Much has been said about the fact that the drycleaning industry has no national brand. However, Wayne Wudyka believes he can change all of that.
With the purchase of 1-800-DRYCLEAN last July, sales of the franchise were stalled and an identity marketing team was hired to complete a brand study and competitive analysis. The idea was to create a successful formula for fabricare franchising. The result was bizzie, a three-pronged approach that emphasizes customer convenience, including a home delivery and pickup service, in-home cleaning services for draperies and light upholstery and a locker-based delivery solution that utilizes Smartphone technology and gives cleaners the opportunity to expand market penetration into apartment and condominium properties and other areas that were previously inaccessible.
Wayne figures it will take about a year or so to transition all 107 existing locations of 1-800-DRYCLEAN stores to the new bizzie brand. He also feels very confident that the key to success for national branding in the industry is to start with existing cleaners and work from the inside out.
“We’re relentlessly positive. To a person in our office, in our system, the enthusiasm is just there because we’re excited by what we’re doing,” he said. “This is a business to business drycleaning model and we’re only going to sell to people who are in the business and understand it.”
If Wayne does not understand the nature of business by now, he never will. After all, he’s spent his entire life learning about it. He grew up around his father’s hardware and lumber center in Detroit and always paid attention to what operational strategies worked well and which didn’t.
“As a kid, I remember when my dad went broke and knew what that felt like,” he recalled. “And, he bounced back. I looked at my dad as a very charismatic guy. He just had a strong resilience and he was a risk-taker. One thing, as a kid growing up, we were never told we couldn’t do something.”
As a result, Wayne aimed high. While he attended Michigan State University, he started a restaurant named Coney Island that he operated for two years before he sold it. He tried his hand at politics, too.
“I also ran for the State House of Representatives my senior year against a 14-year incumbent,” he explained. “I won the Republican primary and lost the general election by about 6 percent.”
The election exposure connected him with many people in the local community and helped lead to employment in real estate development where, at one point, trying to collect rent became so frustrating that he even stepped in to take over a transmission repair company in dire straits.
“My job was to basically turn the company around and sell it,” he said. “That’s exactly what I did.”
Working hard for other people’s businesses and brokering deals that often fell through, Wayne decided it was time to be in business for himself. He partnered with Jeff Snyder and bought Huntington Cleaners in 1992.
His initial goal was to bring up the $265,000 a year in walk-and-trade sales to a million. First, though, he had to learn the business.
“I didn’t even know what they did in a plant,” he laughed. “We got educated under fire and, when I started — on the second day — the drycleaner quit. I had to figure out how to run a 70-lb. transfer Vic machine.”
Wayne realized early he needed to be bringing business into the plant, not working in the back of it. Fortunately, his first golden opportunity literally showed up at the front counter.
“A homeowner walked in who had a fire in her house and she was just distraught: ‘All my clothes are smoky and my adjuster said I could use my own cleaner to clean all of my clothes if you do that kind of work’,” he recalled.
From that point on, Huntington Cleaners became a textile restoration expert. That first invoice brought in $6,000, which was a big step up from the $5,000 weekly volume that came from hundreds of customers.
“The business model was hiding in plain sight. It had just never been really organized and we went in and created a structure with it,” Wayne noted. “You know, our biggest competitor when we started was the dumpster. The adjusters did not know there was a solution.”
Over time, Wayne educated the insurance industry and his customers on restoration service and eventually decided to franchise it with the creation of the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network.
It was launched at the Clean Show in New Orleans in 2001.
“In the first year, we opened 34 locations,” he said. “In the second year, we opened 50. In the third year we opened 44. In the second year, we also opened up in the UK and Canada. Today, we probably have 150-some locations, close to 160 franchises. The systemwide revenues have been up over $100 million for the last couple of years, annually.”
These days, CRDN covers more than 94 percent of the U.S. and Canada, and has made the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies list for five straight years. More prominently, the group has made positive publicity splashes for the drycleaning industry with its efforts on the television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
“We did 200 plus episodes with them,” Wayne said. “We were their official cleaner and we went to 200 home sites and cleaned the clothes for 200 families. It was a big effort for us.”
It’s also very rewarding work. When a family suffers a disaster in their home, restoring familiar clothes or stuffed animals can go a long way to calming them down so they can believe things will be OK.
“I don’t know of any other part in the drycleaning industry where you can touch someone and help somebody so much as we do at CRDN,” Wayne added. “We help people at one of the most stressful times in their lives.”
In 2009, even as Huntington continued to expand, Wayne bought a high-end plant in Birmingham known as Wesch Cleaners. While there has been no silver bullet so far to guarantee success in the industry, Wayne believes diversifying is essential.
“Our business today is retail, routes and restoration and they play well together,” he said.
It’s a matter of simple math, really. The more services you provide for a customer, the more loyal they will feel toward you if you do an excellent job.
“We represent about 23 percent of what’s in a home,” he said. “If you took a home, turned it upside down and shook it, we’d pick up about a quarter of what’s on the ground.”
Wayne is always looking for ways to get that number higher. Really, he never stops looking for things to learn.
“One of the advantages I’ve had over the years is I’ve gone in and out of a thousands plants,” he said. “I always pick up great ideas.”
For example, when he first saw Laundry Locker in San Francisco, he knew it was something that could really catch fire in the industry.
“I’ve just been able to identify a couple of opportunities that I thought could be developed,” he said.
With bizzie, Wayne is quite confident that it will be the largest retail brand in America in 18 months.
“Our philosophy has always been to brand the industry from the inside out, not the outside in, which is different than what you’ve seen with the big companies that come in and try to create more capacity and build plants and try to steal market share from good operators. Every time that’s happened, the local operators just get better.”
With bizzie, he’s hoping to offer good cleaners a “business in a box” that will help them diversify and corner niche markets.
Adding draperies and light upholstery and delivery routes are both crucial aspects of the bizzie philosophy, but Wayne sees the third element — the laundry lockers — as essential to creating more route density.
“We put these lockers right into the building,” he said. “Every property manager wants these amenities for their homeowners.”
The delivery service is advertised and promoted in the building. Tenants sign up for an account and put their dirty clothes in an empty locker and set a four-digit code. Route drivers pick the clothes up and, after the cleaning process, return them to a locker in the customer’s building.
From the consumer’s perspective, everything is handled through their phone or email, including confirming pictures of their garments and special instruction requests.
The technology is impressive, but the drive behind remains simple.
“We’ve pieced together the best pieces of the industry that we think can be scaled. We didn’t invent any of them,” Wayne said. “There’s always someone willing to do it cheaper. There’s always someone who can do it better. The key is you’ve got to continually invent yourself and look for niche opportunities and develop those within your business. Otherwise, you’re competing on price. You’re really not in control of your destiny.”