Shop-Vac rebounds in Pa. under Chinese ownership after near-death experience

Andrew Maykuth, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

Business and political leaders in Williamsport, who were blindsided by Shop-Vac's closure, are delighted with the company's revival. They had feared the worst.

Jason Fink, president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, said that GreatStar was the only potential Shop-Vac buyer interested in maintaining operations in Williamsport. GreatStar outbid "a couple of U.S.-headquartered vacuum companies that were looking at shipping the brand to Mexico," he said.

When GreatStar announced in December it was buying Shop-Vac for $42 million, the prospect of Chinese owners taking over one of Lycoming County's prized manufacturers was not universally applauded. Amid a polarized political climate in which China is frequently cast as a villain, Fink heard much grumbling that the new buyers would surely impose a Chinese work culture, or worse, dismantle operations and move out.

Fink said GreatStar's actions speak to a company that is reestablishing local roots. Shop-Vac joined the Chamber of Commerce and reached out to community leaders, something the previous owners had shunned.

"Shop-Vac has made a commitment to the Williamsport Area, which is very good news," said Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter.

Shop-Vac held a two-day sale


Lawrence, whose expertise is in marketing, said he has changed some practices to send a more positive message to the workers and the community. He converted the old chief executive's wood-paneled office into a conference room and moved his workspace among the other administrative offices. When he walks on the factory floor, workers exchange friendly banter.

In August, Shop-Vac held a two-day tent sale at its headquarters to empty its warehouses of odd lots of vacuums that it acquired at a discount from the previous owners. Its very American workforce conducted the sale. Buyers with pickup trucks lined up to buy Shop-Vacs at 40 cents on the dollar, and the company sold $160,000 in vacuums and filter bags in two days.

"I wanted to say thank you to the community and make sure the community knew we were back in business, and we're here to stay," said Lawrence. Employees told Lawrence the previous managers would never have conducted a similar event. "It's part of building the culture, giving to the community," he said.

A former employee at Shop-Vac sued the previous owners of the company in federal court in June, alleging that Shop-Vac Corp. violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act by laying off workers without the required 60-day notice. But the current owner, Shop-Vac USA LLC, is not a party to the lawsuit.


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