CHICAGO — Two stories of drycleaning owners energizing their employees: One, Atlas Dry Cleaners, has fun nicknames, such as ‘Johnnie Nylon,’ hosts regular Friday lunches, and displays plenty of good feelings for employees, and that ‘vibe’ flows lovingly out to customers (and back again too); the other, Ernest Winzer Cleaners, has a hands-on management style that promotes an ‘all-together’ attitude to serve its New York City Broadway clients at all hours because, in their own parlance, “the show must go on.”
“Each employee decorates their area at the counter and most have nicknames for their area or themselves personally,” relates Josh Hannah, who manages Newport, Ky.-based Atlas Dry Cleaners for his dad, owner Stephan Hannah. “Some include ‘Stuck Up Lane,’ ‘Slacker,’ ‘Brat,’ ‘TNT,’ and of course, ‘Johnnie Nylon.’”
That isn’t the only charm to this cleaners. There’s food. And as we know, “food is love,” so they say.
“Every Friday, we provide lunch for all of the employees. Employees bring in food and snacks for everyone from time to time,” Hannah says.
“We have customers that are aware of our Friday lunch and will volunteer to bring in sub sandwiches for everyone just to show their appreciation,” he continues, talking about the good vibes emanating from working at this 80-year-old drycleaning operation in this town of about 15,000, on busy Monmouth Street, just a few blocks away from the banks of the Ohio River and facing the city of Cincinnati.
He says: “The ladies know most customers by first name and will start gathering the order if they see them pull up to the store. We have customers bring in cookies, cupcakes, homemade rice-crispy treats, you name it!”
Even the Friday delicacies aren’t the only binding substance to connect managers, employees and customers together at the venerable business, first began in 1937, started by the Geisen family and purchased by Stephan from Bob Geisen in 1994.
Josh Hannah shares: “It is not uncommon to see the girls at the counter and our customers hug when they walk in. They talk about their lives and personal matters while visiting the store. Some of our employees hang out with customers outside of Atlas.”
The uniqueness and personal quality of the business makes it special for those who come in to get their clothing cleaned and the employees who treat them like friends.
They’re having a good time here. And it shows.
At the store, extra touches make working fun, and being treated nicely echoes out to the community around this business. Every employee gets 10 items dry-cleaned per week for free, Hannah says. “We typically clean garments for funerals free for most of our regular customers.”
He points out: “We celebrate birthdays for every employee with cake or some other treat. We have holiday grill-outs, holiday parties. If an employee has a death in the family we send flowers from everyone at Atlas.”
That caring comes from the heart. It’s genuine and that’s what makes it special. And it branches out to the clients in so many different ways.
“If customers call us about a service we do not offer, we give them a name and (phone) number of a place that does,” he says.
“We have a marquee that receives local and regional attention. (The latest: Been Working on the Same Spot for 80 Years!) We try to have fun with it and make people think and laugh.”
People do think and laugh (and eat), and that’s proven to be very good at this drycleaning business.
Just ask Johnnie Nylon the next time you visit. (And make sure to go on a Friday—there’s food!)
Check back Thursday for the conclusion.