Back in the early 1960s, Arthur Fogelsanger purchased Balfurd Cleaners, a drycleaning business that had been
a staple of State College, PA, since 1927. He came up with a couple of simple,
but effective ideas on how to give
the company a more memorable identity.
The first was to give the delivery vehicles a bright coat of orange paint in
order to attract attention.
“It’s not a good color on the color palette, but not too many people have orange
vans so they get noticed,”
noted Bob Fogelsanger, the third generation of the family to own the 91-year-old
business who now runs it with
his daughter, Monika
Another brilliant idea was
to utilize a marquee sign
outside that would
emphasize services and
specials for the first half of
the month and then have a
funny saying up for the
rest. Past favorites include
“Irony is the opposite of
wrinkly” and an annual
Thanksgiving one that
decrees “We’re thankful
that you wear clothes.”
The most popular one of all time found its way on the Internet a while back and
went viral: “Drop your pants
here and you will receive prompt attention.” The sign has become so popular that when the family didn’t put any
messages up for a few months, many customers complained.
“It makes people notice our store because they’re driving by and wondering, ‘What does it say?’” Bob
“It’s completely free for us,” Monika added. “It doesn’t cost a dime and makes such a big impact.”
An iconic restaurant and bar hotspot for students of Penn State University
called the Corner Room was where
Balfurd’s was originally located (in the basement no less). The business has always
handled work from the
college, including staff clothing and the band uniforms.
Unfortunately, Penn State’s famous football team has its own in-house laundry, but that didn’t stop Balfurd’s
from being a part of team lore.
“A big thing for us is blue-and-white, no names on the jerseys because it’s all about team,” Bob said, referring
to the longstanding Penn State football tradition. However, in 2012 first-year
coach Bill O’Brien decided to include
players’ names to honor those who remained following heavy sanctions levied by the
National Collegiate Athletic
“There was too short of time to get them to Nike, so one of our tailors sewed
every name on,” Monika said.
While the team since has returned to its tradition of nameless jerseys, Bob
recalls being nervous before that
“It’s so funny because I’m a big Penn State football fan and I was at a party and I said, ‘Geez. I hope none of
those names come off.’ And, everybody said, ‘That’s all you’re worried about?’ I said, ‘Yes. That’s what I’m
worried about!” he said, laughing.
Long ago, Bob remembers that his grandfather, Arthur, always wore a sports coat
and tie every day at the
plant. He was also a big advocate of customer service and marketing, the latter
being a big reason why he
became a Sanitone licensee early on.
In the 1960s, he had grown the business to include a handful of locations around
State College with the help of
his son, Scott. At one point, they needed six shirt units in large part because
of the influx of garments from Penn
State students. But that soon changed.
“To save money, the families of Penn State students bought their kids permanent
press shirts so they could
wash them themselves and they didn’t have to come to the cleaners anymore,” Bob recalled. “Immediately our
business got cut in half. We didn’t need all of the shirt units anymore.”
Making matters worse, Arthur and Bob had attended a trade show in Atlantic City
around that time and
witnessed something they believed would herald a dismal future.
“It was either Maytag or Speed Queen or someone that came out with an in-home
drycleaning machine. Every
home was going to have their own drycleaning machine (if you can believe that
now),” Bob explained. “So, my
dad and grandfather drove back all depressed because they thought, ‘Oh my god. This is going to put us out of
Fighting to prevent such a future, Balfurd’s soon began offering uniform and linen services. It was a smart
move and the family subsequently added healthcare to the mix to diversify as
much as possible.
They also became a CRDN franchise in 2004 helping the business continue to grow
even in years when retail
drycleaning remained mostly flat.
All of the divisions now require 160 employees altogether, many of which have
long been a part of the Balfurd
family, such as General Manager Linda Bowman who has been there for more than
three decades and Chris Igo, a
CRDN sales professional who has been in just about every position during her
The family-like atmosphere for employees probably stems from the fact that both
Bob and Monika have paid
their dues and worked many positions while growing up.
Bob began there full-time in 1980 during his sophomore year at college when his
grandfather, Arthur, passed
away suddenly. It was always the plan for him to come there eventually, but that
sped things up considerably.
Unobligated to follow in the family footsteps, Monika traversed her own path by
earning a B.S. in Psychology
from East Stroudsburg University where she was a forward on the women’s basketball team for four years. In
fact, she is still all over the school’s records books, including being ranked #3 all-time for career free throw
percentage (80%), #13 all-time for career blocks (45) and #13 all-time for
career rebounds (559).
Next, she earned her Master’s of Education from Lehigh University and enjoyed a career as a middle school
counselor and basketball coach before she and her husband, Dave, moved back to
State College and joined
Balfurd. He is the director of operations on the linen and healthcare service
division and she, well, has come full
“I used to strap on my roller skates and skate around the plant and climb up in
the rafters,” she recalled.
Nowadays, her fun often stems from being behind the front counter.
“I think the best part of the drycleaning industry is knowing your customers. I’m not out front as much as I
used to be, but I love walking out and I feel like I always run into somebody I
know,” she said. “I really enjoy
that rapport we’ve developed with our customers.”
Recycling hangers, coat drives, prom dress events and helping Penn State
students dress for interviews are just
a small sampling of ways that Balfurd’s helps its local community. As Monika sees it, it’s a smart use of the
“We would rather spend our money helping than say… ‘Here’s $500. Put an ad in the paper.’” she said. “We
donate to a lot of local charities, local foundations that we believe in and are
near and dear to our hearts and I
think people really notice that.”
Between orange vehicles, funny signs and charitable endeavors, it’s safe to say that Balfurd’s is well-known
throughout State College. Another way the company stands out to customers is in
its green initiatives. Using
GreenEarth and K4 has certainly sparked some interest.
“We live in a pretty liberal college town so people do care about that I think
probably more so than in a lot of
areas,” Monika explained. “We have people driving 45 minutes from a neighboring town saying, ‘I want to use
you because you use GreenEarth and I really appreciate that.’”
Drycleaning sales may not be what they used to, but annual price increases,
diversification and being willing to
adapt has gone a long way in keeping Balfurd’s relevant and successful. After all, you never know when the
bottom will fall out, like it did with permanent press.
Last year, a hazing incident at Penn State leading to 19-year-old Timothy Piazza’s tragic death caused the
school to revamp its rules. Balfurd’s was affected.
“I think our biggest customer segment at the university is Greek life, the
fraternities and sororities,” Monika
said. “They have a lot of formals, things like that.”
“Last year after the student died, they weren’t allowed to have any formals and it was amazing how it hurt our
business. Kids weren’t coming in and getting their gowns pressed and suits and things like that,” Bob added.
Inevitably, something always comes along to force the family to rethink their
business strategy. Throughout the
years, though, the scariest decisions have often lead to a positive impact.
“I think, as owners, we think we have to be perfect. My dad luckily was a very
open person to doing new
things. We did a lot of things wrong, you know,” Bob emphasized. “I think sometimes we think, ‘Oh my god. I
failed our business.’ But, we have tried a bunch of different things and not everything has been
successful but our
business is being successful because we’re hitting some home runs here and there.”
While Monika believes they have an excellent batch of employees, she often finds
herself frustrated by the
smaller strikeouts that take place on a daily basis. Human error is unavoidable — claims are inescapable — but
when mistakes happen she goes to the front counter to recharge her batteries.
“I recently waited on somebody the other day who said, ‘I knew your grandfather.’” she said. “They enjoy that,
too. They really feel like they know our family and they love that. It’s like bragging rights.”