The year 2021 marks some very special anniversaries for a handful of small, independent, family-owned businesses in Old East Village. These businesses have weathered many storms over the years - and as we found out - none as difficult or uncertain as what they faced in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this series on longevity in OEV, we’ve asked them to share how these businesses have continued to thrive, throughout several decades, and what key things have helped them remain agile and moving forward.
For the first in this series, we spoke with Graham Stuart, owner of McHardy Vacuum at 1004 Dundas Street. Very deserving of hearty congratulations, McHardy celebrates its 75th anniversary this year!
When asked how it feels to be at the helm of a business that has called OEV home for seven and a half decades, Graham told us “it feels fantastic, it’s an absolute privilege to continue on this legacy and run a company as it should be in this time and era.”
Phil McHardy, Graham’s father-in-law, instilled this sentiment when he passed the torch eight years ago. Graham told us that remaining true to foundational values and keeping abreast of what the modern customer is looking for is something Phil always told him to keep at the front of mind. Given McHardy’s continued success, it seems to have certainly sunk in.
Before we go too far, however, looking back at the humble beginnings, growth, and pioneering innovation of McHardy Vacuum is essential. It all began in 1946 when J.C. McHardy or “Mac” won the prestigious King Trophy presented by Hoover for being their top salesman. In fact, he sold only Hoover upright vacuum cleaners door to door in London, Ontario. However, Mac felt that consumers needed more selection - different models and different brands - to choose from which, in turn, got him fired from Hoover immediately. But this was just the beginning. At this point, Mac put into motion his plan to open a store that sold multiple brands but differed from corporate stores in which finding service was not convenient for customers.
Mac had this idea that customers needed a selection of high-quality products from multiple brands coupled with friendly, accessible, and affordable service offerings at the same location. Thus, McHardy Vacuum, Canada’s first multi-brand vacuum cleaner store, was born. Today, McHardy Vacuum is considered to be experts in all types of vacuum cleaners, air purifiers, hardwood cleaners, carpet stain removers, and even European laundry detergents! It’s thanks to the business sense and determination of J.C McHardy, continued by his son Phil, and now onto Graham that McHardy continues to satisfy customers in OEV, London generally, and across Canada.
The beginnings of McHardy Vacuum bears resemblance to a David-and-Goliath-type story and these challenges are something they’re still up against today. Graham told us that competition from the large corporate chains is something they encounter on a daily basis, but that makes their approach to customer service and satisfaction all the more important.
“We are a company serving customers, we need to find ways to meet their needs in many different ways. This includes both in-store and online purchases and we strive to have our e-commerce site replicate the experience you would have in the store through product videos, information, feature descriptions and copywriting that is 100% done in-house.”
Considering the challenges businesses faced (and continue to face) over this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Graham likened it to the 2008 recession. Same then as now, many people were not making as much income and were not spending as much so when they do decide to make a purchase, they’re looking for a quality guarantee that can help them feel comfortable. Luckily, that’s just what McHardy offers.
“What’s been different with [the pandemic] is we’ve been learning as we go but regardless, we’ve put any agendas aside to respect everyone and make them feel safe. Whether that has been home delivery, an in-store visit, or a facetime call, we’ve aimed to increase our flexibility to accommodate everyone and meet their needs. There’s no political or social agenda, we just want to help people clean their homes,” Graham said.
In fact, McHardy has continued to go above and beyond for their customers in times of need. During the 2008 recession, they leveraged the support of their vendors and had both Dyson and Eureka donate about 100 vacuums so they could donate them free of charge to any person who had lost their job or had been significantly impacted by the financial crisis. Today, they currently have in the works a vacuum upgrade credit program in which people looking to upgrade their current Miele vacuum will receive a credit towards a newer model and the trade in will be donated to someone in need.
Turning back to what has set them apart and allowed them to remain agile over the years, Graham told us “it’s the great quality we offer. There are so many subpar products out there at unfair prices. We make sure anything we sell meets our standard of quality control measures and if it doesn’t, we simply don’t sell it.”
In McHardy Vacuum’s case, it’s safe to say that the key ingredients to keeping the doors open for seven-plus decades is great products and outstanding customer service, two things they’ve been doing very well, for 75 years, in OEV. In fact, Graham told us that over the years they had the opportunity to move out of the neighbourhood but have never wanted to.
“It’s the heritage, it’s the development we’ve seen over the past 10-15 years, and the changes taking place all around us. It has been truly amazing and we can’t wait to see what the next 10-15 years will bring!”
So, if you’re in the market for a new vacuum cleaner, other home cleaning products, or simply want to check out one of OEV’s oldest businesses, make your way down to McHardy Vacuum. While you’re there, join us in wishing them a very happy 75th anniversary with all the very best for the next 75 years!
Stay tuned for more articles in this series that highlight the Old East Village veteran businesses and in the meantime, check out our blog for all the latest and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for your daily dose of OEV!