual vacuum cleaner

Hoover sends sales representatives to independent retailers in metropolitan areas and has telemarketers call shops in rural areas, and the plan has proven to be a successful arrangement, Lauer said.

Eureka makes its Imperial line and commercial machines available exclusively to independents. These are typically high-end, feature-laden products that lend themselves well to demonstrations on the sales floor, said Stephen Thompson, Eureka’s national commercial manager.

Manufacturers also help independents by offering personal contact, education, training and assistance with advertisements. Eureka has 145 field sales representatives that meet with vac shop owners regularly.

“The personal contact is vital,” said Thompson. “When they buy merchandise, we help them set up ads so they’ll be better able to maximize themselves. ”

With the addition of commercial and janitorial supplies, many independent stores are becoming one-stop shops for all cleaning needs.

“People can come to one place to see it all rather than drive around for a $5 price difference,” explains Bill Gilbert, the third generation of his family to run Austin Vacuum Cleaner Co. in Austin, Texas.

To Betty Smith, the quality of products is the first order at Mr. Sweeper Stores in Atlanta. I hate junk,” Smith says. And she means it. Machines that don’t meet her standards don’t make it to the floor.

In Portland, Ore., Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Sales & Service has been known by area residents as the “vacuum people” since the days of the Depression. The multimillion-dollar business has lived up to the moniker by carrying hundreds of models, with some of those at prices that match local discounters. bagless vacuum cleaner

“The independent vac shops that have been real professional and top of the line have survived,” said Jim Stark, vice president of the 62-year-old family business. “The weak ones have gotten weaker or disappeared.”

While their approaches vary, the ability to change with industry trends and consumers tastes–from the advent of on-board tools in the late 1980s to the extraction craze of the 1990s–can’t be overstated. Here’s how three successful independent shops have adapted:


Some people thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke when W.C. Ebert Gilbert left his job as a Hoover representative and opened Austin’s Vacuum Cleaner Co. on April 1, 1951.

But 44 years later, Gilbert’s legacy lives on with the vacuum chain the family built from a single 2,500-square-foot location to four stores totaling 40,000 square feet. Sales are approaching $3 million, Gilbert said and the stores have been successful in meeting 10 percent growth each year.

“Everyone told him he was crazy,” said Gilbert. “But he hung in there and continued to do what was necessary.”

Gilbert started with a brand he knew well–Hoover–and built the business mainly through selling rebuilt machines. Back then, the shop carried such brands as Sunbeam, Hamilton and White-Westinghouse.

One day a customer brought in a machine that changed the course of the business. It was a Royal vacuum. Gilbert expressed interest in the machinery and said “we ought to look at this.” Since then, the shop has been among the top five Royal dealers in the country.

These days, Austin’s carries 145 vacuums with about 70 percent of the assortment uprights, 20 percent canisters and the rest a mix of stick brooms, hand vacs, extractors and other models. Prices range from $60 to $600.

“People ask me why I have 145 different vacuums, says. “Each machine has a specific cleaning difference.” And matching the particular machine with the customers’ needs and showing them how it works is what Austin’s is best at, he adds.

Competition bas heated up in recent years with the arrival nearby of Target, Kmart and Sam’s. “I’m sitting in discount city,” Gilbert says.

But he says he’s winning sales with a simple list of seven reasons a consumer should shop Austin’s over a mass merchant or club. They are: help in selection, discounts, extensive stock, guarantees, service, assembly and salespeople that carry machines right to the car.

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