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Longtime Restaurateur Steps into Drycleaning Leadership Role (Part 1)

New ZIPS CEO sees customer experience as key to recovery

CHICAGO — In June 2021, ZIPS Dry Cleaners, a nationwide chain of garment-care franchise stores, named Bob Barry as its new president and CEO.

While Barry, who served for more than a decade in the same capacity at The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille chain, had eight years of experience as a ZIPS board member, he was new to the day-to-day experience of operating a dry cleaner.

Still, Barry has found that there are more similarities between running restaurants and operating a drycleaning business than might appear at first glance (“They’re both service businesses driven by human capital,” he says).

American Drycleaner sat down with Barry to discuss the state of the industry, his experiences stepping into the lead role at ZIPS, and what he sees coming in the future for the drycleaning industry.

Q: How do you believe your experience in restaurant chain management will be of help when it comes to leading ZIPS Dry Cleaners into the future?

Barry: I see a lot of similarities between dry cleaning and the restaurant industry. You’re very consumer-focused and labor-intensive. You’re a retail brand, and you’re hopefully getting some loyalty behind it. In the restaurant space, you have to be super-focused on the guest experience, or in the case of dry cleaning, the customer experience.

Q: What’s an area you’ve focused on as you’ve stepped into this role?

Barry: Training. We’ve been very focused on redoing our training videos, taking it from using paper manuals to videos to help people hire new team members, and train them more efficiently by giving them these tools — and be able to retrain them, if they have to.

As you know, the labor is extremely tight right now, and everybody’s facing some challenges. So, part of what I feel we must do is to make sure, when we do hire somebody, is that we have a very good retention program in place. We want to have the tools to train people properly, and we want to give them the opportunity to grow. That’s how you retain people.

Q: Describe the transition from being on the company’s board to taking the president/CEO position. What was that shift in responsibility like, and how did you prepare yourself?

Barry: At the board level, you’re at a much higher level, looking at budgets and approval processes, giving guidelines to the leadership group, and what I call “flying at a 15,000-foot level.” When you become president and CEO, you’re at sea level. You’re in it. So, the transition has been interesting because I’m trying to learn the drycleaning business.

As a board member, you’re focused on numbers and banking matters. Now that I’m leading the company, I’m working hard to understand the drycleaning business. How many pieces can we do in a period of time? What are the unit economics? What’s the guest service? What’s the brand positioning? Definitely, in the last few months, I’ve been in heavy learning mode.

Come back Thursday for the conclusion, where we’ll examine some of the challenges Barry sees in the future for both ZIPS and the industry as a whole.


ZIPS CEO Bob Barry

Bob Barry was named president and CEO of ZIPS Dry Cleaners in 2021. One of his main focuses since stepping into the role has been on training and customer service. (Photo: ZIPS Dry Cleaners)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected] .