Sunday, July 18, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Style cycle good for business

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Business milestones sometimes bring an introspection that in turn can offer a look into the future for the company and others in a similar line of work.

        One of the nation's most established franchise opportunities, One Hour Martinizing Dry Cleaning, 2005 Ross Ave., celebrates its fifth decade in business this year. But the locally based franchiser of dry cleaning stores is not slowing down for its golden anniversary. It doesn't have time.

        “We are averaging probably over the last three years about 16 openings a year, and that's just the new stores,” said Jerry Laesser, vice president of marketing for the company. ""Some of our existing owners are opening their second and third and more stores.”

        The company was founded in 1949 in New York when chemist Henry Martin developed an on-premise dry cleaning process that led to plants being built near customers' homes. The firm came to Cincinnati shortly after its creation, Mr. Laesser said, and today, it has 540 stores on its franchise roster in the United States and 204 stores in countries such as Uruguay and Indonesia.

        Women entering the work force — all those Ann Taylor outfits have to be cleaned and pressed somewhere — drove the revenue numbers from 1970 through the early 1990s, but today, another group is spending cash at One Hour Martinizing Dry Cleaning. Don't believe the stories about the X-Generation and Y-Generation being a demographic cluster of neo-Hippies and slackers in unpressed khakis. The kids like their tan pants — and they want crisp creases.

        “The 25- to 35-year-olds are a key demographic group,” Mr. Laesser said. “They are young tigers in the work force, and they want to look good and feel good so they spend money on clothing. It's not only dress clothing. We get Dockers and casual shirts and slacks coming in as well. Garments that don't say "Dry Clean Only.'

        “In the past, laundering or washing casual apparel — we're not talking about dress shirts here — might have been 5 to 20 percent of volume. Today, it's 30 percent to 35 percent.”

        If the next generation of consumers will spend money to eliminate ironing and expand their leisure time, then other service businesses, particularly small ones, should target the same group for the same reasons, Mr. Laesser said.

        One lesson from 50 years ago has been relearned. While other generations were content to wash and iron at home, that is no longer true. So shirt laundries are being built on-site just like dry cleaners were built on-site decades before.

        Also, more people choose pickup and delivery services for garment cleaning, as well, and drive-through lanes are increasingly popular.

        That leads to yet another lesson for service businesses hoping to make it to the 50-year mark: “As we track what is happening with our customer base, on the hit parade of reasons people use dry cleaners, No. 1 is convenience,” Mr. Laesser said.

        In other words, no business can be too convenient.

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for the Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? Call him at 768-8386 or e-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com, and he will find the expert with the answers.

       



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