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After taking care of yet another customer, Mike Janiszewski’s face took on a look of a slyness, as if he’s holding a secret he just decided to share.
“You’re surprised how many people have come in here today, aren’t you?” he asked.
It’s a fair question.
When you can buy a dozen eggs or the tools to build the whole darn chicken coop at the same place, the idea of a small specialty store — one selling and repairing vacuum cleaners, no less — seems quaint, though not necessarily profitable.
Not so, Mr. Janiszewski said.
“You’re never going to get rich in this business, but you can live comfortably” he said. “Do I wear $500 suits? No. Do I wear $200 shoes? No. But to go out and put $100 worth of gas in my boat and jet skis, I can do that. It’s all about your priorities.”
Mr. Janiszewski isn’t Toledo’s original Mr. Fix-It, but he’s been at it a long time.
His family has owned the Fix-It Shop, 1801 Sylvania Ave., for more than 50 years. It’s been his for more than 30 years, and he keeps very busy. Sixteen vacuums have been dropped off for service on this day, and Mr. Janiszewski said it’s been a little slower than normal.
“The first of the month it always seems to pick up,” he offered.
It’s not just service, though. Sales also remain strong. He claims to carry more bags and accessories than most big box stores, and signs hanging in the shop promise the lowest vacuum prices in town. Though it’s often accepted as common knowledge that the little independent shop can‘t compete with the big box store on price, Mr. Janiszewski said that’s hogwash.
“Pricing is the easiest thing in business,” he said. “I can compete with anybody’s price, whether it’s on the Internet, whether it’s in a big store, a little store. Price is the least of my competition. What my competition is is the store that’s open 24 hours, seven days a week, and sells everything from a loaf of a bread to your medical prescription to a new TV. That’s what makes business tough.”
In spite of that, the Fix-It Shop remains consistently profitable.
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One reason might be the business principles Mr. Janiszewski adopted from his father, also named Mike. Treat each customer like a king. Do a good job at a fair price. Keep the place neat. Most important, he said, are the three questions that should be asked of every decision: Is it good for the business? Is it good for him? Is it good for the customer?
“It’s worked,” he said. “That’s my whole secret to doing it.”
The business traces its roots back to 1929, when Charles Chambers began fixing washing machines out of his garage. By 1938 Mr. Chambers moved the shop to Upton Avenue and Bigelow Street.
Mr. Janiszewski’s father started working for the Fix-It Shop’s founder before World War II. After war broke out, he went into the U.S. Navy. After his discharge, he returned to his job and ultimately bought the business in the early 1960s. A young Mr. Janiszewski worked there with him, where he would marvel at his dad’s ability to fix nearly anything.
The store moved to Sylvania Avenue to make way for I-475 in 1964. Mr. Janiszewski took over as owner after his father’s unexpected death in 1979.
At one time, the Fix-It Shop repaired nearly any small appliance. Repairmen fixed toasters and irons, tuned up radios and record players, rewired lamps, overhauled vacuums, and even fixed hair curlers.
“There was a spring in there that broke,” Mr. Janiszewski said. “We used to buy those 100, 200 at a time. Now, none. It’s just not worth it.”
The number of employees has changed too. At one time, the business employed as many as 10 people. A 1961 Blade article about the founder retiring reported that the shop had five dedicated repairmen. One, it noted, specialized in fixing electric skillets and coffee percolators, another worked specifically on irons.
As appliances became cheaper and more disposable in the late 1980s, Mr. Janiszewski‘s focus shifted more to vacuum sales and service. Looking back, he said it was a decision that preserved the business.
“It was a very worthwhile change, because the Fix-It Shop has been able to grow and thrive and survive with all the things that have gone on in the last 30 years,” he said. “We’ve still been doing real good.”
Today, the workforce is just Mr. Janiszewski and his son, who is also named Mike.
The workshop is a relic to those earlier days. Tools still clutter the same workbenches Mr. Janiszewski’s uncle built in 1964. A yellowed newspaper clipping from The Blade reporting the death of Woody Hayes in 1987 remains pasted above one of the benches.
“I’m a Michigan fan,” Mr. Janiszewski explains. “The reason we put that up there is just because the guy that used to work at that bench liked Ohio State and knew I detested Ohio State. I never took it down.”