CHICAGO — One of the hallmarks of the drycleaning industry is that cleaners have the opportunity to build close relationships with their clients. Cleaners are paid, after all, to care for their customers’ personal clothing and items that often hold great sentimental value. Many cleaners go further, choosing to strengthen their ties to their customers and communities at large by offering their skills and services to those who need it most.
While some of these charitable activities may include making donations and sponsoring youth athletics, some cleaners have made philanthropy part of their company’s DNA and include the entire staff in providing help to their community.
Helping Those Around You
In addition to providing services and support to youth groups, senior facilities and churches and synagogues in the area, Zengeler Cleaners, headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, partners with volunteer groups annually for two major clothing drives. Coats for Vets provides winter clothing to veterans in November, and the Prom Dress Collection allows high school students who wouldn’t otherwise afford dresses and accessories to look great on their special spring night.
“It’s part of the culture of our company,” says Tom Zengeler, president of Zengeler Cleaners. “The company’s 166 years old this year, and it goes back to my grandfather and my dad. As far as I can recall, they were always involved in the community. I hung onto their coattails. They were a good example — that’s what they taught me.”
Kimberly Wilkinson, owner of four Lapels Dry Cleaning locations in the Marshfield and Hanover, Mass., area, also has made charity work a cornerstone of her company’s culture. She gives to fundraisers and other events and provides cleaning services and storage to area choirs and sports teams. Wilkinson also has partnered with a local food pantry to gather items and raise donations, as well as working with nonprofits to gather winter coats for area children.
“The ability to own a business in the communities in which I live struck a chord with me,” Wilkinson says, “and I’ve always had a desire to help those less fortunate, and especially children.”
She believes that owning a drycleaning company allows her a greater degree of contact with customers than is available in almost any other type of retail business.
“My profession was in the investment management space prior to dry cleaning,” she says. “In that profession, I never had an opportunity to work directly in my community, and philanthropic work has always been a passion of mine. I was able to do charity work corporately, but never locally.”
For Ken Sandy, managing partner of Dryy Garment Care in the Washington, D.C., area, working to provide opportunities for his neighborhoods is simply part of doing business.
“We have a core culture of charity and philanthropic work, so it doesn’t take much for us to get inspired,” he says. “The communities were so welcoming to us, and it spoke to us profoundly.”
Dryy also works with area volunteer groups to gather materials for those who need it, including a program called Dress for Success.
“It is a global woman’s group, and they have a D.C. chapter,” Sandy says. “They help battered women who are returning to work and regaining their lives leaving abusive situations. Once per quarter, we do a call to action for gently used clothing. We clean them, sanitize them and categorize them by color and size. And then we set up a place where (these women) can actually have a shopping experience.”
The company also has sponsored an event called the “Dryy Run,” a 5K running event that raises money for various charities. Last year, the event benefitted an area woman who helped homeless children. This year, proceeds went to helping area children attend summer camp.
“We support community outreach,” Sandy says. “If there is an organization that needs help, whether we help with marketing, or just co-brand and support financially, we’re there. We do a ton of stuff.”
Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll explore what taking on charitable work can do for a dry cleaner’s company culture.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].