For Lorelei Johnson, helping people keep things clean runs in the family.
Her parents opened the Carbondale Vacuum Center at The Fixit Shoppe back in 1977. Even after she took it over, it continues to be a family affair. Here’s what she had to say about the business.
Q: How has your business changed since it opened in the 70s?
A: When my parents opened The Fixit Shoppe in the old Irving Theater lobby in downtown Carbondale, they sold some vacuums, but became pretty widely known for repairs. Those repairs included many different kinds of small kitchen appliances, electric razors, vacuums and carpet cleaners, and tools. Ed used to also do furniture repairs, lamps, and random things. He could fix just about anything! After they purchased the building at the current location on Cottage Street in 1982, they began selling Toro lawnmowers and snowblowers. Although they did well, space became a major issue so they ended their dealership with Toro. They continued with repairs, but expanded into more vacuum brands, becoming an authorized service center for Hoover, Eureka and others. Once the industry began changing, and product design and quality changed, they ended their dealerships and concentrated on the Panasonic brand of vacuums. They became the best seller for over 20 years.
Q: Do you think more people throw away vacuums and other appliances more often now than they did then?
A: We do think people throw away more vacuums and appliances more than they did 30 years ago, and we think what’s being thrown away is a lot of product purchased at big box stores. We encourage customers to consider purchasing higher quality vacuums not sold in big box stores, which are really good investments.
My father spent his entire life working with his hands, and figuring out how things were put together. He taught our son, Curtis, how to repair a lot of vacuums and other items. Curtis learned so much! My husband learned quite a bit from my father, and some from Curtis. He also takes part in training videos provided by our main manufacturer. I do not work on repairs. I leave that up to the pros!
Our main product line is Riccar, followed by Simplicity. The Riccar brand provides training videos which we view, practice, and test on. The Oreck manufacturer does not provide training, but we have access to schematics and repair guides. We are active in some industry groups, including vacuum dealers on Facebook, so if we have questions, we send them out and our friends across the country provide assistance when needed.
If we can’t fix a vacuum, it’s normally because parts are obsolete. In that case, we recommend that the customer upgrades to a new vacuum. Some brands also will not sell parts to independent vacuum dealers; rather, they will sell only to the customer, and the parts they DO sell cost more than we recommend spending.
Q: What are some of the questions a buyer should ask themselves before settling on a vacuum?
A: When considering new vacuums, customers should decide if they want an upright or a canister with a powerhead. We always ask how much carpet do they have, how much solid surface flooring they have, whether they need something lightweight and easy to carry. We find out whether they have allergy issues. We basically interview them so we can help them choose the best machine for their home.
We have expanded our assortment in the last few years to include premium products. We have eliminated most brands we feel are lacking in quality because we want our customers to be happy with their investment. Our favorite premium brand is Riccar because it is powerful and truly designed for deep cleaning. They perform much better than other brands. We trust the company to support us and our customer during the warranty periods. We use Riccar products in our own home. We also carry brands that have commercial applications, and one brand has hospital-grade filtration. We carry products we believe in, and we service what we sell.
Q: Your shop is pretty active on social media. How has that affected your business?
A: We began experimenting with social media a few years ago, and have worked to raise awareness of our store. We have been experiencing steady and sustained growth because of that activity. We feel more engaged with customers, and hope they feel more informed about the best brands of vacuums. Social media is an integral part of the business world now, so we embrace it! Many new customers tell us they never knew we were here until they saw us on Facebook or Google, so that tells us we really need to increase our efforts! Sometimes we introduce new products. We show repairs — before and after — to educate the customers. We occasionally promote a sale, and other days, we just like to show some humor, or let you know what our doggos are up to.
Q: When you’re at home, do you spend a lot of time vacuuming?
A: LOL! This is a funny question. Answer is — not really. We live a low-key kind of life, so our spare time is when we get to relax and recuperate from busy work schedules. We love our crazy dogs. We absolutely adore our granddaughters, and we love road trips, when we get time to get away. Each day is an opportunity to see and enjoy our blessings!