FORT WAYNE, Ind. — In nominating his Peerless Cleaners for a Plant Design Award, co-owner Steve Grashoff wrote, “We offer just about everything you can think of.”
Full-service dry cleaning, laundry, household items, draperies, wedding dresses, leather, suede, commercial linens, restoration work, even car mats—you name it, Peerless cleans it.
With the company occupying five floors of a downtown building built in the early 1900s, constantly moving product up and down ramps using a forklift or a trailer pulled by a golf cart became a daily challenge to maintaining productivity, according to Grashoff.
So, about two years ago, with the September 2015 expiration of Peerless’ lease on the horizon, he went in search of a new site.
Today, after a total investment that Grashoff pegs at $1.4 million, the result is a 32,800-square-foot, L-shaped, single-story plant that earned the Grand Prize for Best Plant Design in American Drycleaner’s 55th Annual Plant Design Awards competition.
FLYING FOUR BANNERS
Not only does Peerless offer a variety of services, it does so under four different banners: three different drycleaning businesses and the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network (CRDN).
Peerless Cleaners has been in business since 1915—it just celebrated its 100th anniversary—and Grashoff and his wife, Laurie, became the owners in 2000. The next year, Peerless acquired a competitor, F&B Cleaners. Proximity of certain F&B stores to Peerless stores—“some of them are located across the street from our stores,” Grashoff explains—prompted the parent company to continue operating those stores under the second brand.
In 2005, Peerless Cleaners acquired a successful family-owned business, Kirt’s Cleaners, with stores in Goshen and Elkhart, Ind., about 60 miles from Fort Wayne. Kirt’s had been around since the 1950s and was well established, Grashoff says, so the name remained.
All together, the plant employs 68 FTEs in serving 14 drop stores. The full Peerless workforce numbers around 100, Grashoff says.
Peerless Cleaners also owns and operates three CRDN franchises that provide smoke, fire and water restoration services to clients throughout northern and western Indiana.
Peerless Cleaners’ new drycleaning plant is located in a former Goodyear Tire distribution center, centrally located at the heart of four major thoroughfares.
“We just fell in love with the layout, because it has a great location, we can access all the major highways and throughways through Fort Wayne, (and) we have visibility on a major interstate for signage and recognition,” Grashoff says.
Peerless’ level of diversification made the former distribution center an optimal choice for segmenting its production to achieve the greatest efficiency possible, he adds.
He described it best in his nomination form: “One of the great appeals of the building is that it is divided into four areas. We start with the sorting and washing room. Everything is marked in at the store level. Once it is put onto our truck and shipped to the plant, it is unloaded in the sorting and washing room.
“From there, it moves to the finishing room, where all the pressing is completed. After pressing and moving to our autobagger, it is then moved to our distribution and loading area.”
In the past, workers would have to sort on racks and then load trucks outside. Now, each banner has its own inside loading bay.
“The trucks back in and can load for each banner under perfect conditions,” Grashoff wrote. “On the other side of our loading area is our CRDN warehouse. It is a 10,000-square-foot storage warehouse for our finished goods for our CRDN franchise. Our home and office delivery service has two designated bay areas for their routes.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!