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Beyond The Bubbles (Part 1)

How three drycleaning operators get away on their ‘vacay’ worry-free

CHICAGO — See that bubble?

Don’t worry. It won’t burst. It’s the sign of peaceful relaxation and fun in the sun. Ahhhh, Vacayyy!

See the smile reflected back?

Those are the grins that come from knowing the managers and team back at the store can run the drycleaning operation smoothly while you are relaxing and recharging. Mmmm, Vacayyy!

Three operators share their getaway experiences of leaving their plants behind to get some needed vacation. How do they do it with a worry-free “bon-voyage” and a knowing grin? Let’s find out.

Joe in Michigan, Brad in Washington state, and Richard in Illinois, three drycleaning operators all share two key factors to a worry-free vacation: they trust their team and they let go. They’ll explain ...

“I’m Joe Hebeka, owner, Belding Cleaners, in Detroit, founded here in 1918, and relocated to Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., in 1929, where it currently operates as the first and largest dry cleaners in Grosse Pointe.

“I oversee all the day-to day-operations. Two years ago, I purchased our competitor, converted it into a drop store and added a delivery route. We pride ourselves on a commitment to quality and service for 100 years, while maintaining a presence throughout the community as well.”

In regards to vacation time, Hebeka relates that he typically spreads his time off into a few small getaways throughout the year. “This gives me something to look forward to every few months or so,” he says.

“We usually head to downtown Chicago or Sanibel Island, Fla., where my wife and I got married, for a few days. It’s a great feeling getting on the airplane knowing you can detach from the business, even when you realize you’re, ironically, probably seated next to a few of your regular customers.”

He continues: “I really enjoy spending time with my wife and kids and being able to let loose a little. Having three small kids means we spend a lot of our time at the beach and the pool. We also enjoy sightseeing and shopping as well, with my occasional evening cigar and drinks with my wife.

“It’s a great reward to have some time off to recharge and have fun. It also tells me as an owner, if my operation is running smooth while I'm away, then I'm doing my job training people in procedures and organizational management.”

When Hebeka is away, he notes, his business is fully operational as if he were there. Employees pretty much follow the same daily tasks they normally would. Technology also plays a part.

“I can check my cameras from my phone anytime and anywhere,” he points out. “I also get alerts from our security system right to my phone when each store is opened and closed with each employee’s accountability. We have a sophisticated alarm system than alerts me and can be controlled from my phone.”

Most importantly, he relates, having a trustworthy and educated staff is the biggest part. He has a lot of confidence in his staff.

“Each employee has their own daily tasks from pressers to drivers and counter help. All of that comes together, creating the final product, almost like connect the dots. My manager makes sure things flow smoothly and communication between the staff is very important as well. In the rare event that there is a major issue that can’t be resolved by my staff or manager, I just handle it when I return.”

Hebeka insists it might take some effort and preparation, but it's important to have some vacation time for yourself and your staff as well.

“My employees take some time off, too, throughout the year and they cover for each other. I believe it’s healthy for the business, too.”

Healthy is vacation time. Sometimes you have to build up that trust. You can then let yourself get away.


“This is Brad Pickett, owner, Modern Cleaners, in Washington state, We were established in 1946. My wife and I purchased the cleaners in 1989. We are located 60 miles north of Seattle in a farming community.

“Being of a smaller population area, we do a little of everything, from wash and fold for hotels to wedding gowns. We have increase our business by offering a pickup and delivery service for homes, business and commercial accounts. My main job is billing, payroll and to fill in when someone is sick.”

Pickett has a timeshare in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, and tries to travel there once a year. “My wife would read a book by the pool and I would join her, when not golfing. Besides going to Mexico, we have traveled to Europe and been on Caribbean cruises.”

These vacations, he confides, lets him and his wife recharge and come back re-energized.

“I think to find the right team to run the operation while you are gone, start out small,” he advises.

“Start out by taking five days off with only five phone calls to see how things are going. Move up to 18 days with no phone calls at all. The goal is to let your team know you have the confidence in them to run the shop while you are gone.”

Pickett relates a recent story of something that happened at his store while he was on vacation: “A downspout at our main location was plugged and water was coming thru the ceiling. Our manger was freaking out and not sure what to do. She phoned a roofing company that never showed up to help.

“She grabbed a ladder, went up on the roof and unplugged the downspout — mission accomplished. The job was done and we did not know until we arrived home that there was a problem.”

Healthy is trusting your team. You’ll know how things went if you know your people. Trust. Relax.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.

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(Photo: Matthew Fassnacht/Unsplash)

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Joe Hebeka (back, left), owner, Belding Cleaners in Detroit, poses with his family during a recent Florida vacation. (Photo: Joe Hebeka)

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Brad Pickett (left), owner, Modern Cleaners, located 60 miles north of Seattle in a small Washington community, poses with his family; they like to visit Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.(Photo: Brad Pickett)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].