By Deb Boucher Stetson
Bob and Ron Boffoli, owners of Cape Cod Vacuum, had a good role model to follow in their late father, who launched the business in 1970. Before that, he sold vacuum cleaners doorto-door around Worcester, where the family lived. He made a good living at it, selling first Electrolux and then Air-Way vacuum cleaners. “Most door-to-door salesmen, they’ll do it for a while and then leave, but not him. He kept at it, and he was good at it,” Bob recalls. “We were the first family on the block to have a color television, that kind of thing.” Joseph Boffoli was certainly motivated—he had eight children. When he got the opportunity to open a dealership for Air-Way vacuum cleaners on Cape Cod, he took it. Manufactured in Ohio as early as 1920, AirWay vacuums were the first to use disposable bags. The Boffoli brothers have a vintage Airway model among a collection of antique vacuum cleaners displayed at their warehouse in South Yarmouth. Joseph Boffoli opened Air-Way of Cape Cod nearly 50 years ago, in South Yarmouth near the Bass River Bridge, and soon moved his shop to West Yarmouth. “It was a risk,” Ron says, noting that back then, winters were very quiet on the Cape. “He quickly decided to be more multi-lot,” Bob said, and changed the name of the business to Cape Cod Vacuum Mart. The brothers later dropped the “Mart.” Bob joined the business first. After attending D-Y High School, he joined the Air Force, and came home after his discharge in 1979. He enrolled at Cape Cod Community College, and when he wasn’t taking classes worked for his dad at the shop. Ron, meanwhile, also served in the Air Force, and then took a job with Honeywell doing electronics. He returned to the Cape in 1986 to partner with Bob in buying the business from their father, who was ready to retire. The business had expanded by then. In 1980, a year after Bob came onboard, he and his father opened a second location in Orleans. The earlier shop in West Yarmouth had moved back to South Yarmouth, and the business was growing. Ron and Bob later had locations in Falmouth, Mashpee, and Centerville, which have since closed. “We’ve had as many as four stores,” Ron says. Part of their expansion was buying out a couple of other vacuum cleaner businesses that were for sale. Eventually, after opening a store in Hyannis, they decided to close their South Yarmouth location, because it seemed the Hyannis shop was drawing the same set of customers. They now run just two shops: Hyannis and Orleans—which Bob notes has the busiest parking lot in town between the shop, a yoga studio and Sunbird Café. Between the two locations, they have about a dozen employees, and most have been with them for some time. A couple are family, including Bob’s wife, Cynthia, who works part-time in the Orleans shop, and a son-in-law. Their warehouse in South Yarmouth, with 4,500 square feet of space, is essential to maintaining the high level of inventory the business requires. “It’s a big investment,” Ron says. One major change the younger Boffolis made was to shift the business from being largely a repair shop to more of a dealership. Although they continue to service all brands of vacuum Feature Story Bob and Ron Boffoli, owners of Cape Cod Vacuum, with the vintage sign from the business their father started nearly 50 years ago. PHOTO BY DEB BOUCHER STETSON capeplymouthbusiness.com | September 2018 | Cape & Plymouth Business 29 cleaners, sales is a big part of their business. Cape Cod Vacuum sells Miele, Dyson and SEBO vacuums. It also sells air purifiers and a wide array of cleaning products and equipment. Sales and service of commercial equipment has become another major facet of the business, along with sales and installation of central vacuum systems. In the commercial janitorial realm, Cape Cod Vacuum works with local schools, resorts and other businesses across Cape Cod—and that’s largely Bob’s territory. Ron’s specialty is central vacuum cleaner sales and installation. The company installs central vac systems for builders and remodelers, and also homeowners. Bob explains that it is just as easy to add a central vac system to an existing home as it is to install one as a house is being built. Still, Ron estimates about 75 percent of their central vacuum business is for new construction. One big part of their business is cleaning services, large and small. Bob says they have “hundreds” of cleaning services as customers, along with countless people who like the fact that if they forget what kind of vacuum bag their machine uses, Cape Cod Vacuum can simply look up their name and tell them. “We have a good relationship with our customers, that’s why we’ve lasted,” Ron says. “They trust us, that’s the best thing.” “It’s a unique business,” Bob adds. “It’s a specialty. We’re big enough to be competitive, and small enough to be personal.” And in terms of location, he feels Cape Cod has a particular advantage. “I think we’re blessed to be on Cape Cod. Because, when do you really clean your house? When you have company. And if you live on Cape Cod, you’re going to have company,” he says, laughing. Asked about their biggest challenge, both brothers agree it’s Internet sales. But it’s a challenge they’ve been able to handle. “All the different brands we sell, we Internet sales match,” Bob says. “And we ship to Amazon.” Ron says many customers are price-conscious but also like the idea of having a local company that backs up its products and provides service. “People will come and ask us, will you match this price? I’d rather do business locally’,” he says. As in all family businesses, the brothers sometimes find it challenging to work together, but for the most part have no problems in that regard. “I think we have a pretty good relationship,” Bob says, and his brother agrees. “We’re brothers, and you’re going to fight, but we love each other,” Ron says simply. After 32 years in business together, the brothers still enjoy coming to work each day—and neither is eager to retire. “We like people, we like what we do,” Bob says.