It’s all about the community. 

That’s what great dry cleaners care about, and that’s what keeps them coming together time and time again to share ideas and move the industry forward.

Four owners recently sat down to share tips for those in the dry cleaning industry as well as for entrepreneurs outside the industry:

  • Thomas Zengeler (Zengeler Cleaners)
  • Christa Hagearty (Dependable Cleaners)
  • Jason Loeb (Sudsies)
  • David Slan (Crest Cleaners)

They come together often, and they all consider it an important part of what helps their businesses succeed. They give tips, support each other, and share best practices to help keep their employees and their customers happy. 

Generations of Dry Cleaning History – And Treating Customers Right

Zengeler Cleaners, located in the Chicago area, has been in business for more than 167 years, and Thomas is the fifth-generation owner. “It’s pretty remarkable to have five generations behind me,” he said. “You can’t do that if you don’t treat people right.”

Christa agreed. Dependable Cleaners, located in the Boston area, has been in business for more than 80 years. “It all comes down to people, relationships, the community you’re in. Making a difference is very important. When our customers come in, it’s a happy experience. I want them to feel a connection with our team.”

David Slan, who owns Crest Cleaners, said his family has been in business since 1941. They gave back to the community by cleaning and altering uniforms for US troops. “It’s about enhancing people’s lives,” David said. “Providing someone with a clean, crisp shirt or a dress might sound like something small, but it puts a smile on their face. And it’s about our employees, too. It’s rewarding to watch them invest in their first car or their first house.” 

While Jason Loeb, who started Sudsies in 1996, doesn’t have the generations of family in the dry cleaning business standing behind him, he does have his father’s words echoing in his head: “Always do the right thing,” his father would say. Jason believes that “regardless of what position you are in at Sudsies, you treat people with respect.” 

Jason also thinks a lot about how his employees are helping other people, and teaches them about the lives that they touch. “We are helping people dress for their life events. You never know what they are going through, whether a funeral or a christening or a wedding.” 

The Environment Takes Priority

Adapting and making changes to meet customers’ needs was also a highly discussed topic. Over the decades, all four have made changes to make their businesses more environmentally-friendly. In fact, Sudsies is the most eco-friendly dry cleaning business in the state of Florida. 

Zengeler believes that “making changes is part of the legacy you are leaving,” and credits his willingness to adapt and change to his dad, grandfather and great grandfather. “They adapted. If any of us today would have stayed with the same path, we wouldn’t be here.” 

Christa knows the value in these round table discussions and said she began the move toward more eco-friendly practices after David (Crest Cleaners) started the push toward making dry cleaning better for the environment: “David was at the forefront of how to be an eco-friendly dry cleaner and has shared that with all of us. Our ancestors didn’t have to think about these things, but this is very important to us. Today, there are still cleaners that hold onto old methods – but eco-friendly helps all of us stand out.”

Jason agrees. “When we talk about our industry, I always find dry cleaners to be really the best small businesses in America.” He talked about owners in the dry cleaning industry having to wear so many hats, such as dealing with one-on-one customer service, making sure the practices are up to par or exceeding environmental standards, and on a product level, living up to the expectation that a customer brings in something used and expects it back looking and feeling like new. 

Giving Back to the Community

At the end of this unique round table discussion, all were on the same page about giving back to the community. “It’s a matter of treating people the right way, and being genuine and true to others and yourself,” Thomas said. “We’re involved in numerous community organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, sports groups, nonprofits, and churches.” 

Christa’s passion project for the community is to help other women succeed in their own small business endeavors. “I personally love to help other women, whether they are starting a business or already running a business,” she said. She focuses her efforts on helping others on a personal, one-on-one level. “Our team is really proud of what we do to give back.” 

Zengeler Cleaners also heads up a unique charity that collects used prom dresses and partners with an organization that invites underprivileged girls in to tour colleges in the surrounding area. Once they tour the colleges and get inspired to attend, they receive a prom dress for their upcoming dance. It’s a great collaboration and a great way to inspire young women to further their education. 

As always, the collaboration between the entrepreneurs in attendance was inspiring and uplifting to everyone involved. It is incredible when small businesses can come together to share best practices and tips to help everyone succeed.