In 1952, Salvador “Sam” Battisto started a vacuum shop in his basement. Today, his son Russ and granddaughter Gina are continuing to operate A-1 Vacuum Cleaner Company (2575 Fairview Ave., Roseville), providing sales, service and repair to Twin Cities customers.
“I have pictures of myself at five years old, playing with vacuums,” Russ Battisto said. “When I was in high school, I started working part-time. That’s what Gina did, too. We have all gotten our hands dirty over the years. And now we have the third generation in the family business.”
According to Battisto, the company has moved several times over the years, and has both expanded and retracted the business.
From its beginnings in Salvador’s basement, the business moved to the east side of St. Paul, then to Summit and Rice, then to University and Rice and then to University and Dale, where it remained 40 years. In 2015, the operation moved to its present location.
“We downsized when we moved here,” Battisto said. “We used to do wholesale and retail, but our warehouse space went from 20,000 square feet to 2,000 square feet, which makes it hard to do the wholesale. We don’t warehouse as much as we used to, so we went to a fulfillment house for our wholesale.”
Battisto said that although the business still does a large amount of maintenance and repair, the demand is not there today for used and refurbished vacuums.
“The industry has really changed. Fifty years ago there were lots of dealers and door-to-door salesmen. Dad started by selling Hoovers door-to-door. Now it’s heading towards what I call the ‘toaster industry.’ If you buy it and break it, you throw it away. You don’t repair toasters, and it’s becoming the same way with vacuums. There is not as much repair in the different brands as there used to be.”
He said repair is still a big part of A-1 Vacuum’s business, however, as he pointed to a line of vacuums in the store all waiting to be fixed. “We have a variety of brands we sell,” Battisto said. “We specialize in Miele and Riccar and several other lines. We don’t specialize in the ones we can’t fix. It’s against our philosophy to do that.”
He said a lot of the big box stores specialize in vacuums that get thrown away if they break. “We are against that,” he continued. “We try to keep the landfill from getting filled any faster than it has to.”
He said Miele is the main brand the company sells because of its longevity. “I had one myself for 22 years, and now my sister-in-law has it. It’s still running.”
According to Battisto, Kirby is still one of the best vacuums on the market. “It’s a little heavy, but it can be repaired. Riccar is another one that you can buy and fix it when needed and keep it running. There are quite a few out there that can keep going.”
Until recently, A-1 Vacuum had five employees. Battisto’s wife just retired. Besides Battisto and his daughter, two other employees are repairmen, but one is being groomed for sales and management.
“Gina does everything as far as the office, sells, takes care of customers and does repairs if she has to. I do the same thing,” Battisto said. He plans to retire in about another year.
He said four sisters had also been a part of the family business, but they have drifted on to other endeavors.
The store carries racks and racks of parts for vacuums with bags, filters and attachments. Besides the store providing repairs, Battisto said there are also customers who have found an old vacuum and might just need a new filter to get it running.
“Someone might have bought a new vacuum at Target, brought it home and taken it out of the box and put it together. They don’t know anything about it, so when it breaks down they get rid of it. They’ve never heard of us,” Battisto said.
But someone else comes along, finds that vacuum sitting on a curb and brings it in. “They’ll say they found this vacuum, and wonder if I have a filter for it. And it’s back running.
“They might find a vacuum in a dumpster,” he said. “The dumpster diving industry is thriving.”
Overall, however, that happens with only a few of the vacuums no longer in use. Battisto said there used to be 30 or 40 dealers in the metro area, and that is now down to 10. “The same thing with our association in the United States; there used to be 2,000 dealers and now, only eight.”
Battisto said the “buy it, break it, throw it away” mentality has led to the decreasing number of dealers in the vacuum industry. “Things just naturally change,” he noted, “and will continue to change. You’re forced into being flexible.
“Take health issues. You’re healthy and can do everything. But if your health changes, you do what you can and adjust accordingly. It’s the same thing in business. You might fight it a little bit, but sooner or later you react to it.”
A-1 Vacuum Cleaner Company is open Monday and Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and closed Sunday.
“Mondays and Fridays are quiet in the afternoon, so we decided to close a little earlier,” Battisto explained. “Our big time is during lunch; it’s the strongest part of the day.
“I don’t think customers expect a small family business to be open later,” he said. They also have the store’s website at their fingertips.
Battisto admits that the buy it, break it, throw it away mentality is where the industry is heading. “But I hope it never fully gets there,” he said.