AUSTIN, Texas — William and Angie Charnes, owners of Westbank Dry Cleaning, faced a major wrinkle in their career paths 20 years ago. William’s position as a real estate portfolio manager had been eliminated, a casualty of the continuing effects of the real estate bust of the late 1980s. Not to be deterred, the husband and wife entrepreneurs rolled up their sleeves and built a nationally recognized dry cleaning business, one garment at a time.
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Westbank Dry Cleaning is the only Texas dry cleaner elected as one of America’s Best Cleaners™. The company has grown from an entrepreneurial vision and a single, small store to 45 employees across eight locations, and a 20,000-square-foot production facility.
Though the couple launched their dry cleaning business on the heels of the downturn of the late 1980s, they had a clear vision for their company–exceptional care of clothes and customers. “The premise really is to treat our customers the way we’d like to be treated,” says William Charnes.
Plus, realizing that Austin dry cleaning was primarily discount-based, the couple believed that customers wanted the very best, or the least expensive, and there was no in-between. As a result, they formed their company to serve the former and have never looked back.
Westbank Dry Cleaning began with one location, a 1,100-square-foot facility. “We had two employees—one presser and one person that helped run the counter,” says William Charnes. “And, I was there 12 hours a day, six days a week.”
Westbank has created an ad campaign called “The Face of Westbank,” along with a portfolio of video and photo assets, to showcase its employees, some of whom have been with the company as long as 18 years. “Our employees are the face of our business,” says William. “They are a big part of why we are successful.”
“We are continually researching the latest equipment and [are] committed to ongoing training in the details of fabric care and the environment,” says Angie Charnes. The company is a Certified Environmental Cleaner and a member of the Green Cleaners Council. “While other cleaners have converted from using perchloroethylene solvent in recent years, we’ve never used it because we believe in the safer alternatives available,” she says.
“That type of success is not typical in today's market,” says Nora Nealis, executive director of the National Cleaners Association. “It's a real tribute to the type of business people the Charnes are. With close to 30,000 dry cleaners nationwide, it’s not easy to differentiate yourself from your competitor down the street, and to do it as an independently owned start-up is even tougher.”
The Charnes duo is still bucking the trends of economic downturn. In the wake of the recent recession, the couple undertook a new, but complementary, venture, a business expansion into fabric restoration to reinstate smoke-damaged clothing and other soft goods.
Reports estimate that restoration can save 80% over replacement costs on a typical insurance claim. “We have been told that Westbank's FRSTeam franchise is growing faster than any other new startup with the FRSTeam franchise,” William Charnes says.
In addition, the dry cleaner is setting itself apart by offering free home and office delivery, a VIP Express program, as well as executive, bridal and other specialized services.