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Laundry Management and Learning to Delegate (Part 1)

Less day-to-day equals more business-building

CHICAGO — In a small-business setting like a laundry, where there can be many tasks but only limited manpower to complete them, the owner who learns to delegate certain tasks to others can ease his or her daily burden and create opportunities to further build the business and plan for the long term.

It brings to mind a familiar phrase: work on the business, not in the business.

“My employees are better than I am at the basic job,” says James (Clark) Sowers, who owns four Laundromats and two dry cleaners in and around Rapid City, South Dakota. “But it is important for me to do what I am supposed to do: build business.”

Adding son Randy Sowers as chief operations officer freed him to do just that.

“When Randy came on board, I could trust him completely,” he says. “I knew he would be with me through thick and thin.”

Sowers gave his son the freedom to implement a greater management plan: “He has had more experience working for others than I have and has a better perspective on managing, and is very skilled on many things I am not. Allowing him to train and educate managers helps us to free ourselves of day-to-day tasks.”

Sowers admits feeling like he’s “lost touch with the ‘pulse’ of the company” and that he can’t answer every question in the business. “But I believe the freedom to be a mentor, teacher and guide is greater for me.”

He continues to handle one area himself: hiring and firing. He considers input from his son and store managers before acting but no one is hired or fired without his OK.

Dave Menz owns and operates a chain of four retail Laundromats plus a laundry pickup and delivery service in Cincinnati, Ohio. He’s been in the industry since 2009 and intimately involved in his business operations since day one. Today, he employs roughly 50 people.

“All the things that all of our positions in our entire store do, I have either done myself or … I’ve created the positions as we’ve grown as a company,” he says. “I’ve been the one documenting things, making checklists, making cheat sheets—those are all things I did. A lot of times, (my attendants) think I’m disconnected from the business because I’m not working in the store 40 hours a week but they don’t realize that the entire foundation, it’s all come from me.”

Even in the beginning when Menz maintained a full-time job while managing his one store, it was always his intention to build a team through training and appropriate compensation: “My thing was, I didn’t want to own a job, I wanted to own a business.”

His general manager, Marlene Adams, oversees the stores and delivery service. She’s worked for Menz for eight years.

“When I brought her on, she was a very high-character person, very hard-working person. Anything else beyond that, compared to what she is today as a GM, I’ve taught her. But she’s the type of person that will take it out of your hand and say, ‘Don’t show me, let me do it while you’re standing here.’”

On a big-picture scale, Menz says he’ll always be involved in overseeing his “baby.”

“That being said, there isn’t any individual task in our company that I don’t have other people that have been built up to the point where they can do (it), and that includes payroll, collecting at the stores … making bank deposits.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!