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Drycleaning 2.0
He was named one of “40 under 40” by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal in 2012. He was called a
“Business Rockstar” on the Radio America show hosted by broadcasting great Pat O’Brien. He was also the man
who started
Mulberrys Cleaners back in 2008.
Before all that, however, Dan Miller was just a man running late for an important meeting with a big
corporation unaware there was a garter belt hanging out of his suit pocket.
“I went to a wedding and at this particular wedding the bride threw the garter out into the crowd,” he
explained. “I caught the
garter and put it in my
pocket. Then I got my suit
drycleaned and got it back. I
went to a meeting and was
running late and as I walked
into the meeting I saw
something hanging out of
my pocket out of the corner
of my eye. Of course, right
as I walked into the room I
realized what it was.”
Dan was working as senior
associate for McKinsey &
Company at the time where
he partnered with many
Fortune 500 companies as a consultant. Every time he visited the drycleaners to clean his suits, he inevitably was
disappointed by the service.
“A lot of it was the standard issues that customers state, whether it was lost or broken buttons or a torn hole in
the shirt, clothes coming back smelling funny of chemicals, the lack of technology, the fact that a lot of cleaners
didn’t even have a website. You didn’t know when your order was ready. You didn’t know what the price was —
those kinds of things,” he recalled.
“What was so striking to me was the juxtaposition between what you would think of as a best practice in a
company like Target, Starbucks or Amazon and what was happening at my local drycleaner,” he continued. “That
really is when it hit me. Wait a minute… if I just take all of the stuff I’ve learned and all the things that I’ve talked
to clients about and bring it to drycleaning and laundry, then I could probably have an edge at least on some of
my competition.”
Taking time off from McKinsey & Company, Dan embarked on a road trip across the country and talked to
drycleaners every step of the way.
“Really what I learned is that it’s a very fragmented industry,” he said. “The quality and service is highly
variable.”
The fact-finding mission gave him confidence to proceed with a plan to start a new drycleaning business in his
home state of Minnesota. However, he was aware that many from outside the industry come into it feeling like
they can revolutionize it and ultimately fail in their endeavor. He was determined to do things differently.
“I came across the name Mulberrys. It was funny, I wanted something that, in the back of your head, reminded
you of something natural and something almost like a British tailor shop. There’s a famous street called Mulberry
Street in London,” he said. “So, I looked up ‘mulberrys’ and it turns out that one of the harder stains to remove is
a mulberry stain. I thought, ‘This is perfect.’”
As far as backgrounds go, Dan certainly had the right pedigree. He earned degrees in Political Science and
Economics at College of the Holy Cross and went on to earn a Master’s in Economics from the University of
Minnesota.
Before he consulted with Fortune 500 companies, his ambitions were in a much a different and more frustrating
sphere: politics.
“I interned at the White House and the U.S. Senate,” he recalled. “I got my Master’s in Public Policy and even
ran for city council when I was about 25. In doing that, I realized I didn’t particularly like politics.”
In January of 2009, Dan opened the business as a single store and a home delivery route. Mulberrys was built
on four foundations from the beginning.
“Number one, we wanted to create a world-class customer experience so at every touchpoint we tried to do
something different,” he noted. “We tried to create beautiful boutique stores where we sell detergent and offer
free Dan prepared meticulously to that end, earning all three DLI certifications in drycleaning, wetcleaning and
environmental, which leads into the second pillar of Mulberrys’ foundation.
“The second piece was the environmental aspect,” he said.
The company initially used Solvair and transitioned to Solvon K4 over time. Additionally, recyclable packaging
was used, as well as more stringent measures.
“As far as I know, we are the only carbon-neutral cleaner in the country,” he noted. “What that means is all of
our facilities are powered by solar or wind and we measure our carbon impact, like through our vans and things
like that, and we fund renewable energy projects that basically compensate for that.”
The third foundational block for the business was the paramount one in Dan’s mind.
‘We always wanted to use technology to make our processes as convenient as possible so we started out by
having a website where you can schedule your pickup and so on and so forth,” he emphasized. “We built on that
over the years. Now we have a mobile app where you can literally order a pickup in 15 minutes, like ordering a
pizza, and you can track your order the whole way through.”
The last main component of Mulberrys was to modernize its business practices. With each step of the
drycleaning process tracked through technology, there was a transparency to the public that gave customers
more
From year one, Mulberrys has quickly sprouted new locations. In just eleven years, the company has expanded
to include 23 stores — seven in Minnesota, 16 in California — as well as a delivery route in Dallas, TX.
Though Dan had tried to prepare himself for being a drycleaning plant owner as much as possible, there have
been a lot of lessons learned along the way.
“One of the jokes I make is that almost everything I had that was a consulting idea has failed,” he laughed.
“It’s definitely a unique beast, but I think that the amazing thing about drycleaning and laundry (that nobody
gets) is that at scale drycleaning and laundry is as hard of an operational problem that you’ll ever see.
“The joke I make is that what we do is the exact same thing FedEx does if FedEx had to take their packages,
open them up, blend everything in the packages all together, fix what was in them and then repackage them and
put them back in boxes and get them back to the same place and call it a day… all for $3.”
No matter how insanely difficult the logistical processes of the industry are, Dan has always believed one aspect
that could make or break success would be the right employees.
“This is such a labor intensive industry, right?” he began. “What we’ve done very intentionally and very
thoughtfully is really invest in our people in the sense that we share data all the way down. We literally share
revenue and profitability data with our whole company. We train people on not just how to clean things, but how
the business works.”
With such knowledge of the inner workings of the company, employees understand the reasoning behind
specific business practices and are more likely to adhere to them.
“My dad had this great expression I loved — I don’t know if it’s an original — ‘Nobody wants to be bad at their
job.’” he noted. “In reality, if somebody is bad at their job, it’s probably because they don’t know what they’re
supposed to be doing, or they haven’t been trained. They haven’t been held accountable. If you make it crystal
clear how to succeed, most people try to succeed.”
Employee retention is one of the company’s greatest strengths and to Dan there is no big mystery on how to
keep it consistent.
“We provide 401k, healthcare, competitive wages and we even have Berry stock, which is stock in the
company,” he explained. “Because we make that investment, which of course is a lot of money up front, in the
long run that gives us a stable platform to grow and build on because you’ve got people who really know what
they’re doing.”
The platform must be very stable since Mulberrys recently acquired more than 350 Laundry Locker locations to
further solidify its delivery network in the San Francisco Bay area.
“It’s been a phenomenally smooth transition. I think everybody is really happy and excited about it,” he said.
“Normally when you do an acquisition there’s all these terrible things behind the hood, but it really hasn’t been
that way. It’s been terrific.”
Dan believes the move will only better position the company for the future; he believes the industry will
undergo a Drycleaning 2.0 upgrade.
“It may take two decades, but over time you are going to see this gradual evolution towards on-demand
delivery of everything,” he said. “It’s going to be the Amazon effect.”
For now, however, Mulberrys is seeing steady growth in both counter and routes sales.
“The key to that is shifting with your target audience,” he said. “The mobile app, for example — we’re seeing
huge growth in the on-demand platform because that’s what younger people want. I want it now. I want it
delivered to me.”
“People kind of bad mouth the drycleaning industry, that it’s dying or whatever,” he added, “but I don’t agree
with that. It’s not dying. It’s shifting. It’s going to feel like dying if you’re not shifting with it.”

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