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In the Hot House: Solving Plant Challenges (Conclusion)

Sometimes personalities in the plant can be difficult, and delightful too

CHICAGO — You might say that catacombs have nuthin’ on some drycleaning plants. The plant can be all at once: Hot! Humid! Noisy! Claustrophobic!

We’re getting through COVID-19 and working to get on the other side of it. We’re looking at the garment care plant in general in this article. As work gets processed, all the while team members have to do their job, and deal with the historically loud, steamy, cramped confines of plant workspaces.

Two owners, one from Tennessee and one from Texas, are going to tell us how they take these challenges seriously and work tenaciously, and with care for their team members, to solve hot house conditions.

Approach challenges as a team effort. Those are sound words in today’s world as we all face the challenges of the recent coronavirus.

Now we go South by Southwest to visit with our second owner in Texas, who talks about all the dynamic personalities on her “hot house” team.


Vicky Maisel is the second generation owner of Cowboy Cleaners located in San Antonio, Texas, a business started by her dad Donald Maisel more than 60 years ago. We asked her to describe working conditions in the average drycleaning plant today along with some of the various types of common stressors on team members we might find.

Maisel relates this: “I think that although heat and noise probably on occasion add to the stress. What I find the most difficult at times, but also can be delightful, is we have in our drycleaning and laundry plant about 20 different personalities with 20 different perspectives on everything.”

She notes how, in the past, her team wouldn’t agree on lunch, or on how to properly press a special request by a customer, or what radio station to listen to!

But when challenges in the plant needed to be addressed, keep in mind these are pre-coronavirus examples, she talked about what she would do: “I have found that when it looks like everyone is hot or just starting to get a little cranky — doughnuts and pizza really help.”

Every now and again, Maisel points out, “I think after a week when we have achieved something special, like a lot of extra garments or a piece of equipment goes down and everyone is scrambling to move around and get the work done, a nice gesture helps express my gratitude to the employees for hanging together and making everything work out.”

When everything is going smoothly, she relates, “I like to surprise them with doughnuts to say job well done and thanks. These folks can pull together and help in ways you cannot imagine. We will have dry cleaning step in and help laundry when needed and vice-versa.”

Maisel says that, “Even though we have the ‘class clown’ and the ‘serious, no-nonsense’ folks working together — and they may occasionally drive each other nuts — a nice pizza lunch will remind them we are a team and we appreciate all of their diverse talents and personalities.”

Can you tell us a story or two of how you solved a particular situation for your team members in your plant and the positive result?

Maisel relates this story: “One day the boiler went down. So needless to say nothing, and I mean nothing, could get done. So while we waited for the boiler to be repaired, we cleaned machines and did whatever we could. Hours later we were very far behind on production, but everyone pitched in, and as we finished the last shirt at what is our closing time 6:30 p.m., my sister Shannon ran over to store and picked up some beer and pizza and we all celebrated making it through day and a job well done!”

Just before the coronavirus had hit, we had asked her to describe her team, and she related that her team typically would come in at 5 or 6 a.m., so that was one long hard day. But Maisel reflects that it was nice to be able to toast their hard work and celebrate their teamwork.

“Let’s be honest,” she says, “no one wanted to be there all day.” But she notes how they all pitched in and the drycleaning team came over to help the laundry team and everyone was doing something to get customers their clothes. “So it was great to be able to sit down together and enjoy each others company after that very, very long day,” Maisel relates from a pre-virus example.

Plants are better designed today, no doubt. But it always comes back to the special people owners have on their teams.

“I think that there are times when it is 100+ degrees, and we are standing over steam and heat, and no amount of ice, fans and air will really make it refreshing. But I do think on those days, that is the time to bring in something different to let your folks know they are appreciated,” Maisel says.

So even though we design our plants to try alleviate the noise and heat, she notes, “We need to remember the folks we work with are all different — they have different problems, needs and desires and bring those together to create a team who want to do the best they can for the customer.

“They care about each and every garment, and that is what matters. Yes they get a paycheck, but sometimes it helps to just show them how important and special they are to me and Cowboy Cleaners.”

Maisel relates this tip: “I found that letting my employees wear headphones really helps keep squabbles to a minimum. Everyone can listen to whatever music they like and there are no more arguments over the radio!”

Maisel says: “They still do a great job and seem to actually concentrate more on their work.… but sometimes when they sing along, it does sound like a cacophony. Guess it just means I need to buy my own headphones!”

These two owners great ideas and creative solutions show there are many ways to helping your team to get through tough days, loud days, and warm days all together and successfully.

Of course we are getting through a big challenge in the world, the coronavirus, and looking ahead.

Many garment care operators no doubt do so many things to solve their own hot house challenges. It comes down to keeping your teams comfortable, working at their best, and being safe, healthy, (more true today than ever with COVID-19), and also efficient in the plant.

Hopefully soon, with headphones blasting out their own favorite tunes, team members might be once again rocking out and having a hot time in the hot house!

To read Part 1, go HERE.