LAUREL, Md. — In August, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) is starting a new chapter as Kathy Benzinger begins her term as the president of the organization. Benzinger, a long-time dry cleaner and the owner of Benzinger’s Clothing Care, headquartered in Hamburg, New York.
American Drycleaner recently sat down with Benzinger to discuss her connections with DLI, what she sees as challenges to the industry and to individual cleaners in the upcoming year, and what she wants to accomplish during her one-year term.
ADC: What has your relationship been with DLI over your career (when did you join, etc.)?
KB: It was the first Clean Show — in Atlanta in 2015 — that I had attended, and I didn’t know what to expect. At that time, I had been in the drycleaning industry for about 20 years and owned my own business for seven years. During that show, I had the great fortune of meeting two of the nicest people, (NEFA Director) Peter Blake and John Dallas, who was a DLI board member. Every board member has a DCM (district committee member), who is kind of an understudy for that district, and I became John’s understudy.
John became ill, so I stepped into his role. Then, at the encouragement of some of the board members, I ran for his seat once his term had expired. So, I was a DCM from 2015 to 2017, a board member from 2018 to 2021, treasurer from 2021 to 2022 and vice president from 2022 to 2023, and I’ll be stepping into the presidency this year.
John Dallas was a friend and a mentor, and someone that I have grown to love dearly over the years. I give him all the credit for this wonderful opportunity.
ADC: Why did you want to take on a leadership role in DLI?
KB: I took on a leadership role as an opportunity to align myself with an organization that shares my passion for the industry, as well as my passion for learning and growing. I felt that DLI and I align in those two areas, and I knew that if I continued to learn and grow, I would be able to teach and mentor others in the industry, the way that John Dallas and other board members had mentored me. I wanted to learn from the best, and I realized that DLI was the best place to learn.
I also knew that we could be better and offer more opportunities to our membership. I had been a member of DLI for many years, so I saw the value in my membership, and I want others to see it too. I want to spread the word, explore new options and then be able to give back.
ADC: It sounds like mentorship is very important to you.
KB: I have had the most amazing mentors in my life, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I can’t have a conversation about mentors without mentioning (DLI CEO) Mary Scalco. She is an inspiration to me, both as a professional and as a woman. She is, in my book, one strong, smart, humble person. She takes no credit and gives all credit to her staff.
ADC: In your view, what are some of the biggest challenges currently facing the drycleaning industry? How do you see DLI aiding in these areas?
KB: I think the biggest things going forward are government regulations. I’ve been in this field for many years, and I don’t ever remember them coming on this strongly. Maybe it’s because I just wasn’t conscious of them, of maybe because they’ve become more conscious after COVID, but the government can really step in and create hardships for our industry. If we don’t fight back, they could collapse this industry.
Right now, there are government regulations on the table right now that deal with perc (perchloroethylene), PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), single-use poly bags, minimum wage, credit card compliance… the list is endless. And if we don’t have a watchdog out there protecting us from the government, we could be in trouble. That’s one of the things that DLI does on a national level, along with what the joint state associations (JSA) do on a regional level — protect us and protect the industry from some of these government regulations.
So, I think that’s the No. 1 role for DLI right now — to be aware of what’s going on in the industry. DLI’s role as an advocate for this industry is more critical than ever. We are all so busy running our businesses that we don’t see what’s going on in California. But we know what’s happening in California is coming to New York next, and to Florida after that, and so on. Having DLI watch things like that is key, and they don’t have the power to do that without membership.
To me, the second key role for DLI is education. The pandemic accelerated the need for that, because a lot of the mom-and-pop stores disappeared. The people still standing are the ones who are investing in education and are finding ways to learn and grow while still running their businesses. DLI has really stepped up in that area. They’ve had virtual training classes, weekly peer-to-peer Zoom calls, monthly webinars, and regional seminars. They’ve really made big strides with education.
Come back Tuesday for the conclusion, when we’ll explore Benzinger’s goals and why she sees change as essential for growth.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].