Woolworth Corp. has discovered a cost-effective, convenient solution to what has long been a nagging problem for many retailers: the upkeep and repair of vacuum cleaners. The chain has outsourced the function to a company that provides a full range of support services designed to ease vacuum-related headaches. Among the offerings: a toll-free hotline for employees to call for help with vacuum repair.
“When a vacuum isn’t working properly, the associate calls the hotline. Depending on the nature of the problem, the employee receives technical assistance on how to fix the vacuum or requests a replacement,” explains Krista Rosario, purchasing agent, Woolworth Corp., New York City, which operates 6,100 stores nationwide.
Woolworth signed on with the vacuum maintenance company, Vacuum Systems Management, Valley View, Ohio, in 1996, to service the vacuums used to maintain its specialty and apparel chains. Previously, the chain relied on its store associates for vacuum repair.
“Using petty cash, the employee would take the vacuum to the local repair shop,” Rosario explains. “Among other things, there wasn’t much accountability for machines deemed unfixable.”
Under the present system, Vacuum Systems maintains an 800-telephone number (the Vacuum Helpline) for Woolworth and other clients to call for technical assistance. The number is prominently displayed on vacuum hang tags provided by the company. The tags also contain an easy-to-follow troubleshooting guide for common vacuum cleaner problems.
“The helpline is easy to use and convenient,” Rosario says. “And our employees say the technical assistants are very helpful.”
Helpline staffers take callers through a number of questions designed to pinpoint the cause of the problem. Often, it turns out to be nothing more complicated than a full dust bag, broken belt or dirty filter–all of which can be easily fixed by the employee. The most common complaint–the vacuum is not picking up dirt–falls into this category.
“When a call comes in, the technical assistant has the associate check the belt, bag, etc., talking the person through the problem so that, in many cases, it is fixed right there in the store,” says Diana Richards, president, Vacuum Systems Management. “This eliminates the expense of taking the vacuum to a repair shop for what is often a very minor adjustment.”
Recycle: In addition to providing technical support, Vacuum Systems maintains a dedicated stock of refurbished vacuums for Woolworth. The units are sent to those stores whose vacuums require professional repair.
“If a caller, for example, reports a smoking motor or damaged cord, we immediately send out a replacement,” Richards says.
Using the same box that the “new” vacuum was shipped in, the store sends the broken one back to Vacuum Systems. The company repairs and recycles the unit, putting it into Woolworth’s replacement inventory.
“By rotating the equipment, we help eliminate unnecessary new purchases to replace broken vacuums,” Richards says. “A vacuum can last indefinitely with the right care. We can take a unit that a store might have thrown into the dumpster and completely refurbish it.”
Vacuum Systems also provides Woolworth with vacuum-related supplies.
“The store uses the 800 number to call in for bags, belts and the like,” Richards says.
On the corporate level, Woolworth receives an itemized monthly invoice from Vacuum Systems. It details repairs, purchases, etc., by store location. The company also tracks where the hotline calls are coming from on a weekly basis so a retailer can identify problem stores.