When you first start a business, you worry about day-to-day operations. You worry about paying your bills, hiring employees and making ends meet.
That’s what Betty and Dick LeFevre were thinking about when they opened B&D Vacuum in 1955.
The last thing the couple was thinking about was their legacy.
But here, 66 years later, it is a generational legacy we are talking about.
Betty and Dick’s son, Bill, took over the business in 1975 and Bill’s son, Matt, who has worked at the shop for 27 years, will one day take over from Bill. In addition to Bill and Matt, B&D Vacuum, which has stores in Southgate and Trenton, has four other employees, all of whom have been with the company for more than 30 years.
The senior LeFevre did not start out to be a shopkeep. Dick LeFevre was an artist. He submitted some work to the Disney Company and they were impressed enough to offer him a job. The only stipulation was that he would have to get to California on his own.
Lacking the funds to do that, Dick began selling vacuums to earn money to travel. One thing led to another and before long he and his wife opened B&D on Fort Street in Wyandotte.
The company prospered and outgrew its first location, so in 1967 the couple moved across the street to the location the Southgate store still occupies today.
The couple then opened another store in Downtown Trenton, which later moved to a shop on West Road and then in 1994 to its current location on West near Fort Street.
Through the first 40 year or so of operation, B&D sold and serviced not only vacuums, but radios, blenders, electric razors and other items. Back then, the store carried as many as 60 different brands of vacuum cleaners.
The store became strictly a vacuum sales and service store about 1994 and today they carry about 10 brands of vacuum cleaners.
Bill LeFervre came home from Central Michigan University and decided that working at a strong local business looked good, so he bought his father out.
“My dad and mom never had a vacation, so I said, ‘get out and enjoy yourself,’” Bill said.
If you have ever met Bill LeFevre, you know a more gregarious man has never been born and his nature is what drew him to becoming a behind-the-counter small businessman.
“I wanted to do this because I got to meet people every day,” he said. “I found it to be fun. I still find it to be fun.”
And there certainly were fun times.
At one point, when the store still had small appliances, B&D was the third largest retailer of Mr. Coffee machines in the country. Back then baseball great Joe DiMaggio was the spokesman for Mr. Coffee and as a high volume seller, LeFervre got to meet him.
Another time, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the Tigers pitching sensation who lived Downriver for a while, came to the store to sign autographs and caused a sensation.
Bill said things have changed from the old days when spring cleaning and vacuums clogged with Christmas tree pine needles used to send customers streaming through the door for repairs and accessories.
In addition to his duties at the store, Bill LeFevre has been a constant contributor to his community.
A graduate of Southgate High School, LeFevre and his wife Linda moved to Trenton in 1971, where they raised Matt and his sister Andrea (Segedi).
Bill was elected to the City Council in 1991 and still serves today.
“I feel like I make a difference,” he said.
He is a member of the Trenton Rotary, has worked tirelessly for the Trenton Hockey Association and is a past member of Jaycees.
Bill’s son Matt never had any doubts about what he wanted to do.
“When I was in high school my parents asked me what I planned to do and I said, “I want to work at the vacuum store,” said Matt. “They said fine, but that I needed to go to college.”
So Matt went off to Ferris State University when he earned a degree in small business administration before returning to work at the store.
When the store first opened in 1955, it was on the cutting edge of retail. Going to a store for a vacuum or other small appliance was a new experience. Things have changed through the years, but B&D’s business has remained strong.
There is one reason, according to Matt.
“Customer service,” he said.
As he is talking, a woman walks into the store looking for bags for her vacuum, a model you are not likely to find at Meijer or Lowe’s.
Matt smiles, jokes with her, assures her that the six bags in the box he hands her are made specifically for her machine.
“If they don’t work, you can come back and throw them at me,” he cracks.
The lady laughs, hands over her 20 bucks and walks out the door, smiling behind her mask.
Matt and Bill are cut out of the same cloth: Big personalities, who make you feel comfortable and at home even if they’ve just met you.
“We are still a fix-it-first shop,” said Matt. “Forty-percent of our business is repairs.”
If you’ve got a machine that needs fixing, B&D will be happy to have a look and give you a free estimate. If it can’t be fixed or it is cost prohibitive, they’ll be happy to sell you a new one.
You can be sure they know what they’re talking about, after all, they’ve been doing it for nearly 70 years.