Leading the industry forward
In a year marred by several cancelled conventions and meetings due to the novel coronavirus, the first 2020 Leadership Forum program was a change of pace. The online event, hosted by America’s Best Cleaners, featured a panel of six industry leaders: Sasha Ablitt, owner and CEO of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners and Launderers; Rich Fitzpatrick, vice president of Kreussler, Inc.; Dave Troemel, partner and marketing director at BeCreative360; Tom Beidle, general manager of Spot Business Systems; and Wesley Nelson, president of Sankosha USA.
The event was moderated by Chris White, executive director for ABC, who noted, “This event is open to all. We want to be as inclusive as we possibly can with everyone.”
Catherine McCann, operations director for ABC, explained the impetus for the event. “Our intent is to provide a better sense of connection to our industry leaders and to find inspiration and guidance from them.”
The first session of the six-part series was an attempt to both inspire and commiserate — ironic considering quarantine conditions of the past several months — but it was also a chance to see that the allied trades in the industry are in the same struggling boat.
Each panelist brought a different perspective about the handling of their companies during the pandemic. Ablitt’s drycleaning business had to reduce hours and adapt by offering to make custom masks. Customers could bring in an old, favorite t-shirt and the business would design a face mask to their specifications.
“We were in a time of such uncertainly and upheaval and everyone has been so afraid,” Ablitt noted. She also felt that her transparent style of servant leadership contributed to her company’s survival. “We came together because everybody recognized that we had to stay in business if they were going to save their jobs.”
For Spot Business Systems, it was a challenge to work together, remotely. That meant relying on Microsoft Teams to keep engaged. Spot also made a point to reachout to customers. “We had to make a lot of pivots,” noted Tom Beidle.
His company reacted to the crisis by communicating with their customers on another level. “We were really in tune — from a customer’s perspective — on what they really needed,” Beidle emphasized.
Drycleaners who asked their customers what they wanted at this time were given plenty of answers: household goods, pickup/delivery service, wash-dry-fold, etc. Allied trade companies responded to help cleaners meet those needs. Marketing company BeCreative360 kept it simple. Troemel said, “Our customers have some really great ideas. We take their ideas and develop them into a project they can use.”
As a chemical company, Kreussler, Inc., focussed on helping drycleaners inform their customers on the effectiveness of their cleaning methods. “We have a large resource of knowledge within our company — over 100 years of research from our company’s activities. We wanted to make sure we supplied that information to our clients in the industry as best we could,” Fitzpatrick explained.
As for the equipment manufacturing wing of the industry, less demand meant more space was needed — and not that of the social distance variety. “When things started to shut down, we already had a pipeline of containers and orders to our factory in Japan,” recalled Nelson. “So, when things slowed down here, those containers kept coming to our warehouse. We got very creative here how to stack machines and put them in places where there were normally no machines to stack.”
Nelson also noted that tough times often lead to a resurgence of the used equipment market, something Sankosha decided to embrace even though it directly competes with their interests in selling new equipment. The harsh truth is that many machines have been or will be repossessed and many remaining cleaners are not feeling confident in new investments right now. Sankosha hopes to add those searching for used equipment to its customer base. “We had our fields reps go visit these customers, help them with the units and just treat them like an everyday customer,” Nelson added.
One interesting question posed to the panelist was what economic indicators they use to gage how the drycleaning industry is doing. Many agreed that resources such as Spot’s tracking of overall sales average figures in the industry are helpful, while most keep an eye for a lifting of public gathering bans or keep track of hotel reservations and airline flights. Another positive economic indication might be when more children are able to go back to a brick-andmortar school and parents can go back to work full-time.
“I know it’s difficult today. It’s going to be difficult tomorrow. It’s going to be difficult for a while, but try to keep the long game in vision,” Fitzpatrick said. “I know this is a difficult time for a lot of people, but there are still a lot of opportunities. There’s opportunities for consolidation, opportunities to expand markets. There’s lots of great resources available for you in the industry”.
Beidle agreed that the current economic climate may be improving. “I would say I look at many of the days of the week and we’re not getting back to those pre- Covid numbers,” he said before adding, “There is still data that is pointing us to better and brighter times in the near future.”
Like his company has done, Nelson hopes cleaners will embrace the recent changes. “Face it head on — maybe less pivoting and a little more proactive. Use all of these experiences that we are gaining during this time to make us stronger and more agile in the future.”
Perhaps Ablitt summed up the current situation best as she learned to never say never. “I think, as a result of this year, I’m going to take a saying out of my language, and that is: ‘Well, things, can’t get any worse,’” she said, before laughing.
Between pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes and protests, 2020 has pushed everyone to their limits. However, Ablitt sees a silver lining to the past year. “I feel when this is all over and things get back to normal, it’s going to be a different normal. And, I think in some ways maybe that a thing we keep in front of our minds is what is really important — our family connections and our kids and our own well-being.”
The second installment of the Leadership Forum will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. EST. Panel members will include: Victor Williams, vice president of Union Drycleaning; Harry Caranza, president of Select Risk; Ryan Luetzow, owner of Luetzow Industries; Dan Miller, CEO of Mulberry’s Garment Care; and Jeff Shapiro, president of Cleaners Supply. For more information, visit americasbestcleaners.com.
This article was originally written by a writer at nationalclothesline.com.