In 1995, four days before her 50th birthday, Richards founded Vacuum Systems International Inc. in a rented Valley View warehouse with $25,000, a card table, a folding chair and a fax machine. She believed she could build a market for a vacuum cleaner hotline and repair business, targeting large retail chains as customers because each client represented hundreds, if not thousands, of stores.
Within a few months, Richards was out of cash. She convinced a bank to loan her $35,000 against her last asset her home, then rented it to tenants and moved into her warehouse.
Six months later, nearly on her last dime, Richards’ perseverance and positive thinking finally began to pay dividends VSI landed 1,000 stores. Three months later, she secured another 3,500 stores as clients, and VSI’s ascent began.
Today, VSI services more than 60,000 retail stores for such high profile clients as Gap Inc., CVS/pharmacy, Dollar Tree Stores Inc. and Sterling Jewelers Inc. The company boasts more North American retail stores in its Vacuum Helpline Program than any competitor.
Richards’ program allows associates in retail stores who have trouble with vacuum cleaners to call the hotline, have a call center technician evaluate the problem and either assist in repairing the vacuum cleaner or send a replacement unit to the store.
As the company has grown, Richards also made sure to focus on her employees’ growth. VSI’s new building, which the company moved into in February, includes an employee library filled with positive thinking tapes and books. Employees are also encouraged to take continuing education classes, and VSI is currently underwriting one staff member’s complete college costs.
“Every person that works at VSI is treated with respect and dignity,” Richards says. “They know their problems can be brought to leadership and we will listen. Without them, and our belief in what they do, the company would not be successful.”
How to reach: Vacuum Systems International Inc., (800) 997-8227 or www.vacuumhelpline.com