Starting Out in Dry Cleaning (Conclusion)
CHICAGO — What was it like on your first day as a drycleaning owner? Or your first day in the dry cleaning business?
Can you remember back?
Let’s jog your memory with a trip along “memory boulevard” to when we first started out.
Two drycleaning owners, and brothers, share their memories, thoughts, anecdotes and lessons learned... in their own words.
Let’s hear from Kevin Kell, co-owner of Twin Kell Cleaners in Ft. Worth, Texas.
“Twin Kell Cleaners was established in 1989 by twin brothers Kent and Kevin Kell. The third generation dry cleaners have deep roots in the fabricare industry.
“Grandparents Tom and Oleta Kell started the family business in east Fort Worth in 1932 with a five-dollar gold piece. Hats and fedoras were huge back then and even though it was during the depression era, it seemed as if everyone wore a suit, tie and hat,” Kell notes.
Specializing in delicate and fragile garment restoration, the twins split their tasks complimenting each ones specific gifts. Kevin is more production oriented while Kent is the analytical one.
Kevin says, “Drycleaning gurus Stan Caplan, Norman Oehlke and Dan Eisen are my mentors for stain removal.” He relates: “I was always entertained by Caplan. I just could never tell if he was shooting straight with me, but I loved his humor. He once told a story of reverse psychology I was particularly amused with.
“After discovering an ink pen load, and identifying the garment the pen was found in, he asked the customer for her insurance information.
“He explained that there was potential claim because of the number of garments that have been damaged in the process of cleaning her coat which contained the ink pen(!)”
Kent and Kevin’s dad Jack was quite the prankster himself, he explains.
Jack apparently perpetrated a laugh at the expense of a crony, as Kell further relates: “Upon noticing a bikini clad woman exiting a hair salon and heading to the beach, Jack enticed the woman to take part in a joke the next day.
“Dad was always harassing his friend about his everchanging, and trendy, hair styles.
“During the meeting the next day, in front of a hundred or so, the woman showed up in a bikini along with all her accessories claiming she was here to do an urgent makeover. She set up up shop right behind his unsuspecting friend and began doing his hair. She presumed to insinuate that his style needed an update, to look more like his attractive friend Kell!”
In another instance, he relates, a fellow buddy and Shriner from Corpus Christi, was in on this joke, as Kevin relates: “After Jack introduced the man as mayor of the city, the friend proceeded to claim he had the ‘keys to the city’ and invited everyone to a special tour the next day. When he was a no-show, the joke was over and everyone had a good laugh.”
His brother Kent recalls accounts of his dad anonymously placing goats in the bathtub of a friend’s hotel room. “He is always up for a good prank,” claims Kent.
After Kent and Kevin graduated from TCU in 1984, they went to work for their father and immediately began to learn the customer service aspect of the business. Fresh off studying the principle’s of Sid Tuchman, Kevin notes, they focused on important questions to ask customers about their clothes.
“I remember one incident,” Kevin recalls. “I was caught walking across the parking lot from the main office one day. I noticed a long Cadillac of which a woman rolled her window down and began to whistle at me. As I approached her she must have thought we offered a valet service.
“Since this was pre-computer age and I did not have an invoice handy, I realized she intended for me to grab the massive bundle in her back seat. Feeling the pressure of remembering basic information I asked her if she had any stains or repairs.
“She said ‘yes,’ pulling out the garment and placing it on the top of the pile under my nose. I asked her if she had any idea what the stain was. She paused, lifted her head back and said, ‘Why it’s menstrual, fool.’”
Kell also reminds that, “You have to have some common sense in this business. I would be leery of what I gave back to customers. Such as returning a tube of lipstick to the wife of a customer at pickup — when the husband dropped the clothes off — was obviously not a good choice. Of course the lipstick was not hers!”
Kevin says he loves the restoration part of the business.
“I tell our staff all the time there could be as many as seven or eight different processes involved with stain removal and this requires additional time. We will not press any garment, unless it is a rush, until we have exhausted all stain removal possibilities within reason. We may have to apologize for a garment being late but we will not apologize for poor quality. The times we have damaged garments are times we have moved hastily or been rushed,” he notes.
Kell is also involved with the environmental side of the business. He serves as a director of the Southwest Drycleaners Association (SDA) as well as the small business advisory committee of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
With the influx of microfibers and the comfort of athletic wear, the casual look is trending. “Workout clothes are for working out,” says Kell. “I guess I long for the days of my grandparents. Bring back the suits and fedoras!”
There we have two drycleaning owners describing memories and sharing thoughts. Did that stir up stories of your own? We hope so. That’s what you get when strolling down drycleaning’s memory lane.
To read Part 1, go HERE.