Chimney cleaners sweep into retail

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Alan “Jeff” Armes laughs now when he remembers how he told his brother ‘no way,’ when asked if he wanted to start a family chimney cleaning business together. His brother, Thomas Skrutski, was looking to start the business after seeing an ad in Mother Earth magazine in the 1970s.
But back then, Armes wasn’t interested.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a good idea. Let’s start this chimney sweep company, all we need is 3 thousand bucks,” recalled Armes. “And I laughed at him. I said ha ha ha Tom.”
Luckily Skrutski went ahead and created Tootle Chimney Sweeps anyway in 1978, naming the company after Tootle Lane in Acushnet, where the family lived.
Because, today Armes is not only working for the business, he owns it and is taking it to the next level.
Armes and his brother were together again last month to celebrate the opening of Tootle Chimney’s new store, a 2,200-square-foot space at 30 Wood St. in the city. The site is the company’s first retail site and represents an additional business direction, selling alternative energy products.
Joining them at the Sept. 28 symbolic ribbon-cutting were New Bedford officials Mayor Scott Lang, New Bedford Economic Development Council Executive Director Matthew Morrissey, and City Councilor Steve Martins.
In May, the NBEDC gave the business the boost it needed to make the expansion, providing a $50,000 loan. The loan was crucial to making the new store happen, Armes said.
“Without them I wouldn’t have been able to expand as quick as I have,” he said.
Armes began working for the company part-time while still holding down his second shift job at printing company Reynolds DeWalt. He bought the business from Skrutski in 1985 after his brother could no longer work on roofs due to an injury.
No stranger to hard work, Armes renovated the new store himself, replacing windows, walls and ceilings, tearing up old carpets and rebuilding a bathroom space.
By the Sept. 28 official opening, the space was pristine and filled with wood and pellet stoves and even a solar panel.
Nearly all of the products sold at Tootle are made in America, Armes said, including the solar panels, except for some unavailable aluminum parts. The decision to carry American made products is deliberate, he said, because it helps the U.S. decrease its dependence on oil.
Even more importantly, Armes said the decision to promote American-made products helps rebuild the U.S. economy.
“As much as I can, I sell things that are made in America,” he said. “I do it to bring back America. We need jobs in America.”
“I’m starting small but I’m really pushing the American made. I think that’s my niche,” he added.
Armes values good service above everything and prides himself on offering full service to his customers. He’s critical of sellers who offer products but don’t include installation, repair or permitting assistance. And with a background that includes construction, Armes can fill just about all of those needs.
If he can’t, he said, he finds the person needed, including plumbers and electricians.
“Then they don’t have to chase somebody else to do it,” he said.
Since its start, Tootle Chimney customers have been growing and now extend from Westport to Wareham and north to Freetown and Rochester, according to Armes. The business, which has four employees, relies mainly on word-of-mouth advertising to keep customers flowing in, he said.
“We’re getting tons of work now,” he said. “As the economy gets worse, we’re getting more work.”
There’s so much work that Armes believes the business will add a few new employees in the near future. For anyone looking, he only has a few requirements, he said.
“They need to be able to work up in the air; don’t mind getting dirty; and can work hard.”
October 21, 2011 2:56 PM
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