By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Cathy and David Davis are in love with vacuums and each other.
Until recently, the married couple operated two separate vacuum stores – Varsity Vacuums and an Electrolux franchise.
Now the two work together at Varsity Vacuums, which Cathy Davis owns.
“She lets me just hang out here,” David Davis said jokingly.
Said Cathy, “It’s been fun because before he was planning what he was doing and I was planning what I was doing and now we plan together.”
David started the family’s love affair with vacuums. He began selling Electrolux vacuums door to door in Memphis as a way to put himself through college, and kept at it afterward.
“He raised our family being a door-to-door vacuum salesman,” Cathy said. “I’ve really been proud of my husband and the business he’s built over the years.”
Added David, “I had no idea I’d be selling vacuums. I thought it was just going to be part time. But I was making money.”
He continued to grow his door-to-door business, then started running an Electrolux store in the 1970s. That’s when he and Cathy started dating.
“Since I wouldn’t go to Memphis, he came to Tupelo,” she said. “I didn’t care anything for vacuum cleaners then. To be honest, I was very grateful because when it came time to vacuum, I could say, ‘Honey, can you go vacuum? You know more about it.’”
David bought franchise rights for Tupelo in 2003, the first year the company offered franchises.
He also bought the Jackson, Tenn., franchise. One of his sons, Brett, runs that store. Brett also started his vacuum affair as a youngster.
“We dressed him up like a vacuum cleaner for Halloween,” she said. “Nobody was dressed like him that year.”
Cathy was working with David almost three years ago when Varsity Vacuums was up for sale. David was under contract with Electrolux, so he couldn’t buy Varsity Vacuums, which started in 1977.
“I knew it was his dream to one day be independent,” Cathy said. “This is my opportunity to help give him his dream.”
“I always wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t want it to be vacuums,” she said, halfway joking about the vacuums.
So Cathy decided to buy the business at a time when the economy was soft.
“When we bought this business, I was a little concerned,” said David, who lent the money to Cathy to buy it.
Cathy’s goal was to pay the loan in a year; she did it in 11 months.
Varsity Vacuums’ major lines are Riccar, Electrolux, Rainbow, Kirby and Hoover. The store sells new and reconditioned vacuums, in commercial and residential models. In addition, Varsity Vacuums sells items made for hardwood and tile floors.
The business also accepts vacuum trades and gives discounts. The trade-in vacuum doesn’t have to work.
The store also services vacuums.
“That’s the reason people buy from us,” Cathy said. “They know they can take their machines to us if it breaks.”
And several models have built-in service plans, in which the manufacturer pays for free servicing. The store has courtesy vacuums it loans to customers while their model is in the shop.
She credits the business’ good products and service for her success.
Along with running the store, she’s also learned the ropes of the vacuum repair business.
“I can take a Rainbow, break it all down and work on it,” she said.
The Davises spend a lot of time educating people about vacuums. They say the difference between their merchandise and the models sold for $50 or $60 is the cheaper ones don’t pick up as much dirt, plus they don’t last.
As for the frequency of vacuuming, Cathy said, “Spend your time vacuuming traffic areas.”
Varsity Vacuums doesn’t sell bagless vacuums, with the exception of water vacuums. The Davises say the bagless vacuums leave too much dust.
The efficiency of a vacuum also depends on the conditions in which it will be used.
“A farmer needs a really good vacuum,” Cathy said. “We do see a lot of people in after the holidays.”
Cathy said customers go to the store for repairs because they use their vacuums more often. They also go for new models because they use their vacuums more frequently and want better ones.
As for the long-range outlook for the business, Cathy has growth plans and sees her husband fitting right in.
“God has blessed our relationship because we know each other pretty well because we’ve been married 31 years,” she said. “We have pretty realistic expectations for how the other person is going to handle things.”
“I still haven’t given him the business. We’re still working on that,” she said laughing. “One day I may give it to him for Christmas or something.”