When people chat with Dustin Winkle about the economy's effect on their business, he doesn't say much. He doesn't want to make anybody feel bad. Because the truth is that the economic downturn has been very good for his 11 dry cleaners in the Boise, Idaho, area.
"Dry cleaning is pretty recession-proof, so we're doing fine money-wise," Winkle says. "When I bought the company two years ago, the economy was already starting to slide down. Things have been a little slower, but not a lot."
He's figured a way to turn that to his advantage. "That bit of slowness has given us the time and ability to get people trained on our new technology and move them around so they can enjoy their jobs more," he says.
And while the company has reduced the number of employees, he says, "In doing so, we have a smaller number who are getting enough hours a week to make a good living and enjoy their jobs. Overall, especially as compared with two years ago, we're in a great place. When the economy picks up again, we'll be in excellent condition."
He has plans for that too, and is especially excited about getting his company into the pickup and delivery service, a popular time-saving trend for busy customers--and something his main competitor is offering.
Winkle, who graduated from Boise State University with a double major in accounting and information technology, has been a franchisee for only five years. He came to it after the dot.com crash did away with his job.
"The free and easy atmosphere of the company I'd worked for influenced me to look for a career that would give me some freedom and allow me to direct my own life and work, day to day," he says. "My uncle was an owner of some local dry cleaners, and I'd observed his success and his lifestyle over the years, so I talked to him."
Though his uncle and the other owners in Boise weren't yet ready to sell their business, they pointed Winkle to two Yakima, Wash., Martinizing Dry Cleaning locations that were up for sale. He purchased them and endured the six-hour (one-way) drive between Boise and Yakima for a couple of years.
As Winkle became increasingly concerned about the lack of time for his family and his beloved Corvette club, his uncle and the other owners of the 10 Boise properties said were ready to retire. He bought the business, and began to make changes.
"Since the owners were so close to retirement, the company had pretty much been run on autopilot for the past five years," he says. The first thing he did was update the computer and point-of-sale systems. Next, he tackled the pickup and delivery service and moved toward a central processing plant--both of which were new to the business.
Though he'd always found the dry cleaning business interesting, Winkle was more than grateful for the regional manager who had worked for his uncle's company for 30 years. "One of the key reasons I went ahead was that he agreed to stay on. He's the key to the company and handles the dry cleaning issues. That's fine with me, because he knows a lot more about it than I do. I focus on the business side and expansion, but you wouldn't want me personally to dry clean your clothes," he says.
Winkle is looking forward to growing the two new cleaners he acquired in October and to moving ahead with his other new projects. "Things are great, and I think they'll be even better next year," he says.
Name: Dustin Winkle
Company: Winkle Group, Inc. dba Westco Martinizing Dry Cleaning
No. of units by brand: 10 Martinizing Dry Cleaning, 1 non-Martinizing
Family: Wife and daughter
Years in current position: 2
Years in franchising: 5
Key accomplishments: Expanding into the Eagle, Idaho, market in October 2009 with two new acquisitions.
Biggest mistake: Not evaluating insurance costs sooner. When I purchased this business, I just transferred the previous owners' policies forward. When the renewal time came up a year later, I shopped the policy and found I could save almost $20,000, while getting better coverage.
Smartest mistake: I'm lucky in that respect. I really haven't made any mistakes yet. I've only had this business for two years, but so far everything has turned out excellent.
How do you spend a day, typically? The morning drive to work is spent on the phone with the regional manager. We discuss any issues and our plans for the day. Mornings are spent in the office, and afternoons are spent in the stores.
Work week: I typically work Monday through Friday, 10 to 12 hours per day. I work on weekends only when we are doing some sort of special project.
Favorite fun activities: I am a pretty big gear-head, so most of my play time involves cars. My wife and I both have Corvettes and are pretty involved with the local Corvette club.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: I can't live without my BlackBerry.
What are you reading? Nothing
Favorite quote or advice? I always tell people who are starting out that they need to get a relationship built with a decision-maker at a local bank and that they need to get set up with a good attorney.
Best advice you ever got: Use other people's money whenever possible.
Formative influences/events: One of the key things that has influenced my work ethic is that I grew up on a farm, where you work until the work is done. It's not a situation where 5 o'clock rolls around and you get up and leave. A couple of people who work for me have the same mentality, and it's been interesting to see them rise in the organization.
How do you balance life and work? No matter how busy I am, I always make sure to spend time with my family.
Business philosophy: I focus on where my time is best spent to help the business. It doesn't matter if that's hauling out trash or meeting with an important client about a big sale.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? I am in the customer service business. We have to continually prove ourselves by turning out excellent quality for the same customer over and over. It is all about keeping the customer happy on a continual basis.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? I truly love what I do. Although my schedule is pretty much the same, the content is always changing. Each day brings new challenges.
What's your passion in business? To make my dry cleaners the most respected in town.
Management method or style: That style changes, depending on the people I'm dealing with. If I know someone will complete a task and follow it all the way through, I can delegate and stay pretty much hands-off. On the other hand, if it's someone who hasn't yet proven they can do that, I spend more time with them.
Greatest challenge: Getting longtime employees to buy into changes.
How close are you to operations? I'm involved on a daily basis.
Personality: I'm all business when at work and laid back when off work.
How do others describe you? Focused and driven.
How do you hire and fire? This is handled by each store manager.
How do you train and retain? Two key locations handle the training of all our employees.
How do you deal with problem employees? Swiftly. Problem employees are a disruption to the entire organization. It is key to keep a team that works well together.
Annual revenue: $2.3 million
2010 goals: $2.5 million
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Compare total customers and sales with previous years.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? I would like to expand my cleaners' pickup and delivery business to the largest in town.
How has the most recent economic cycle affected you, your employees, your customers? In this downturn, several small dry cleaners in the area went out of business, and recently we were able to purchase two of those. We are gaining market share and will be in an excellent position when the economy starts growing. We still see the same customers coming into our stores. They're just bringing in fewer garments to be cleaned.
Are you experiencing economic growth/recovery in your market? We are not experiencing any economic growth yet.
What have you changed or done differently that you plan to continue in the future? The downturn forced us to become more efficient to stay competitive. This has not only helped out financially, but the employees are happier since they had a hand in streamlining their jobs.
How do you forecast in today's economy? Dry cleaning is usually fairly recession-proof so it is tough to forecast during down times.
Where do you find capital for expansion? I always use other people's money. To date, I have used the same banker for all my expansion financing needs.
Is capital getting easier to access? No, with the trouble the banks have been facing, it has been more difficult and has been taking longer to get money.
Have you used private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? I always use local banks. I have found that it is easier to deal with local banks since they have the decision-making ability locally.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? I have only owned this business for two years, so I do not have an exit strategy in place.
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