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Homer-Center senior turns afterschool job into business venture

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Evan Strittmatter with one of his customers, Ina Abrams of Indiana, demonstrating a vacuum cleaner at Indiana Vac. Taken 12-3-12 Bruce Siskawicz | Tribune-review
Evan Strittmatter and his mother Cindy at the computer at Indiana Vac. Taken 12-3-12 Bruce Siskawicz | Tribune-review
Evan Strittmatter repairs a vacuum cleaner at Indiana Vac. Taken 12-3-12 Bruce Siskawicz | Tribune-review
Evan Strittmatter works on his window display at Indiana Vac. Taken 12-3-12 Bruce Siskawicz | Tribune-review

It isn't so unusual for a high school student to attend classes half the day and hold down a job during the other half, but it is unusual if he just bought the company where he works.

Evan Strittmatter, 17, of Indiana, is a senior at Homer-Center High School. He goes to school in the morning and then leaves at 12:30 p.m. to open his store, Indiana Vac, located on Philadelphia Street in Indiana. He purchased the store in July after working there as a vacuum cleaner repairman for about two years.

Strittmatter noted that the store is officially in his mother's name because he wasn't old enough to legally own it when he bought it. “The business is in my name, but it is strictly Evan's business,” Cindy Strittmatter said. “He bought it, and we'll put it in his name as soon as he turns 18.”

Evan Strittmatter said his interest in vacuum cleaners goes back to his early childhood. “I've always been fascinated with how things work, what makes them run,” he explained. “When I got hired, I knew how to tear down a Dyson vacuum, figure out what was wrong with it and put it back together. The owner didn't know how to do that, and I think that's why he decided to hire me.”

Strittmatter's business acumen also was apparent from an early age.

“When he was 6 years old, we went to a yard sale near where we lived in Clearfield and Evan saw a new-looking Hoover for sale for $2,” his mother said. “The owner said it didn't work, so Evan bought it. We took it home and he tore it apart and put a new belt on it. It worked just fine then, and he sold it for $30. I knew right then that someday he was going to be a businessman.”

When he was 15, Strittmatter approached Ted Lieb, the former owner of Indiana Vac, and asked for a job as a repairman. “After talking to him for a little while, I had no inhibitions about letting him take on the responsibility,” Lieb recalled. “He's very mature for his years and his general knowledge of the industry is astonishing.”

According to Strittmatter and Lieb, the teen's young age occasionally was a problem with some customers, but not often.

“You just have to prove yourself until people take you seriously,” Strittmatter said. He did just that on an occasion when his father, Mark, was building some displays in the store.

“A customer came in and started telling him about a problem he was having with his vacuum,” Strittmatter said. “My dad referred him to me and said, ‘You'll have to talk to the expert.' The customer said, ‘He sure doesn't look like an expert to me.' I solved his problem, though, so he was happy when he left.”

“When I had the store, some customers wanted to deal with an adult, but that was quickly overcome,” Lieb said. “People would come to me with a problem, but it was Evan who had the answer for them. Most people were fascinated with dealing with a kid who knew so much.”

For the two years that Evan was the repairman at Indiana Vac, he kept a traditional school schedule and just worked after school and on Saturdays. His work schedule didn't prevent him from consistently being on the high honor roll, competing on the track team and playing the lead in the school play, “The Pajama Game.”

This past summer, when Strittmatter told Lieb he would like to buy the store, “Ted thought I was joking at first,” the teen noted. “But, when he realized that I was serious, he said selling it would free him up to focus on appliance repair and work out of his house, so he sold it to me.”

“When Evan asked to buy the business it wasn't even up for sale, but I had no hesitation that he could handle it, “Lieb said. “I'm comfortable with his ability. He's very smart. He knows how to market and he likes what he does. He'll do well.”

Strittmatter found it a little tougher to convince his family to go along with the venture.

“My parents were afraid that I wasn't going to have the time to do the normal things teens do if I had a store to run, but in the end they stood behind me completely.” he said.

“I was just afraid he wasn't going to get to be a kid,” his mother said. But, she added, “We met with the small business advisors at (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and they were really taken aback at how prepared Evan was. He presented them with a very complete business plan.”

Once Strittmatter bought the store, he had to make arrangements with his school to make enough free time to operate it. discussed Evan's situation. He said,

“Before we would even consider such a request, certain criteria have to be met,” explained Jody Rainey, the principal at Homer-Center High School. “The student has to be a senior, be proficient academically in math, reading and science, have the required number of credits to graduate and have passing scores on all the testing he took as a junior. Evan met all those easily. The other thing we have to look at is whether or not we can schedule all the classes he needs in either a morning or afternoon block. Luckily, that worked.”

Rainey said Homer-Center has one other student working during school hours, but he added, “Evan is unique because he owns the business. Normally we would discuss all these arrangements with the employer, but in Evan's case he is the employer. We've never had a situation like this.

“Evan is blazing a path and he's proving that it can work. I believe that many educational opportunities happen outside the bricks and mortar of the school walls and I don't want us to be so set in our ways that we can't think outside the box on this.”

Rainey concluded, “Evan has a strong support system with his parents. When the school, the student and the parents all work together, they will make a student successful. Evan is extremely mature and capable and I'm thrilled for him.”

“Nothing I'm doing would be possible without my family.”Strittmatter said. His father is a service manager for a drilling rig company and his brother, Hunter, 21, recently was hired as a welder and drilling rig mechanic for a rival company.

“That should make for some interesting conversation during Christmas dinner at our house,” Strittmatter said with a laugh.

His mother was a cosmetologist, then a homemaker after her children were born. She is helping with sales and decorating at Indiana Vac and is planning to stay involved with the store.. “I'm learning from Evan every day,”she noted.

The younger Strittmatter is a member of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce and was featured during the member spotlight portion of the group's November board meeting.

He plans eventually to either start new businesses or expand his current one by opening some satellite stores, possibly in Monroeville, Hastings and Ebensburg. He already has researched what the populations of those areas are and how many vacuum stores they have.

Strittmatter will begin work on a small business management degree at IUP next fall. Discussing the addition of college to his already busy schedule, he laughed and said, “Everyone should have a backup plan.”

Strittmatter admits that sometimes he gets tired. He said, “Sometimes I would love to just stay in bed until noon like many teens do, but then I think about the fact that other people are counting on me, so I get up and do what I'm supposed to.”

Jeanette Wolff is a freelance writer.

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