Boxes upon boxes filled with vacuum parts and accessories pack Dick Sampier’s small shop behind Stadium Hardware, a shop so off the beaten path that it might go unnoticed unless you were looking for it. But customers find it because they are looking for it – Dick Sampier Vacuum Sales and Repair is one of the last remaining vacuum repair stores in the Ann Arbor area.
Sampier, who opened the business in 1985 and is the sole employee, can often be found in the back of the store, either answering customers’ questions or working on one of the 10 or so vacuums he fixes each day. Sampier says he considers himself more of an artist than a mechanic, and he’s earned a reputation as someone who can fix even the most tricky mechanical problems.
So how does someone end up starting a vacuum repair business, and then stick with it for nearly 25 years?
Sampier is the first to admit that a career in vacuum repair and service is not what he ever imagined he’d be doing. A graduate of Lincoln High School, he has lived in the greater Ann Arbor area his entire life, except for a brief five-year stint in Chicago. He says he wanted to be a commercial artist, but instead began his career after high school at a General Motors factory.
That job didn’t last long, he said, and with a pregnant wife and a child on the way, Sampier started looking for any job that would allow him to financially support his family. Upon hearing of an opening at Electrolux – a company that sells vacuums, among other appliances – Sampier applied for the job, and got it.
Sampier worked in the offices of multiple Electrolux branches in Michigan, at various times doing sales, service, collections, and bookkeeping. He also found that he had both an interest and aptitude in mechanics. “I started tinkering around with the vacuums we had around the office and realized that I could repair them quicker than the factories we would send them off to,” said Sampier.
Sampier worked for Electrolux for 28 years, then decided to start his own business in 1985. He says he relies heavily on word-of-mouth advertising and referrals. “Good service is the best form of advertising,” he said, “because if you do a good job, you’ll keep people coming back and they’ll refer their friends, too.”
Sampier’s main competitors are the larger chain stores that carry appliances. However, what separates his store from the rest is his ability to fix almost any problem that may arise with a customer’s vacuum. “A lot of the time, those bigger stores can’t fix the vacuums because they don’t have the parts,” he said. “So they refer the customer to me, and tell them that ‘If Dick Sampier doesn’t have it, then you won’t find it.’”
Over the years, Sampier says he’s found almost anything you can think of inside the vacuums he repairs. “From mice to underwear, I’ve seen it and done it all,” says Sampier. “People seem to think that their vacuum cleaners are their garbage disposal.”
His experience was on display when The Chronicle visited the shop recently: A woman came in searching for new bags for her 20-year-old vacuum, and Sampier was able to correctly pick out which ones she needed based solely on her description of the brand and color of the vacuum.
To those who are looking for a new vacuum, Sampier’s only advice is this: Don’t be afraid to spend money on a quality device. “Too many people buy cheap vacuums from deep discount stores, that only last them a year or two,” he said. “If they would pay a little more, they’ll get a nicer vacuum that will last for 10 years.” As for his own vacuum, Sampier uses an Electrolux, a reflection of both his allegiance to the company that sparked his interest in vacuums and his dedication to high-quality vacuums, he says.
The 74-year-old enjoys playing in weekly softball games, but he admits that his work still takes up the majority of his time. ”It’s been a good living for my children and I, and I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. But to anyone considering a career like his, Sampier has this advice: “I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone now, because things aren’t as good as they used to be. This really is a dying business.”
Although he never achieved his childhood dream of becoming a commercial artist, Sampier feels that his work with vacuums is artistic, too. “I don’t consider myself a parts changer,” he says. “I’m a repairman. I get to play around.”
Dick Sampier Vacuum Sales and Repair is located at 2165 W. Stadium Blvd. in Ann Arbor. The shop is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
About the writer: Alex Nicola-Iott, an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is studying journalism and business at Indiana University. He’s spending this summer with his family in Ann Arbor.