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The Future Is Waiting for You

Leadership Forum ends on a hopeful note as lessons learned can lead to brighter days

ALLISON PARK, Pa. — While 2020 was, to say the least, a challenging year, the lessons learned from doing business in a pandemic can strengthen a cleaner’s future efforts.

This was the theme of the final installment last Wednesday of the six-part Leadership Forum, sponsored by America’s Best Cleaners (ABC). Since it started in September, the Forum, conducted via Zoom, has brought together leaders from various areas of the cleaning industry to share what has worked in keeping their team motivated and on course in one of the most challenging economic landscapes in living memory.

A Proven Leadership Model

Before going into the cleaning field, Joel Lyons served in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. America, receiving the Naval Achievement Medal for his leadership roles in the conflicts in Bosnia and Haiti. Lyons, now CEO of Lyons Textile Restoration and president of Evans Garment Restoration, said that his time in the military has helped to form his leadership style — and taught him what makes a good leader.

“(In the Navy), It’s about team strategy,” he says. “Transitioning to the corporate world, it’s the same thing. You’re as good as your team members. That’s a strategy we keep.”

He also learned, both in the Navy and in the cleaning and restoration business, that the company you keep can determine how high you can fly. “One of the things I learned is that you should hang out with the best,” he says. “There’s a unique opportunity in the textile and electronic restoration space to work with best-in-class operators. That’s really helped us progress.”

Letting Go of the Past

When asked about making plans for the future of her business, Monika Manter, vice president of Balfurd Cleaners in State College, Penn., used a phrase that might give many business owners pause. “One of the things we’re always talking about as a diversified company is the creative destruction of our business,” she says. “We ask, ‘How can we serve our customers, even if it disrupts our current business model?’ If it does, that’s OK; we can adjust. But in three years, we just want to make sure that we’re still relevant and not emotionally tied to how we’re doing things today. So, we continue just looking for new avenues and new revenues to set us up better in three years than we are now.”

Sometimes, the tools that would give you the answers you’re looking for might already be at your fingertips, says Nicole Kirby, manager of client success for SPOT Business Systems. “If I can say one thing, embrace the power of your point-of-sale system,” she says. “Whatever system you have, I can guarantee you there are offerings that that system has that you are not taking advantage of.”

There are also avenues for success that cleaners might be missing. “Look at opportunities for training,” Kirby says, “be it on-site or remote training. We’ve had several clients over the years get state grants to pay for people to come in and train their employees. There are opportunities out there. So, embrace the power that you have in your computer system.”

Making Use of Downtime

One advantage of a slow business cycle is that it can force owners to think of things to try that could be beneficial down the road. “We had some extra time in 2020,” says Mark Hatch, general manager of French Cleaners Inc. in West Hartford, Conn. “And that’s allowed us to try some new different projects. We made masks for local hospital, trying to keep our staff on board, and that has been wildly successful. We were able to actually embroider some of those masks.”

Hatch took an active role in this initiative. “I pulled out an old embroidery machine that was collecting dust in the back and trained myself how to use it,” he says. “And sure enough, we’ve been doing embroidery for different businesses. We’ve been making patches for folks and will probably roll that into a service offering at some point soon.”

It can be painful, but sometimes a business model that is no longer working has to evolve, says Nathaniel Dubasik, project director of Metalprogetti USA. And, while this might force owners out of their comfort zones, it can lead to a brighter future. “As things come up, look for automation opportunities,” he says. “Automated kiosks have really helped some of our clients. When a problem is facing you, change your thought. Don’t close the store; look at how you can  reinvent the store you have and keep it going. What opportunities are there? Technology can help you.”

A Final Word

As the Leadership Forum wrapped up, Christopher White, executive director of ABC, looked to sum up the lessons of the event.
“The uncertainty of our future is real, but we must as leaders seek to continually find, create and develop the new opportunities that will be critical for our success into the future,” he says. “All of the leaders in these forums shared some common threads of intentional listening, thoughtful planning, empathy, understanding, clear communication and resolve to work together with their teams and their communities to solve the challenges that they all face together.”

White was struck by the commonality that he witnessed in the forums, even though the leaders who took part were often from different sectors of the industry.

“Words like principles values, gratitude, safety, security, and community were used numerous times by numerous leaders to this entire series,” he says, “and were the bedrock for most of their decision making. So, I hope everyone walks away with that notion in their mind.”

White says there’s one lesson that White hoped that everyone who took advantage in the Forum would take with them. “The series showed us that we are all not alone,” he says. “It’s OK to ask for help, and that there are some wonderfully skilled people in this industry willing to extend their time and their services, without any question, to assist you and our industry to survive and thrive.”

To view this and the other five installments of the Leadership Forum, visit the Leadership Forum’s webpage.