British Columbia·Still Standing

Keep it clean: Big Gary's Vacuums helping clients deal with dirt for over 50 years

People are passionate about their vacuums, and they need a shop that takes the business of sucking up very seriously. Whether customers need a vacuum for shag carpeting, or a repair on an old Electrolux, it’s a good bet Big Gary’s Vacuums can help.

'You're almost excited to go home and vacuum'

Mike Pendleton has been working at Big Gary's Vacuums doing repairs and service for about nine years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vacuums have come a long way in the last 50 years. They're now light and quiet and much easier to handle, said Ruth Sickenger, the manager at Big Gary's Vacuums.

It was a quiet weekday at the shop, in the corner unit of a strip mall on Fraser Highway in Langley, B.C. Sickenger took out a Miele model and turned it on to demonstrate.

"It's calming, and you're producing a nice clean floor," she said as she pushed the vacuum back and forth on the demo floor.

The store has high ceilings and lots of light to show off the different brands they sell, from central vacuums along one wall, to a display shelf in the centre of the room showcasing the shop's Miele brand vacuums.

 A  collection of upright vacuums is arranged in a neat row.

Big Gary's has been in the business of selling and servicing vacuums for more than 50 years, operating stores in White Rock, Richmond, Maple Ridge and Langley.

'They want interaction'

Over the decades, there have been challenges to the business, especially the advent of big box stores and online shopping, which offered convenience.

"We went through a period where it all seemed attractive to buy online," Ruth Sickenger said.  

Big Gary’s Vacuums in Langley, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Recently, they've seen a change.

"We went through a period where it all seemed attractive to buy online," Ruth Sickenger said.  "What we're really noticing now is people are done with that. Our clients anyway, they want to come in. They want to touch and feel. They want the interaction."

When you leave with the right vacuum, she said, "you're almost excited to go home and vacuum."

Gary Derrek opened the shop in 1965 in its original White Rock location. In the 1980s, the store expanded to Richmond, Maple Ridge and Langley.

Now, two locations remain, the original store in White Rock and the warehouse and headquarters, now in Langley. Derrek has retired and his former manager, Lucinda Kuzyk, took over the business.

Mike Pendleton assists a customer at Big Gary's Vacuum's Langley location. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Priorities shift

In the more than five decades that Big Gary's has been in business, employees have noticed changes in their customer's requests.

People nowadays have different priorities, Ruth Sinkenger said. Many have smaller spaces. "Compact is very very popular right now." And filtration is extremely important, Sickenger added.

Vacuums awaiting repair at Big Gary's Vaccums. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mike Pendleton has been working at the shop doing repairs and service for about nine years.

Pendleton was fixing a TriStar Canister vacuum that's decades old. The metal body was sitting on his work counter, with tools and vacuum parts strewn nearby.

He said the shop provides knowledge and good service for "people who are fed up with buying the cheap inexpensive machines that they're only going to have for a year or so."

"We sell a machine that they're going to own for the next 10 to 20 years. That's a good thing."

Ruth Sickenger likes working weekends when the shop is filled with shoppers and looks forward to future generations of customers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The next generation

The shop is now seeing the next generation walk in the door. "They were in here at nine and now they're coming in for their own needs," said Sickenger.

She said she gets excited about working on the weekends, because there's a good energy in the place, with a lot of people coming through the door. "It's not like you come in here and buy a vacuum today and then you're gone, I never see you again."

In a business like theirs, it's all about relationships.

Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio The Early Edition.

If you have a suggestion for a store or business in the Lower Mainland that's been around for awhile and provides a specialized service, or has an unusual survival story, please email earlyed@cbc.ca

The Early Edition, Jennifer Chen

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