Diana Richards saw a need in the vacuum cleaner industry and has spent her life chasing that need through her business, Vacuum Systems International Inc. VSI was founded in 1995 to manage national chain stores’ floor care equipment.
What started out as a single client wanting a resource for store associates to call and troubleshoot vacuum repair issues has grown into North America’s largest vacuum cleaner remanufacturing facility. Today, VSI assists nearly 72,000 facilities in 14 countries to manage their floor care equipment.
Backed by Richards’ hard work and endless dedication, VSI has turned into a one-of-a-kind company that earned the business of Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field), Sterling Jewelers Inc. and F.W. Woolworth Co. before the end of its first year in business. From there the company took off, but not without its share of challenges and obstacles.
“The biggest challenges have been our growth in the beginning and no money,” says Richards, founder, president and CEO. “It was getting the banks and the vendors to believe in this growth.”
Richards has never been one to take no for an answer and over the years she has convinced people to believe in her business’ concept.
Here’s how she has grown VSI despite the naysayers.
Believe in your business
When you’re growing as fast as VSI has you are often inventing the business as you go along. The challenge becomes finding people with an entrepreneurial spirit to believe in the business and help keep it going.
“You have to know that people won’t believe in you and that it’s going to be tough, but you have to put your blinders on and just go with it,” Richards says. “I pretty much gave up my entire life for this idea. You have to show people that are going to support you that you’re in this lock, stock and barrel.”
That’s the biggest challenge that entrepreneurs may have — a fear of failure.
“Don’t be afraid of failure and if you do fail, then get up and try again if that’s what you want to be,” she says.
Be willing to adapt
Richards has had to constantly adapt her business due to new clients or due to how the market has changed.
You have to realize when something is no longer working and change it for the better.
“Today, retail has evolved to really look at, not the cost reduction that our company gives them, but the green initiative,” Richards says. “When we started talking green initiative at a recent trade show, the biggest retailers in the world stepped into our booth and started talking to us.”
Nearly 1 billion pounds of cleaning equipment is thrown into the trash every year, and VSI has saved 500,000-plus vacuum cleaners from being thrown into landfills.
“We changed our conversation from a Vacuum Rotation Program to being a Core Recovery and Remanufacturing Program,” Richards says.
In the average vacuum cleaner, 85 percent of it can be saved and remanufactured. Only 15 percent of it has to be discarded when it goes through VSI’s process.
“When we talk to clients now, we are talking carbon footprint,” she says. “When I started the company, it was cost reduction. So now we’re talking environment and we’re getting the ear of companies that would have never thought about this kind of program.”
From that trade show on, Richards has realized that the Vacuum Rotation Program wasn’t working anymore and switched everything to the Core Recovery and Remanufacturing Program.
“You have to see when you’re not closing deals, what you’re doing isn’t resonating with people,” she says. “It’s just a matter of waking up and looking at everything you’re doing and every word you’re saying about your company and asking what about this isn’t working. So the Vacuum Rotation Program wasn’t working and the Core Recovery and Vacuum Remanufacturing Program has been a miracle that corresponds to companies green initiatives.” ●
How to reach: Vacuum Systems International Inc., (800) 997-8227 or www.vacuumhelpline.com