“Oh, sorry, I have no idea what dry cleaning is.”
This was my response to an interviewer who was talking to me about a job opportunity “at a multi-location retail chain that employs primarily women”. At least that’s the description I was given. This interview was arranged by my Finance Department advisor, Dr. Rajiv Kalra, at Minnesota State University back in 2006. He didn’t tell me which company wanted to hire me, but he was sure I was a good candidate. It turned out the secrecy around the position was warranted because Dr. Kalra was about to buy Fargo, North Dakota’s Camelot Cleaners, but was under a non-disclosure agreement until the deal closed later that month. Camelot needed a General Manager, and being a frequent visitor to Dr. Kalra’s office, he knew me well enough (or thought I was a sucker) to recommend me for the job.
Apparently I interviewed well enough because soon I found myself staring at a Forenta fast-back pants press whose head would no longer come down when summoned. I was pretty good with mechanical repairs, being a gear head who enjoyed working on my own cars at home, but trying to follow the air diagram for a pants press was something new entirely. Then there were the days where our 20-horsepower Fulton boiler would be down at one location, or the chiller down at the other store. Or the modems no longer communicating with the server that runs our Microsoft DOS-based POS system. And who could forget the time the steam coil broke in one of our perc machines and we shrunk an entire load of tailored wool suits. What about the days where I had to fill in for the shirt presser, doing 350 shirts on a Forenta single-buck on 100 degree humid summer days? What did I get myself into?
Slowly we rebuilt Camelot Cleaners into a modern dry cleaner. We replaced aging equipment and non-supported computer systems. We added assisted assembly. We invited industry experts and “soap guys” to visit and provide honest feedback. We fixed confounding cleaning programs in both the dry cleaning machines and washing machines. And when it came time for us to replace those six aging perc machines, we fully embraced GreenEarth. Our conversion to GreenEarth in 2010 allowed us to host a Grand Re-Opening and rebrand ourselves as the only “Green Dry Cleaners” in North Dakota.
I’ll never forget the day Tim Maxwell arrived in Fargo to perform our Start Up on the first day we used GreenEarth. My plant manager, our pressers and spotters, and myself nervously watched Tim put the new programs into a Union HL880 and we wondered what differences we would see in our first load compared to perc. I think a black silk Tommy Bahama shirt that actually looked BLACK and felt like the rarest of luxurious tapestries after dry cleaning made everyone smile. And with that, we were GreenEarth Affiliates.
Today, as the Technical Director for GreenEarth Cleaning, I often think about this inflection point in Camelot’s history when I’m on the road and waiting for the very first load to come out of a new GreenEarth machine. It might be somewhere in Los Angeles, Montreal, London, Seoul, Singapore, or Honolulu. It doesn’t really matter where, because dry cleaners are a very similar bunch all around the world. They are all extremely hard workers, trying to do their best with the equipment that they have, and making the final arbiter of quality – the customer – a happy and returning guest.
My favorite part of working for GreenEarth is the opportunity to help you solve problems. I really enjoy the mechanical and programming side of the business, and our technical team and I work very hard to ensure we are true experts in all brands of machines so we are able to assist you right away when trouble hits. The fact that so many of our Affiliates turn to GreenEarth as the first point of contact when the machine is acting up tells me we are filling a much-needed gap in our industry’s ability to diagnose and service modern dry cleaning machines.
GreenEarth’s unique ability to make a personal difference is what sets us apart from other “vendors” or service-providers in our industry. I often tell people that you cannot talk about GreenEarth like we are comparing Big Macs to Whoppers. Neither sandwich is objectively better, and some people just like Whoppers. But GreenEarth can prove, through scientific study, that it’s objectively better for People, the Planet, and your Profits (the three P’s of Sustainability). Our unmatched environmental profile, along with technical support, optimized products, marketing support, web services, advocacy, and so many other well-executed benefits is why I wanted to be an Affiliate in the first place. I believe that GreenEarth is more than just a solvent in a machine because I lived it, experienced it, and saw the results as a dry cleaner.
Now, as GreenEarth celebrates its 20th Anniversary, I find myself very thankful to be a part of GreenEarth, in some way or another, for half of the organization’s existence. This credibility has given me, and by extension the rest of the GreenEarth Team, a trustworthiness and authority in the industry (and not just aftercare, but manufacturing, testing, standards, and other Sustainability initiatives as well) that is extremely rare to find. I’m truly grateful for the trust that our Affiliates put in us as we work together to help you be the best Affiliate possible.
By: Andy Lien