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4/15/2004

Oreck: Put name out front

By Candice Ferrette
The Daily Times-Call

Although his company is best known for “taking the hard work out of housework,” David Oreck, one of the most famous vacuum cleaner salesmen in the world, is no stranger to hard work.

“We vacuum cleaner salesmen are rarely welcomed so warmly,” Oreck, 80, said.

As founder of the 40-year-old Oreck Corp., the company famous for its 8-pound upright vacuum cleaner, he spoke to more than 500 students, faculty and business owners at the University of Colorado at Boulder on Tuesday about building a lasting business and household name.

Oreck has helped drive sales of his vacuum cleaners by using his own name — he’s acted as chief spokesman in newspaper, television and radio ads since his company’s founding. A Duluth, Minn., native, Oreck flew B-29s in combat in World War II and later worked for the RCA company before establishing the Oreck Corp. in 1963.

Today the company, based in New Orleans, employs 1,500 people there and at its manufacturing facility in Long Beach, Miss.

Back in the early 1960s, when people equated heaviness with quality, Oreck introduced his lightweight machine into the market by selling to upscale hotels and other establishments that depended on cleanliness. The single biggest difference between his vacuum cleaner and a Hoover: “You can lift it with one finger,” Oreck said.

He advised future entrepreneurs to find a niche and build premium brand awareness.

“Remember, you are judged by the company you keep,” Oreck added.

He believes cutting prices and offering low prices at bargain stores is a big mistake when it comes to selling a brand because it damages the company’s credibility. Instead of sales or price cuts to sell items quickly, Oreck said a better strategy is to offer the customer incentives like an extended warranty or a bonus gift with his purchase.

“Put the right price on it to begin with and stick to it,” Oreck said. “You won’t find a Rolex at Wal-Mart. And you won’t find an Oreck at Wal-Mart.”

Oreck said controlling the distribution of a product is one way to control the company’s destiny. He said simple things like carrying an item out of the store and into the customer’s car is one way to provide the personal service that American consumers still value.

“If you buy a vacuum cleaner from Wal-Mart, who fixes it?” Oreck asked. “The cashier?”

To illustrate his idea of hard work, Oreck showed a video clip of an ABC News program about Bill Porter, one of the last door-to-door home cleaning product salesmen in Portland, Ore. The piece showed how Porter, who has cerebral palsy and has difficulty tying his shoes and typing up order forms, overcame his disabilities becoming one of the top salesmen at his company. Students were clearly moved, sniffling and holding back tears.

“If he can do it, you can do it,” Oreck said. “Don’t give up.”

Candice Ferrette can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 218, or by e-mail at cferrette@times-call.com.