Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Two Minnesota businessmen pitch vacuums & flowers for Valentine’s Day via poetry February 12, 2013

VACUUM CLEANERS AND ROSES seem an unlikely pair. But for long-time Waseca businessmen and friends, Rick Morris and Charlie Mathern, pairing the two has become a pre-Valentine’s Day tradition that began some 20 years ago when Rick noticed Charlie had vacuum cleaners on sale.

Rick, owner of Waseca Floral, suggested he pitch flowers and Charlie, owner of Charlie’s Hardware, push vacuums in a joint half-page print ad with this long-standing lead-in:

On Valentine’s Day, Charlie & Rick say—Sweep her off her feet! Vacuum Cleaner?…or Roses?

Then the fun began as each tried to persuade potential customers, via poetry, to choose a vacuum over roses or roses over a vacuum. This year’s ad, published February 5 in The Waseca Area Shopper, features these poems, among others:


Thorny roses? Fussy violets?
Wow her with flowers and you’ll be the pilot


Roses are the language of Lust
Vacuums are the prattle of so much dust

Valentine's Day ad 2013

This shows all but the bottom portion of the 2013 print ad.

The back-and-forth bantering continues amid photos of vacuums intermixed with red poetry hearts on the left side of the ad and images of floral arrangements interspersed with poetry hearts on the right.

The valentine ad has always been about vacuums and flowers.

And, clearly, it’s also about fun.

“We just get silly with them (the poems),” says Ann Mathern, Charlie’s wife and the author of Charlie’s vacuum cleaner poetry. “The crazier, the better. I don’t know if we can call this poetry.”

Rick concurs: “I write a couple of lines at a time. It’s not exactly poetry.” He pulls out a blank sheet of paper and, in a few hours or less, pens floral-themed couplets like:

She wants roses, there is no doubt
Give her a vacuum and she may throw you out

Ann, a first grade teacher, meanwhile, sits at her computer and, in about 45 minutes, centers her eight rhyming poems around whatever vacuums Charlie is trying to sell:

Come on—admit it—flowers in a vase
Can’t compete with a Sebo, they’ll never keep pace

Rick Morris, owner of Waseca Floral for 40 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2012.

Rick Morris, owner of Waseca Floral for 40 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, February 2012.

The poetry/sales competition gets exactly the results Rick and Charlie want—attention, laughter and sales. “People look for it (the ad),” Rick says, and will mention the ad when they purchase Valentine’s Day flowers.

Likewise, down at the hardware store, the ad generates sales. But it also sparks the occasional call from female customers angry about suggesting a vacuum cleaner as a Valentine’s Day gift, Ann Mathern says.

Charlie, who fields those sometimes unhappy calls, explains that the Valentine’s Day ad is all in good fun by mutual agreement with his good friend Rick. Occasionally Rick and Charlie need to remind themselves of that, especially when they read some of the barbed poetry.


Flowers are beautiful and oh so sublime
Vacuums are ugly and filled with grime


Your honey might settle for a pretty bouquet
But she’d choose a Hoover if she could have her way

Roses pack coolers for Valentine's Day 2012 in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Waseca Floral.

Flowers pack a cooler for Valentine’s Day 2012 in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Waseca Floral.

No matter what’s written, Rick and Charlie take it all in good humor. After 30-plus years of friendship and eating breakfast together between 6:30 – 7 every morning except Wednesday (when Rick has bible study) at various Waseca cafes, they know each other well, even sharing the same dry sense of humor, Rick says. Their wives, Ann and Sheila, join them for breakfast on Fridays.

Just like the daily breakfast tradition, Rick expects he’ll continue publishing the joint flowers versus vacuums ad with Charlie as long as the two are in business and he and Ann can keep writing their so-called poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Disclaimer: My sister, Lanae, is a floral designer at Waseca Floral. That did not influence my decision to write this post. I know a great story when I see/hear one.


A vacuum cleaner or roses? February 12, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:30 PM
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AS RICK MORRIS TELLS the story, he and his friend Charlie Mathern were having breakfast together some 20 years ago shortly before Valentine’s Day when they got the idea.

The two discussed partnering in print advertising. It seemed an unlikely match—Rick being in the floral business and Charlie in the hardware store business, both in Waseca.

But they hatched a plan to pit vacuum cleaners against flowers in a Valentine’s Day promotion. Charlie said he’d put his Hoovers on sale. Rick would advertise his flowers.

Twenty years later, they’re still at it, publishing a joint half-page ad in a recent issue of the Waseca Area Shopper that promises the perfect Valentine’s Day gift:

On Valentine’s Day, Charlie & Rick say—Sweep her off her feet! Vacuum Cleaner?…or Roses?

And then, in heart-shaped speech bubbles of poetic rhyme, Rick of Waseca Floral and Charlie of Charlie’s Hardware, push their product.


As you well know

violets are purple

and roses have thorns.

If she doesn’t get a Hoover

she’ll be truly forlorn!


The Valentine gift of a vacuum is awful.

A beautiful bouquet of flowers is thoughtful!


Flowers demand your time and care.

So give her a Hoover to see love in the air!


Giving a vacuum is utterly stupid.

Your sweetheart should get flowers from Cupid.

The back-and-forth bantering continues amid photos of vacuums intermixed with red hearts on the left side of the ad and images of floral arrangements interspersed with hearts on the right.

Says poet/businessman Rick of his and Charlie’s Valentine’s Day ad partnership: “It’s always been about vacuum cleaners and flowers.”

Nearly the entire half-page Valentine's Day print ad Rick and Charlie ran this year.

DISCLOSURE: My sister, Lanae, is employed by Waseca Floral. But that in no way influenced my decision to write this post. I learned about this 20-year ad partnership while photographing Valentine’s Day preparations at Waseca Floral. I know a great story when I hear one.  And, in my opinion, this rates as one of those interesting and humorous small-town stories that needs to be shared.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tales of consumer dishonesty from an honest vacuum cleaner salesman December 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:13 AM
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My new Bissell PowerForce Turbo vacuum cleaner replaces the General Electric vacuum I bought 8 1/2 years ago. The switch wore out on that 2002 vacuum just days before I was going to give the cleaner to my daughter for her new apartment.

YOU WOULD THINK that buying a vacuum cleaner should be easy, right? Not.

Faced with more than a dozen choices lining two sides of a big box store display aisle, I was overwhelmed by the selection—Eureka, Bissell, Dirt Devil, Hoover…

Not only did I have numerous brands from which to choose, but each company also offered high-end, low-end and in-between models.

And then the powerful force of name branding—tornado, wind tunnel, PowerForce—sucked me into the vortex of consumer confusion.

How would I ever decide which vacuum cleaner would pull the most dirt from my carpet?

I would need to focus, focus, focus.

OK, what did I want in a vacuum cleaner? Powerful suction. Adjustable height. Accessory tools. A bagless system. Filters that don’t cost a fortune. Sturdiness. Affordability.

As my husband and I began perusing the choices, I/we became more confused.

Then…, thankfully, an associate came to our rescue, told us the cheapest models were “crap” and wouldn’t last a month, that some consumers buy the $400 models (“but why?”) and that the bestsellers are Bissells, the vacuum he owns.

With that advice and his directive to consider the $69.94 (why can’t they just say $70?) Bissell PowerForce Turbo bagless vacuum stacked on the end cap, I felt like the swirling winds of too many choices were finally subsiding.

He gave us some additional money-saving advice. Rather than replace the foam filter, simply blow out the dirt and dust with an air compressor. Been there, done that, but still a solid tip for a shopper who may not have considered this option.

This associate was certainly impressing me with his knowledge and his honesty.

Then, he clinched the sale by telling us to keep the receipt and the box, and “if you’re not happy, you can return the vacuum,” honoring the store’s 100 percent customer satisfaction policy. “You wouldn’t believe the dirty vacuum cleaners that come back.”

I don’t know if it was the look of surprise on my face or what, but he then shared several more stories about returned merchandise that, to me, qualify as theft and I told him so. He didn’t disagree with my judgement.

A customer once returned motor oil that was clearly old oil drained from a vehicle, he said.

Consumers routinely return specially-mixed paint because the color isn’t right (didn’t know you could do that, I thought).

But the worst abuse of the retailer’s return policy this associate has seen occurred when a man returned a dirty, worn-out power sander that was a decade old.

“You took it back?” I asked, incredulous.

“He had the box and the receipt. What could we do?” he responded.

The company, he says, loses millions nationwide annually due to such merchandise returns.

And who pays for that? Consumers who purchase $400 vacuum cleaners? Or those of us who buy $69.94 vacuums?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling