As owners of Zachary Cleaners and Central Cleaners & Tuxedo Rentals, James Owens and his wife Colleen live by the notion of “doing what you love and loving what you do.”
That love extends beyond starching shirts and pressing pants. It’s part of the lifelong love of a business for which James has been involved for 58 of his 75 years.
“I love it,” Owens said. “I used to walk down to a dry cleaner when I was a kid and watch them work. When I got older, I went to work for a while with the owner, who taught me everything about the business, ranging from the pressing of clothes to doing the deliveries.”
He took ownership of his first store in 1966 and he hasn’t looked back. The most important lesson he learned, however, did not involve the intricacies of pressing clothes and linens. Instead, it was about appreciation of customers. For Owens, the biggest reward for his work comes in the form of courting repeat customers.
“I’ve never thought about making money in my life,” Owens said. “All I’ve thought about was work and pleasing customers. The only way you can run a successful business is to have repeats. You can’t look back at things – just forward – and that’s always been my theory.”
He has achieved repeat business through hard work and attention to detail on clothing, including formal wear. In addition to clothing, he cleans, presses and restores tablecloths. He also offers tuxedo rentals at the Central Cleaners, something that gives him an edge over other formal wear dealers.
“It goes really well with our business because aside from the rental, we can do alterations or preserve a tuxedo or even remove a stain from the tuxedo if it comes in that way,” Owens said.
“We try to get all the spots out – everything,” he said. “We try to go the extra mile on that.”
Owens even cleans and presses – free of charge – American flags delivered to local funeral homes before they drape them on caskets.
He often takes the extra step of helping customers with late orders to get them the next day, whenever available.
The ups and downs of the economy pose the biggest challenge for the dry cleaning business. Thus far, Owens has weathered the storms when people might cut back on their dry cleaning.
“I’ll admit that this is a luxury business, for the most part, but I’m not ashamed to say people will sometimes bring their entire wardrobe here,” he said. “We’ve been lucky because our customers have been very good to us, and we set out to do the same thing for them.”
Source: This article was published in The Business Journal for the February Business Spotlight! Business Spotlight