ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — After arriving here in Chicagoland, a group of nearly 30 dry cleaners from Japan wasted no time in embarking on its tour of four U.S. businesses in the region to gain insight into U.S. drycleaning procedures and operations.
The “2023 International Idea Exchange” was sponsored by laundry and drycleaning equipment maker Sankosha Manufacturing, which is headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, and has U.S. operations in the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village.
Executive Vice President Keisuke (Ken) Uchikoshi coordinated the trip and traveled from Japan with the contingent.
The group traveled directly from a Chicago airport on June 21 for a brief stop at its hotel before spending the afternoon bussing to four of the seven Zengeler Cleaners stores.
The fifth-generation drycleaning business dates back to 1857. President Tom Zengeler accompanied the group to stores and plants in Long Grove, Libertyville and Northbrook, Illinois. As he shared facts about each site, Sankosha USA President Wesley Nelson—with some help from Uchikoshi—translated for the Japanese contingent.
“It’s an honor to be able to host them like this,” Zengeler says of Sankosha and the visiting dry cleaners. “They’ve reciprocated with me. I’ve been to Japan two times. Some of the people here today, I’ve been with over there.”
The group paused briefly when passing drop stores but stopped to tour two plants inside and out: Zengeler’s Park Avenue facility in central Libertyville that was built in 1928, and a modern, sleek package plant on Northbrook’s Skokie Boulevard that opened several years ago.
While the Libertyville facility is in the process of being renovated and installing new equipment, the Northbrook facility had the Japanese contingent commenting how much it reminded them of a store in their country, according to Nelson.
Zengeler had it designed to approximate stores in Japan after visiting there during a similar international tour. It earned an American Drycleaner Plant Design Award for “Outstanding Strip Location” in 2016.
“This is what a Japanese drycleaner’s location looks like,” he says. “It’s very tight, very small, and I’m able to produce all these pieces in a small space, whereas the concept in the U.S. is ‘larger is better.’ This is just the opposite.”
Once the tour concluded for the day, the group returned to Sankosha USA and Zengeler spoke in greater detail about his business. During a Q-and-A session, the Japanese dry cleaners asked about things like his management team selections, staffing, payroll, and route operations, then split into small groups to review what they had seen and learned during the tour.
Dinner followed before the Japanese contingent returned to its hotel to rest before the next leg of the U.S. tour.
In the days that followed, the group visited Indiana-based Peerless Cleaners (Fort Wayne) and Ziker Cleaners (Mishawaka) before returning to Chicagoland to visit CD One Price Cleaners.
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