Great Lakes Vacuum
The first thing Drew Johnson wants people to know about Great Lakes Vacuum in downtown Comstock Park is this: “We do not fix vacuum cleaners. We fix and sell industrial and commercial vacuums.” Again - not vacuum cleaners.
Johnson explained that industrial vacuum pumps and blowers are used to remove atmosphere (air) from inside a closed chamber where steel or other metal is being heat treated to make it stronger and more wear resistant. The vacuum created keeps the atmosphere inside the chamber clean, which keeps the metal from oxidizing.
Johnson has been in the business since shortly after he graduated from high school, first working at Hansen/Balk Steel Treating in Grand Rapids. Shortly after leaving Hansen-Balk he was hired by Don Guppy to work for Stokes Vacuum, a company that made vacuum pumping equipment. When Stokes was bought out, the two went to work for another company before starting Great Lakes Vacuum in 2005, locating the business in a complex on Pannell Ave. in Walker.
When the two first opened Great Lakes Vacuum they were working out of essentially an over-sized three stall garage. Eventually they moved to a larger building in the complex and rented an additional building in the same complex for storage. They moved to the Comstock Park location, 220 Lamoreaux Dr., in 2010. Guppy died shortly after the move, and Johnson is now the sole owner.
“The (Comstock Park) building had everything we needed…access to the freeway, proximity to vendors, electrical supplies, plumbing supplies, and overhead cranes,” said Johnson adding that even his accountant is in Comstock Park. Additionally trucks can get in and out easily. Also Johnson said it “feels safe here…we don’t have graffiti.” The building is 9000 square feet. The office is 1500 square feet of that, and the rest is shop area. Johnson noted one drawback is that there is nowhere on the lot to expand.
Besides, Johnson, there are eight employees including his wife Heather who is the office manager, two sales people and five technicians. Johnson calls himself a jack of all trades, sometimes doing accounting, sometimes running a machine, and always problem solving. “I like solving problems,” said Johnson. “It’s kind of fun when a problem comes up to figure out a solution.”
Johnson said the company’s web site is basically all the advertising they do. He has customers worldwide including South Korea and India, which he noted is a growing economy. Customers find their way to the web site when searching for vacuum pump parts, and the web site serves as a catalog for people to order from. He said forty percent of his business is selling parts with the remainder rebuilding customer owned equipment. “We hold an inventory of parts,” he said. “We also sell to people who do what we do (repairing vacuum equipment).”
Johnson is originally from Saranac, graduating from Saranac high school. He attended Grand Rapids Community College briefly and then started working full time. He returned to GRCC to complete the prerequisites for a business degree at Grand Valley State University where he will start in the fall to major in accounting. He and his wife Heather, who is originally from Ionia, live in Comstock Park and have a son, 17, and a daughter 15. Both children attend West Michigan Aviation Academy on 44th Street near the Gerald R. Ford Airport. Johnson and his wife like the area and what it offers, including the many breweries. They are members of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Frederick Meijer Gardens, and enjoy CrossFit at a local gym.