What’s the deal with the Vacuums and Sewing stores?
A while back a Redditor posed the question “What’s the deal with the Vacuums and Sewing stores?” on the boulder reddit page r/boulder. A good question actually, and one we hear a lot. So we went ahead and answered it there https://www.reddit.com/r/boulder/comments/s8riut/comment/hts8kjw/
We figured though the topic might interest other people so it might be worth sharing. So here is our response.
Opening a business in a new city is a lot like going to a new school when you’re a kid. This goes tenfold for Boulder. Anxieties like “Are they gonna like me?”, “Will I fit in?”, “Will anyone even want to hang out with me?” are amplified by the financial risk of investing in such a venture. Oh, and add that to the fact the we flipped the open sign on in the middle of a pandemic.
A customer emailed one of my team yesterday morning with “You guys made the big time – you’ve been mentioned on reddit “. I can’t describe the trepidation I felt while I waited for the link they sent to load. All I knew of reddit until today was what my kids told me which was “people are mean there”. Boy, I didn’t expect this!
This is our second store. However, it’s the first store I’ve opened in a brand-new location from the ground up. As noted, this building was a pot shop when we moved in to it! I still look at the before and after pictures from time to time to remind myself what our team is capable of. I sometimes wonder if there was something funny in the walls of that dispensary that made me say “yeah this is a good idea” when we went to view the building the first time.
Holy cow am I glad we did though! I can’t’ tell you how much the kind words below mean to me and our team. Our customers have for some time made us feel welcome, needed and appreciated here in Boulder. The comments below go even farther.
But the original question should be answered, I think. What is up with the vacuum store on 28th and Valmont? People’s curiosity is obviously peaked. I am fully aware that my industry is rarely thought about and not a common topic of conversation. So, there are questions. Believe me, it doesn’t’ offend me at all if some one wonders if we are laundering money or warehousing stolen bikes (the bike one is odd I gotta admit). I’ve had to explain what I do for a living since I started in this industry in 2010. So here goes, I’ll try to answer every one’s questions below.
I am not privy to the exact details what happened to the dispensary that previously inhabited our building. I have heard that the city changed some zoning laws that made them too close to a school zone and forced them to close. I hear there was a significant dispute over this and eventually the property hit the market and our landlords were there at just the right time. It’s a great building and a great location. Our landlords are local business owners themselves (not Tebo) and great guys to work with. We actually would not have opened if we had not been able to get this location from these guys.
In early 2020, you know literally RIGHT before first lockdown, we had started talking about opening another location. At the time Boulder was served by Boulder Vacuum and Blakeman’s Sewing and Vacuum respectively. Historically, Boulder has always been a market large enough to support two sewing and vacuum stores. Competition breeds excellence and having more than one option seemed to work very well. At one point there was an Oreck store. There was also Wallace’s that famously served the community well for some years. Prior to being acquired by Blakeman’s, Sew and Vac of Boulder served Boulder through two generations for over (I think) 30 years.
Unbeknownst to us at the time the owner of Boulder vacuum was considering retirement and Blakeman’s Sewing and Vacuum was in talks to sell to another chain. The pandemic simply sped all that up. Blakeman’s was purchased by More than Vacuums which is owned by the former president of AAAA Teva vacuums of Denver. Boulder Vacuum retired and transferred their phone number and website to us. We are an authorized dealer for all the brands Boulder Vacuum previously sold so this offered continuity of service to Boulder Vacuum’s customers. We have competed against More than Vacuums and AAAA Teva Vacuums before them in the Denver area for a decade and a half. We felt that our business model contrasts sharply to theirs and we would do well offering an alternative option to the Boulder community. Google AAAA Teva Vacuums, you figure it out.
Most estimates place marijuana use among adults in Colorado around the 25% range. Nearly 100% of adults own at least one vacuum cleaner. So, my market is far broader than the previous tenant. The global vacuum cleaner market was estimated at ten billion dollars in 2020 with 40-50 million units sold every year in the US alone. Never thought about it? Now you have.
The sewing industry is far smaller than vacuums but is so incredibly specialized that there are sewing machine stores in most towns with populations of 50,000 or more in the US. It’s something that requires a level of expertise that Walmart, Target or Amazon can’t touch. Add to that our ability to host groups, classes events and personal training. Ask a sewist, even Joann’s fabrics doesn’t’ stand a chance against the “local shop”.
And before someone asks why sewing machines and vacuum cleaners are always in the same stores. I’ve heard a thousand hair brained theories on the subject. The machines have absolutely nothing in common and in today’s market their actually completely different markets. My research finds that when the stores started opening after the turn of the century they were “Women’s stores”. At the time gender roles were far more sharply defined than they are today. Thankfully things have progressed and today 25% of our sewing customers identify as men and the vacuum side of the business is a split. However, since the industry is so specialized, much of the expertise is handed down generation to generation. The knowledge of these two very different markets and products has sort of siloed over the generations. Many of our manufacturers even work within both industries. Tacony for example owns the Riccar vacuum brand as well as Baby Lock sewing machines. So, Vacuums and Sewing machines are still sold and serviced in the same stores.
The sleuths below danced around the answer to “how we make any money” and some hit pretty close to the answer. We offer service and repair on tens of thousands of models of vacuum cleaners, sewing machines and oddly lamps and kitchen mixers. However, the costs of providing that service leave us at breakeven at best.
The cost of training and retaining technicians with this skill set is incredibly high. We currently employ four full time technicians between our two stores. They each have developed a specialty for specific models of vacuum cleaners, lamps, or sewing machines and their skill sets overlap so if a technician is out, we won’t be crippled in one specific area. Every one of them has been trained in our stores. One was a restaurant manager. One a computer technician. One a building maintenance person. And my son started working here in high school. Modern vacuum cleaners are complex machines and often have multiple circuit boards, air flow sensors, thermal sensors, motors and complex wire looms. Sewing machines old and new are precision machines that require special tooling to tune and time. Modern sewing machines often have computer boards and software. We typically expect to train a technician for a year before we are able to start breaking even on their labor. There isn’t’ a degree or trade school for this type of work so the burden relies on the employer to “build” their own work force.
The operating expense of maintaining our locations is also far and above what we could ever make on repair labor. Many people in the comments below noted the cost of maintaining such a location and they are right. Both of our stores are on heavily trafficked intersections in the heart of their cities. I own the Arvada building, and we do most of the maintenance and landscaping at both locations ourselves. It’s super important to me to have a nice-looking store both outside and inside. The Arvada and Boulder communities are beautiful with the backdrop of the mountains I grew up under and I want a shop that is reflective of that. I think all this is worth it because the convenience of our store locations is one of the many ways, we kick dirt in Amazon’s face.
In order to get our repairs completed in a timely manner we stock over 1500 different repair component between our two stores. Unlike other businesses we can’t rely on a local distributor like Auto Zone, Home Depot, or Napa to keep repair components on hand for fast local procurement. Managing this inventory is a massive undertaking. We currently have one full time and one part time team member dedicated just to inventory control. Together they place and receive dozens of purchase orders every week with hundreds of SKUs. The computer equipment, software, and storage requirements required to support this undertaking is yet another expense towards supporting the repair side of our business.
Oh, we aren’t done yet. If that wasn’t enough to scare you away from opening a sew and vac shop let’s talk about our front-end reps! In addition to dealing with the mundane realities of retail like washing windows, stocking shelves and dealing with the occasional Karen our front-end reps go through technical training before they even get to start answer the phones. Our front-end reps complete thousands of repairs a year on the spot at our check in benches. Belt changes, mis thread, unclogs, bent needles, assembly swap outs, hose changes and more are done on the check in bench by our front end without a technician ever lifting a screw driver. For repairs that need to be checked in for a technician the front end needs to be able to provide an accurate and free assessment of repair costs to the customer at time of check in. This requires a knowledge of the mechanics of vacuum cleaners AND sewing machines, troubleshooting skills and the ability to navigate dozens of manufacturer’s dealer portals. They also must be able to read and interpret complex schematics. All this while the customer “is in a hurry because I’m late for a meeting that started ten minutes ago”.
So why do we even offer repair if it’s not profitable? The answer is in the comments below. One customer noted that one of our front-end reps got her vacuum up and running again in moments (for free actually). She notes that she is almost looking forward to her vacuum breaking again so she can buy a new one from us. We make money by selling things. People buy stuff from us because they trust us. People trust us because we demonstrate expertise while we care for their needs. It’s actually simple. It’s not rocket science. We take care of people and they give us money for things. It just seems odd when contrasted against Target, Amazon and Joann fabrics.
Now, granted, we also offer better products than the “big guys”. The products we offer usually cost more up front, last far longer, and perform their required tasks far better than the brands in department stores and online retails. These brands will not allow their better models to be sold through discount retailers at all. They are heavily invested in their brand’s reputation and their best products are only sold to authorized dealers. Dealers must demonstrate the ability to service and maintain the products through the manufacturer’s warranty period and operate their business in a way which reflects positively on the brand.
The independent dealer network is a formidable force against the department store brands. Those brands understand our business model and have worked hard to slow us down. Singer no longer sells any internal repair components and does not maintain authorized repair centers. Dyson restricts availability of repair components to their independent authorized service centers (like us). Shortly after Techtronic industries of Hong Kong purchased the Hoover and Oreck brands, they discontinued parts for their legacy US produced models and restricted parts availability for their new products. Shark upped the ante in the disposable vacuum cleaner game and has never sold repair components AT ALL or set up ANY authorized service centers EVER. These companies don’t want us to be able to help you.
So how do we stay in business? We are better. I’ve never pounded the “buy local” or “buy small” or even the “family owned” drum. I want people to choose us because we are better. We have better service. Better expertise. Better products. If you want to feel warm and fuzzy because my team gets to pay their mortgage and feed their kids that is cool. Believe me we do appreciate that for sure. But I want to be your choice because we are a better option for YOU. After all, what if Vacuums R Us & Sewing Too opens 500 stores one day? We won’t be little, or local any more. If we maintain our commitments to quality, expertise, service and honesty we will still be BETTER. Maybe even best? That is a sustainable goal which we can grow with.
For more information about us check out our website vacuumsrus.com or on youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/vacuumsrus/featured