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What Did Vacuum Dealers Do Wrong?

January marked the 40th anniversary of our store, and like most people in business for a number of years, we have had plenty of ups and downs. Over the years, our vacuum competition has changed.

40 years ago, our main competitors were carpet stores, hardware stores, door-to-door brands, and other vacuum stores. One by one, things changed. The hardware and carpet stores were eventually replaced by Big Box. And as women in households went to work, door-to-door brands had trouble getting into homes and all but disappeared.

Then the vacuum stores faced an era where on-board attachment machines came to market. From the get-go, on-board attachment uprights were a hit with customers who no longer wanted durability, but convenience. The original units from one manufacturer were lower quality, but the second generation by another manufacturer was really not bad.

Still, many dealers said, "I am not selling that junk." And many vacuum stores closed because they didn't change. For example, our market used to have three Kirby stores, a Filter Queen store, an Electrolux company store, and our store carrying Rainbow as well as Hoover and Eureka. Eventually, better quality on-board attachment uprights were produced by several manufacturers and are the most popular vacuum sold by dealers today.

The next wave to affect the vacuum industry was bagless vacuums. Whether independent vacuum dealers liked bagless or not, the concept went over really well with customers. Again, many independent dealers said, "I am not selling that junk." Once again, more independent dealers closed their doors.

Today in our area, many of our customers are taking carpet out of their homes and installing bare floors. This is also true in many other areas of the country.

"So, what's driving the sewing business?
Innovation, promotion, and events are driving the sewing business.
What's driving the vacuum business for independent dealers???
Do independent vacuum dealers promote innovation? Not usually."

Will the independent dealer adapt to this trend? It remains to be seen. We are selling less vacuums today than a few years ago, but the average ticket has gone up considerably.
Good for the bottom line, but is it good for our business?

We need to go after those lower-end sales, promoting vacuums that clean a variety of surfaces. While our store has sold 90% uprights for years and years, we need to adapt to the new needs of our customers and start selling more canisters and stick vacs. We have also put renewed emphasis on the $99 and $199 upright price points, meaning we have renewed emphasis on entry level customers.

Is our store changing? You bet it is! If we want to stay in business, we all need to change and adapt. Today we are selling what some dealers refuse to sell. Our advertising continues to evolve to reflect changing consumer habits. As we have done for 40 years, we put heavy emphasis on customer service and customer satisfaction. When a customer can order almost anything they need from Amazon and have it the next day, we need to differentiate ourselves with better service than we've ever had before. We have grown our staff to include people from ages 27 to 72. The enthusiasm and fresh ideas of youth combined with the wisdom of experience makes for a great staff combination.

Our store also sells sewing machines. While the sewing machine business is much more complicated than the vacuum business, we are more insulated. With today's high-tech sewing and embroidery machines, owner's lessons are a necessity. This makes it hard for Big Box and Amazon to compete in the sewing and embroidery machine market. Yes, Big Box and Amazon will sell over a million units this year, but those machines are mostly low-end, a commodity. No matter what the price, almost all vacuums are a commodity. After all, how many customers take advantage of "free owner's lessons" on a vacuum? They can buy it anywhere.

So what's the difference in the vacuum and sewing industry? Both industries have had lots of product innovation over the years. The difference is upper line sewing and embroidery machines are not a commodity item. Most customers sewing today don't need to sew. They want to sew. Do most people really want to vacuum? Customers are spending lots of money on their hobbies. This fall, one of our sewing vendors will introduce a machine that retails for $15,999. What's going to drive this machine's sales? It's sure not going to be hemming pants. It's all the creative things customers can do with the machine. The machine is also being marketed with what's currently "hot"– web and Facebook advertising.
In addition, most independent dealers will introduce the machine with major consumer events designed specifically to drive business.

So, what's driving the sewing business? Innovation, promotion, and events are driving the sewing business. What's driving the vacuum business for independent dealers???

Do independent vacuum dealers promote innovation? Not usually.

So, why are most sewing dealers and sewing departments doing better than vacuum dealers/departments?

Sewing manufacturers are constantly updating their products as are many vacuum manufacturers. The difference is the dealer. If independent dealers continue to hold out and refuse to sell that "junk," many of us will be on the endangered species list. Whether we sell any quantity of it or not, we need to at least carry what customers are shopping for. This doesn't mean ordering one unit and nailing it to the floor. If you stock it, you had better be prepared to sell it.

Adapt. Promote. Take care of your customers!

In the words of Forest Gump:

"That's all I got to say about that."
Jim Barnhardt


Jim Barnhardt,
J & R Vacuum and Sewing
VDTA•SDTA Board Member






E-mail your comments, ideas, and suggestions to jimbarnhardt@msn.com


Reprinted from Floor Care & Central Vac Professional & SQE Professional, September 2017