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Making repairs in a throw away market

This Midweek Mugging features Charlie Burton and Yvon Lauzon at Excell Appliances on Elizabeth Street.

In 1993, after years of shift work and dead end jobs working for someone else, friends Charlie Burton and Yvon Lauzon decided to start their own appliance repair shop.

“We wanted to get into something where we would never run out of work,” said Charlie Burton co-owner of Excell Appliances.

Burton had just finished an appliance repair course at community college and was completing a two-week internship at Lawton Appliances where Lauzon was a supervisor. They saw a strong demand for their combined skills and services and jumped at the opportunity to strike out on their own.

There was little reason to think consumer culture would change anytime soon.

“At that point in time everyone had appliances that needed repairs,” said Burton. “So, you go into a field you figured would be safe but now a days it is all about throwing the goddam things out.”

They supplement the business by selling used appliances.

“Quality used fridges and stoves, washers and dryers and air conditioners,” said Lauzon. “We stay away from selling and servicing the small stuff. It costs more to replace the parts than to replace the whole thing.”

Lauzon was born near Sudbury one of five brothers and three sisters. He worked in the mining industry there for a while but didn’t like it.

“I came here 40 years ago and got a job at Hammond’s on Edinburgh Road,” said Lauzon. “I was there for quite a while.”

Burton was born in Sydney Mines Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

“I came here at three and had a reality check,” said Burton. “There were six of us and I was brought up here with nine other kids.”

His early life was fraught with tragedy.

“My parents died when I was a kid,” he said. “My old man got run over by his own truck when I was six years old and my mom died from Crohn’s Disease in 1963.”

Dust allergies made factory work especially difficult.

“I was working three shifts at a factory, midnights, afternoons and days,” said Burton. “The work created so much dust my equilibrium would be off because my ears were always full of fluid. It was just a nightmare. I couldn’t take it. I had to leave.”

They started Excell Appliances out of a garage on Stevenson Street while Burton was still working in the factory.

“We didn’t register the business for a couple years,” he said.

They moved to a small shop on Bedford Road for a couple years before ending up at 354 Elizabeth St in 1998.

Realistic expectations and customer loyalty have helped them adapt to reduced demand for appliance repair services. It also helps to have a good sense of humour.

“We got the Bic lighter thing going on,” said Burton. ”If you can get a new microwave at Canadian Tire for $49, why would you spend $92 to repair a nine-year-old microwave? Basically, that’s it. You die with a screwdriver in your hand when you’re a small business.”