Son brings tech skills to dry cleaners

By Sally M. Snell

Dublin Cleaners got its start in 1934 when Bernard Butler cleared out half his Columbus, Ohio, barbershop to open a dry cleaning store. He soon realized the cleaning operation was more profitable. Hudson Cleaners, as it was known, added a dry cleaning plant, multiple retail locations and a delivery service. By the 1960s Hudson had ended deliveries and transitioned to a primarily wholesale business, cleaning tuxedos for a tuxedo company and clothes for other dry cleaners that lacked their own equipment.

Bernie's son, Greg, now 67, joined the company in 1975. The popularity of polyester clothing decreased dry cleaning revenues. By the early 1980s the operation was down to a single facility. Bernie had died in 1979. The once-thriving neighborhood had changed, and Greg's wife, Margaret, urged him to relocate. They found property in the town of Dublin, northwest of Columbus.

Greg spent his days running Hudson Cleaners and nights building Dublin Cleaners from the ground up. Brian, the oldest of Greg's three sons, often tagged along to the construction site. "I put a lot of miles on my Big Wheel in here," Brian remembers.

Margaret, 64, built the company name through community involvement. "She was the one that went out and generated the business, and I just did the inside work," Greg says. They also built Dublin's reputation by cleaning bridal wear.

With renewed competition in 1990, the family decided to resume deliveries. Business grew in the '90s but halted after Sept. 11, 2001. Brian had been leading a software company in 2001 when his father asked him to help Dublin Cleaners on a one-year project to improve its systems.

Brian collaborated with a software company to create an identifying barcode that can be attached to clothes to reduce labor and improve accuracy. "It was amazing how much we were able to grow the business without increasing the staff," says Brian, 37, now president. Dublin also added a robotic order assembly system. Customers can track their orders through the company website or a smartphone app. "Most people don't expect that [level of technology] from a dry cleaner," says Brian.

In 2005, the company joined a wedding gown specialist organization. Greg cleans the wedding gowns and Margaret adds her personal touch to the preservation process.

The recession and lifestyle changes such as the business casual trend hit the industry hard. Dublin has grown despite challenges that have forced competitors out of business. "And not only grown the top line, but grown the bottom line," Brian says proudly.

Since 1982, Dublin Cleaners has expanded from one location to five. A sixth store in New Albany, Ohio, operates as New Albany Cleaners. Brian, who had planned to stay only one year, has been in the family business for 14 years.

"Brian really took [the business] into the 21st century," says Margaret. "Everything that he has done has made it really leaps and bounds ahead of other dry cleaners."

Brian predicts that future growth will come from delivery services. "Our business in home and office delivery is growing to a point that it might be two times the size of our store business within the next year or two," he notes.

Brian occasionally brings his two children, ages seven and four, to work, where they assist him with tasks like band uniform deliveries. "They have a ball," he reports. 
 

Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.

Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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January/February 2015

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