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Vacuum salesman still has the hum

August 23, 1998

Vacuum SalesmanBy SHEILA HOTCHKIN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer [enlarge]




A theme emerges from the comfortable clutter that has collected in 74-year-old Seibert Kretzer's Hagerstown home over the decades.

An Electrolux pendulum clock counts the minutes from the wall. Two fish mounted above the doorway carry memories of an Electrolux convention in Florida. A photo of another convention, this time in the Bahamas, is on the desk. It shows a smiling Kretzer in a company hat, an iguana perched on his shoulder.

All to be expected from a man who has sold more than 11,000 of the vacuum cleaners in his 48 years with the company.

There was a time, shortly after Kretzer left the U.S. Army in 1946, that he worked a 9-to-5 job at Fairchild. It was not for him.

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"It was so monotonous," he said. "You come in. You do the same thing. The guy next to you does nothing. He gets the same wage."

When Fairchild's employees went on strike in 1950, it gave Kretzer the excuse he needed to answer a newspaper ad seeking vacuum cleaner salespeople.

"I thought, 'Well, I'll do it part time,'" he said. "I didn't think you could make a living at this at the time."

Neither did his father, who worried about his son's career change.

"My daddy told the guys at the railroad, 'That boy's going to starve to death,'" Kretzer said, laughing.

Far from starving, Kretzer has become one of the company's most successful salespeople. The last time he checked, the company had only 10 active salespeople who had sold more than 10,000 vacuum cleaners. He was in seventh place.

He has outlasted a number of managers, vice presidents and presidents of the company. The office on Maugans Avenue to which he reports is the seventh in his tenure with Electrolux.

When Kretzer began peddling the vacuum cleaners nearly five decades ago, there was only one machine and one shampooer to sell. Now there are three tank models, three uprights, a round tank, a shampooer and a central vac.

He said what makes the job memorable are the people he meets, like the blind woman who was thrilled by her new vacuum cleaner.

"She'd run her hands over that and say, 'My, isn't this beautiful,'" he said.

Or the man he overcharged by 25 cents. When he discovered his error, he drove back to Maugansville with the customer's quarter. The man was so pleased he gave him two cantaloupes in exchange.

"There's just so many things that happened, I can't remember them all," he said. But he keeps each thank-you note as a memento.

Guaranteeing the quality of his product and making repairs when necessary are as important as closing the sale, he said.

"To me, it's like a marriage," he said. "When you sell something, you stick by it and do whatever they need."

Kretzer has no plans to retire, a fact that puts his regular customers' minds at ease.

"People ask me two things - 'Mr. Kretzer, you ain't going to retire?' and 'What am I going to do when you retire?'"

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