TUPELO • It wasn’t exactly planned as much as happenstance that Cathy Davis became the owner of Varsity Vacuum.
Her husband, David had long been in the vacuum business and had his own store in Tupelo. When another independent store became available in 2008, he was interested in buying it, too. But since he had signed a non-compete clause with his own store, he wasn’t able to.
So naturally, he turned to his wife and asked if she might want to run it.
“I was working a full-time job and a part-time job, so I said, ‘sure,’” she said with a laugh. “I knew it was a dream of his, so I did it.”
The transaction also happened in the middle of a recession – not exactly the best time to open a business.
“But people told me if I could go a year without worrying about money, without trying to focus on profit, then it could become a solid business,” Cathy said.
And for that first year, she didn’t pay herself, pouring any revenue back into the business.
“I did have one employee, and I was able to pay off the business in 11 months,” she said.
In addition, she was able to make a few changes to the store as well as added inventory to offer more products to her customers.
At the time, Varsity was competing against four other competitors – five if you include her husband’s business – plus she was the only woman in a male-dominated field.
“I just wanted to give great customer service,” she said. “I wanted to offer them something that they could maintain their home with, keep a clean environment and have a healthy home.”
With the business on solid footing, she started going to trade shows to pick up new ideas and to add new products to the store.
Varsity Vacuum’s main line of business is selling and servicing vacuums, with brands like Kirby, Oreck, Rainbow and Riccar among others. Varsity also has shampooers, steamers and equipment to dry clean carpet, as well as products to clean wood, stone, tile and laminate.
“We’ve changed the concept of the business from just vacuum sales and repair to really a new brand as Varsity Vacuum and Clean Living Boutique,” Cathy said. “We’ve tried to add things to help people clean their homes without a lot of chemicals, so we’ve expanded our lines to cleaners and cloths that use no chemicals; we’ve added the Lampe Berger line of lamps that purifies the air; and we have air purifiers and water purifiers, as well.”
Varsity also carries Pure Wash Pro which purifies the water in the laundry, thus requiring less detergent.
“It also purifies the clothes and the washing machine,” Cathy said. “We’ve been using it ourselves for a several years, and we’ve saved a lot of money on just detergent.”
Cathy said her goal is to have environmentally friendly products at the store that also help reduce the amount of waste.
“When we look at vacuums, for example, we want something that’s serviceable, something people can have for the long term and not just something they put together out of a box, use it a couple of years then it’s out on the curb and they get another one,” she said.
The nearly 2,000-square-foot store on Varsity Drive also does sewing machine repair.
Varsity Vacuum has been around since 1977, and under Davis’ ownership the last 12 years has evolved to keep up with the times.
Even though it was Cathy’s first try at running a retail store, she had enough experience from previous home-based businesses that she was able to make the transition easily.
Looking back, she said things just worked out nicely.
“I kind of wanted to have my own business, although it wasn’t vacuums since it was David’s at the time, and I was surprised that he wanted me in the business,” she said. “We had friends who kidded with us and said we were now in competition. But I didn’t look at it that way. I saw it as we were just in the same industry; I never felt like we had to compete against each other because if you give good service, not everybody’s going to go to one place. There’s enough love to spread around.”
And Cathy said even though the coronavirus pandemic has brought about some uncertainty, she has no doubt about the future.
“We serve a God that’s faithful, and when He begins something, he’ll complete it. He’s given us this dream, this opportunity, and just because something comes along that seems like it’s not going to work out doesn’t mean we give up,” she said.