February 29, 2024

Experience Necessary: A Well-Dressed Dry Cleaner, Just Like Dad

Destined to clean: I was doomed to be in the family business. I remember being about 8 and asking my father if I could go to work with him on a Saturday and him telling me, “If you come with me, I’ll give you a dollar, but if you stay home and help your mother, I’ll give you $5.” And I took the dollar. My first real job was to make pants hangers by putting those sticky pieces of cardboard on the bottom of wire hangers; it was work you could probably teach a rhesus monkey to do.

Aspirations: It was always assumed that I’d be the first one in the family to go to college and live the American dream. I wanted to be a lawyer. I worked weekends and summers at the store. I was a politics and history junkie, so it was a big thrill for me to clean Theodore H. White’s carpets.

Dressing like Dad: I emulated my father, always wore a shirt and tie. Even in the 100-degree heat pressing pants in the summer in the store’s basement, I never took that tie off. You physically removed the damp clothes from the machine; there were these big vents called “sniffers,” but you could still smell the chemicals. It never bothered me. I guess it’s genetic.

The family business: My father was thinking of selling in 1980. He was such a perfectionist, the Felix Unger of dry cleaning, but he was tired. So my younger brother, Joseph, dropped out of Seton Hall to keep the business going. After I graduated, I worked nine months for an equity firm. Then my father and brother asked me to join them. I said yes, with two conditions: that we move our production facility out of New York City and expand it, and that they let me introduce automation and computerization.

Thinking big: By 1983 we had a facility in Hackensack. Now it’s 13,000 square feet and employs 60 people. But 80 percent of our clientele is in New York City. People who spend $10,000 a month on dry cleaning are not the norm, but we have them. I had a client who spent $150,000 a year. He even sent us his underwear. There was a template on how his boxer shorts should be folded.

Tough customers: We do things for our clients that no one in their right mind would do. The best story is the fashion model who sends her dry cleaning to us in a shopping bag, and after we clean everything and send it back, she calls and asks what happened to the 10-inch square of antique Chinese silk that was in a baggie in the bottom of the shopping bag. We couldn’t find it, she claimed it was worth $3,500, and long story short, I wrote the woman a check for $3,500. Two months later, she tells us we lost something that cost $1,700. This time I told her I couldn’t accommodate her again. I said, “Contrary to what you might think, I’m not an A.T.M.” She must like our work; she’s still using us. No, it’s not Naomi Campbell.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8d33eb61a7488dcfd973c486f72f3f11

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