Area business owner came to America with just $150 in his pocket

Sumit Sanjel, 28, owner of My Vacuums, diagnoses the problem with a vacuum a customer brought in for repairs. Lewis Millholland/Daily

WINCHESTER – Even though starting a business is symbolic of the American Dream, it’s no less significant to Sumit Sanjel that a decade after he came to America with just $150 in his pocket, he’s now running and operating his own company.

Sanjel, 28, owns My Vacuums, a vacuum retailer and repair store. He has stores in two locations: one at 103 Millwood Ave. in Winchester, which opened in August 2017, and one in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which opened in October.

He called My Vacuums a “community business,” fighting its biggest threats, namely e-commerce websites like Amazon.com, with customer service.

“The way this business runs, is it’s a local business,” Sanjel said. “The reason why I like this is because you get to see customers, and if you do the right thing, then they send you their friends and families.”

He said the company gets “a lot” of business through referral customers.

It wasn’t always like this. Despite the fact that he is financially stable today, Sanjel’s transition from Nepal to America had a rocky start.

When Sanjel first came to the country in 2008, he stayed with some friends in Virginia and started looking for work. Months passed, and he found nothing. Perhaps it was the timing — still weathering the Great Recession, finding economic prosperity in America wasn’t without its difficulties.

Sanjel bounced around for a while, going as far as Nebraska to find work at service jobs like Taco Bell. Eventually, he came back to northern Virginia, and began working in the electronics department at Walmart.

And then, out of the blue, he struck gold.

“This random customer came, and he offered me a job,” Sanjel said. “He must have liked my service, you know?”

The customer had a friend with a vacuum business who was looking for an employee who could help with repairs. Sanjel had always been a tinkerer, fixing radios and watches since he was a kid. So, he thought, why not?

Sanjel worked at that vacuum company for almost eight years. When he left for Winchester, his boss offered him a partner position with the company, but Sanjel turned him down.

“I thought of just doing something for myself,” Sanjel said. “I was always trying to find happiness, you know?”

Now, with two stores with five employees that keep him occupied for 12-15 hours a day, Sanjel believes he’s found that happiness.

Half of My Vacuums’ revenue comes from vacuum and vacuum parts sales, and half comes from repairs, Sanjel said. He has employees who can handle the day-to-day repair jobs, but he said he finds himself missing working with his hands every day.

And with almost a decade of experience in the vacuum industry under his belt, Sanjel can swiftly diagnose problems and come up with a remedy.

When Sanjel speaks with a customer, his tone is soft, but knowledgeable. He explains problems in simple terms without condescending. And he never misses a chance to tell his story.

“This location we opened in August, but I’ve working on vacuums since 2009,” Sanjel told a customer seeking repairs to her vacuum Thursday.

Despite having two businesses younger than his 8-month-old son, Sanjel has no anxiety when it comes to making ends meet.

“I’m not afraid of anything, pretty much … The first thing is, I need to know what I’m doing. And if you do the right thing, then you never have to feel down,” Sanjel said. “It’s not hard to succeed, you know? You have to work hard.”

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