In careers; Willett Vaccum makes clean sweep
Starting door-to-door in 1946, Vinci family has made its living selling vacuum cleaners
BY JOAN TUPPONCE
The Vinci family knows the inner workings of the vacuum cleaner· industry. Three generations – grandfather, father and son – have made their living selling vacuum cleaners.
The family got into the business in 1946 when Benjamin Vinci went door-to-door’ selling Electrolux cleaners in his New York hometown. Twenty-two years later, he and his wife opened Willett Vacuum in Port Chester, N.Y. Peter Vinci helped his father out in the family business, although his first love was baseball.
He was scheduled to report to the Kansas City Royals baseball camp after graduating from high school when he injured his leg. At the same time, his father a World War II war hero who had been shot at Pearl Harbor, became ill, prompting Vinci to assume responsibility for the store.
“I grew up in the store,” Vinci said. “I more or less took everything over. My dad was so proud of the business. 1 didn’t want it to go down the tubes. A couple of years later: my brother joined me in the business.”
The company specialized in Electrolux but sold several high-quality lines of vacuums. Wanting to expand the business, Vinci opened a second store in Larchmont, N.Y.
Today, Vinci’s brother, Joseph, owns both New York stores. A while after opening the second store Peter Vinci decided to move south to a better climate and a lower cost of living.
“I didn’t want to be so far away that if something went wrong or my dad got very ill that I couldn’t get home,” Vinci said. “I looked at different places and decided on Richmond.”
Vinci opened Willett Vacuum in Richmond in 1991 at 8422 W. Broad St. He now works side-by-side with his son, Peter J., who also grew up in the business.
“The store [in Port Chester] was three to four blocks from my house, so my dad would pick me up and 1 would go there after school to do my homework,” Peter J. Vinci recalled. “I would sit on the counter and bag the merchandise or clean up from the. repairs.”
The youngest Vinci started “working part time for his dad when he was 15. 1 would help with repair work and some sales,” he said. “I also helped a little with advertising ideas, price marking, etc.” By the time he was 20, Peter J. Vinci, who had been attending Virginia Commonwealth University, returned to New York to run the Larchmont store.
“You learn quickly when that happens,” he said adding that the industry can be tough. “You have to really know what you are talking about. I would listen to Dad when he would talk to the customers.”
Vinci fashioned the Richmond store after its New York counterparts, bringing in merchandise that was popular in the Northeast. “I brought in lines that people here had never seen like Miele,” Vinci said.
Today, including Miele, he store carries brands such as Riccar, Panasonic and Sanyo and sells to residential and commercial customers.
“We deal with a lot of people who clean houses,” Peter J. Vinci said. “We try to establish a rapport with them.”
After running the Larchmont store for five years, Peter J. headed back to Richmond in 1996 when his grandfather became gravely ill. Peter Vinci was traveling back and “forth to New York to be with his dad, who died in 2002.
Mark Piepes, owner of Desco Vacuum Supply in Linden, N.J., remembers how Vinci and his family cared for their ailing father.
“About five years ago, the grandfather needed 24-hour care,” Piepes said. “All of the children stayed with him, Each took a month off to care for their dad. They are really special people.”
The Vincis also care about their business, he added. “They only buy quality merchandise and they take care of their customers. I have hundreds of customers and they are good loyal customers all these years.”
Vinci recalls that the Richmond store started out slowly. “It was a gradual process of building business,” he said.
Peter J. agrees. “We tried to be very customer service oriented and carry better products than you find at other places,” he said. When he opened the Richmond store, Vinci hired Roger Newman to ‘work part time with the family. Newman, who, is blind, had worked in the industry before.
“People are amazed by his abilities and his personality,” Peter J. said. “Many come in because he works here.”
Customer Domenic Romanello saw the Willett Vacuum sign as he was driving down Broad Street. The name stood out because Romanello had grown up in Port Chester and was familiar with the town’s Willett Avenue.
“I had a vacuum serviced there and then decided to buy a new vacuum,” Romanello said. “I’ve bought several vacuums from them,” he said.
“They are willing to help you and not try to oversell you anything. They answer all your questions and they back their products up with service.”
Ray Buttermore has been shopping at Willett Vacuum for 11 years. During that time he’s purchased six vacuums for himself and others. “They are really great people. They know the business,” he said.
“They don’t use high pressure and they don’t try to sell you the top of the line. They fit the vacuum to what you want to do with it and that’s important.”
An 18-year-old teen living in a small apartment doesn’t need the same vacuum cleaner that a couple with two kids needs, Peter J. pointed out. “We try to look at [the circumstances], evaluate what you need and match the cleaner. to your needs. We try to carry cleaners in pnce ranges from $99 to $1,249.”
The field is competitive, he added. “People think we are just trying to sell a product because that is the only product we carry. But we pick that product from “everything that is manufactured.
“I believe it’s an injustice to sell something you don’t truly believe in.”
Trade Names is a regular feature about established Richmond area businesses.