by Charles McGuigan
To say a product sucks, is typically not a ringing endorsement. Unless, of course, that product happens to be a vacuum cleaner.
Here at CFI Vacuum, all the products sold here suck, a fact which owner Mikhail Gitlin is extremely proud of, and he has a well-informed understanding of what makes a superior vacuum cleaner. From 1976 until the time he purchased CFI ten years ago, Mikhail had been a master machinist.
In his native Gomel, Belarus, Mikhail worked as an apprentice machinist. “I can machine anything,” he says. “I can mill, lathe, grind. I worked for years as a machinist at Jewett Machine (Manufacturing Company) on Maury Street.”
As a machinist, he looks for perfection in all things tooled. And the vacuum cleaners he sells out of his shop, which is located in a strip shopping center on Brook Road near the Wilkinson Road intersection, are perfectly machined, he tells me. “I could never bring myself to sell an inferior product,” he says.
Mikhail mentions a number of vacuum cleaners sold at the nearby Big Box store at Brook and Parham. “A vacuum cleaner you buy from them will work sometimes six months, sometimes one year, and then they’re dead,” he says.
For one thing, those vacuum cleaners are frequently designed with planned obsolescence in mind. Unlike the vacuum cleaners Mikhail sells, those sold at the Big Boxes tend to be non-reparable. What’s more, one of the most important elements of a vacuum cleaner is frequently inferior.
“They have low-quality motors,” says Mikhail. “They make look the same on the outside, but they are not the same on the inside where it counts.”
As we walk through the showroom, Mikhail points out some of the most popular and well-made vacuum cleaners available anywhere in the world. “You will not find any of the products we sell in any other store in Richmond,” he says. “These are all exclusive lines.”
Among them are Titan, Carpet Pro, Sanitaire, Fuller Burs and Royal. These are the products used by professional cleaners and savvy homeowners alike. “If you buy a good product, it will always be a good product,” Mikhail says. He points to an upright vacuum made of heavy-duty cast aluminum. “Commercial people who work eight hours a day use this machine,” he says. “If they ever need a repair, if something goes wrong with the vacuum, they come to me because I have all parts.”
Many consumers today have bought into the myth of the bag-less vacuum. “Bag-less is not good, but people not understand this,” says Mikhail. “People who own bag-less vacuums are supposed to change filters, and those filters are expensive. In a year you spend about sixty bucks. But a vacuum with bag you pay twenty bucks for one package of twelve bags which will last more than a year.”
Of all the makes and models Mikhail sells, one of his favorites is the Sebo canister vacuum cleaner. These vacuums are manufactured and assembled in Germany; nothing is outsourced anywhere else. He stands a very familiar Sebo model that rests on a carpeted podium against one of the walls of the showroom. “It is a universal machine,” he says. “This is a really, really good model. It’s more expensive, but on the long run it’s a good investment. You will never buy another machine.”
I can personally attest to this. Twenty years ago, I purchased the same model, which looks pretty much the same as the current model. In that time, I have never had to have it serviced. What’s more, it cleans with the same vitality it exhibited the day it was unboxed.
The filtration system of a Sebo is unparalleled. “It is like a hospital filtration,” says Mikhail. “Sebo catches ninety-nine point nine percent of all particulate matter.”
Sebos are equipped with three filters: two for intake, and an air belt filter that wraps around the housing of the canister for exhaust. “It’s much cleaner than other vacuums,” Mikhail says. “Sebo is the clear leader.”
But other vacuums are also desirable. “Carpet Pro makes a really good model,” says Mikhail. “Commercial customers really like it. It’s got strong, nice metal brush. And if you’ve got pets, it’s the particularly if you have carpets. It pick up all hair in one pass.”
Throughout the interview customers have come and gone, some to pick up a new vacuum cleaner, others to pick up or drop off a vacuum that needs servicing. One woman was there to pick up her Electrolux. She owns three, one for each floor of her home. When she asks what the charge for the repair is, Mikhail waves his hand. “No charge,” he says. “It was just a loose wire.”
After the woman leaves the shop, Mikhail says, “When they want a repair, when something goes wrong with the vacuum, they come to me because I have all the parts. You buy from a Big Box, you never find parts there.”
Mikhail Gitlin scans the vacuum cleaners throughout the store. “People will buy three vacuums in one year from a Big Box, and then they come to me and buy it from me,” he says. “This takes time to understand: If you buy good product, it will always be a good product.”
Mon-Wed, 9-5; Thur, 9-6; Fri, 9-5; Sat, 9-2
7602 Brook Road
Richmond, VA 23227