Jules Stern credits his mother and father working hand in hand for more than 50 years in creating the epitome of the authentic American dream: a third-generation, multimillion-dollar U.S. manufacturer that's been operating for more than 75 years.
Which all started as a 500-square-foot retail vacuum shop in the Bronx.
“How 'bout that, huh?” said Stern, president and CEO of Metropolitan Vacuum Cleaner Co., which now occupies a 60,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland.
“My dad always used to say, 'Keep throwing mud at the wall. Some of it's got to stick.' ”
Once a door-to-door salesman, Stern's father opened his own retail location in 1939 and rebuilt vacuum cleaners for resale.
By the time Stern joined his father's business in the early 1950s, MetroVac had expanded to six retail stores throughout New York and Connecticut, and was shifting its concentration to the wholesale of reconditioned vacuum cleaners.
“We already had the entre to buyers when we started to manufacture our own products in the late 1950s,” Stern said.
Its innovative product creation — especially handheld vacuum cleaners for the home and auto — resulted in overwhelming production demands and a move to larger quarters in Suffern, New York, in 1968.
Today, MetroVac continues to manufacture an impressive product line of hand-assembled vacuums, dryers and electric inflators for homes, motor vehicles, computer and office equipment, military use and pet groomers.
“We also get calls asking if we have paper bags for a product we manufactured 40 years ago,” Stern said. “Sure we do!”
Adding new in with the old, MetroVac even caters to Little League with its Hit Zone Air-Suspension Tee — and it's this continued innovation and industry outreach that resulted in the need for even more space last year.
“We had everybody in New York looking for space because the politicians in Rockland County wanted to keep us there,” Stern said, “but we couldn't find anything suitable for the right price.”
Nothing suitable? Or were Jersey politicians just trying harder?
“I wish there were monetary reasons for the move, but no incentives were offered. … It was simply about finding the right place within a reasonable area from where we used to have our business.”
With a little bit of luck, MetroVac would find its new home just 15 minutes away.
“Our facility in Suffern, New York, suffered from floods,” Stern said. “So when Hurricane Irene put us out of business a while, we found a warehouse in Mahwah to rent with enough area to store our products for the time being.”
The owner of that space also happened to own the building in Oakland just as MetroVac was considering its next move.
It was then that papers were signed and handshakes were exchanged to bring the manufacturer to Jersey permanently.
MetroVac didn't lose one of its 75 employees when it relocated in April 2013. And Stern — now age 83 — isn't going anywhere, either, despite the fact that his sons Kenneth and David hold vice president positions and his grandson works, too, when not attending college.
“I'm happy with what I'm doing, and the boys tell me I still contribute — so I think I'll be here for a while longer,” Stern said.
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THE BIZ IN BRIEF
Company: Metropolitan Vacuum Cleaner Co.
One more thing: “When I went to business school, they didn’t teach us about the small business that MetroVac was — they used big companies as examples of what was happening in the world,” Stern said. “But we were different — the board of directors was my family.”
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