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Wisconsin Companies Get Clean Quality at Clothes Clinic

Jim Butz never intended on working in the family business. Even though Clothes Clinic Inc. was started by his father and uncle in 1961 and employed family and a host of cousins and in-laws as well, he didnt see much room for personal opportunity.

Based on encouragement from my family, I continued my education, got a business degree and wanted to do something entirely different, recalls Butz.

But the situation began to look different while he was halfway through getting that degree. In 1981 his uncle retired, and the company was broken up into different parts. Butzs parents took over Clothes Clinic Inc., which was a single location in downtown West Bend, Wis.

When it all changed, my interest got higher because of the opportunity to work with my father, says Butz. With all my cousins and my cousins husbands involved, there were a lot of decision makers. But in 1981, when they split the business up, my father took over the main central dry cleaning plant with a small laundry in it, and my cousins took over all the other locations.

In 1983, after Butz finished college, he went to work with his parents. In 1985, he went to the International Fabricare Institute for a month-long program on dry cleaning to hone his skills. But halfway through his months stay, the building that housed Clothes Clinic Inc. was destroyed by fire.

I came home immediately to help figure out what we were going to do. It wasnt until 1986 that I got to go back and finish those last two weeks of training, he says.

Over the next two years, Butz and his parents rebuilt the company, doubling the size of the building. They also enlarged the commercial laundry side of the business. At that time, they also built a second dry-cleaning plant.

But in 1987, fate again took a hand in changing Clothes Clinics future. This time, the state came along, told us they were widening the highway and that they had to tear our building down. We had just finished putting it up, says Butz. When the state came through, we ended up cutting the building in half. They widened the highway, but we left the dry-cleaning division in downtown West Bend. Thats when I started focusing heavily on the uniform business.

Clothes Clinic bought another building in an industrial park, and the commercial laundry went from 4,800 square feet to 25,000 square feet. This move gave it the room to maneuver literally for specializing in textile leasing and laundry. It branched out and established another company, called Clothes Clinic Linen and Uniform Rental, which currently has 50 employees and services southeastern Wisconsin. Since 1987, no more unexpected events have occurred, and its been all smooth sailing and steady growth. Butzs father has since retired, but his mother is still active in the business.

Despite all those ups and downs, weve grown our company every year weve been in business, and weve never had a salesperson, says Butz.

All key employees have the authority to make decisions pricing, agreements, delivery, whatever it takes, according to Butz. I dont believe in fancy titles or elaborate staff structures. We have an open office, and we all have the same goal. Im not the only decision-maker.

Clothes Clinic services a broad variety of industries including convenience stores, auto repair garages and service stations, but the restaurant and club business accounts for the largest part of the textile leasing division, particularly family-owned, high-end restaurants and private clubs.

When somebody rents a uniform, theyre looking to hire a service to provide a complete image for their facility tablecloths, napkins, shirts. In a high-end restaurant, well outfit employees in everything except their socks the shirt, the office coat, the specialty apron, the black pressed pants. Our clients want to project a professional image, not just give employees a company shirt with a logo on it, Butz says.

He likes the fact that he can maintain a very high level of quality for his customers throughout all stages of his service to them. When youre in the textile leasing business, you truthfully have 100 percent control of your own destiny. I decide what shirt to buy. I decide how to process it. I decide how to finish it, he says.

We use our dry cleaning expertise and skills to process the uniforms better than other people. We understand finishing, fabrics and fibers better than other people do. Thats what our commercial laundry is all about, he adds.

A lot of laundries figure out a way to wash an item, dry it, hang it and get it out as cheaply as they can, according to Butz. But our intent is different from the average cleaners. Were all about quality; were interested in providing the best finished product.

As a result, everybody benefits. Butz says he buys the best product to begin with, and then he is in control of treating it the way thats best for the fabric. Use the right chemicals to clean it, he says, and it can extend the useful life of the product dramatically. The company recovers the higher upfront cost because the lifespan is extended, and the customer is happy knowing it will receive the exact uniform or tablecloth it has come to expect.

Customer agreements with Clothes Clinic typically last from three to five years. But Butz doesnt base his business success on contracts; he bases it on relationships. The company has more than 600 customers, and all of them came to Clothes Clinic through referral. We want to say we have 100 percent customer retention, but theres no such thing. People pass away, businesses close. But really, our customers are customers for life, he says.

The foundation for customer relationships is the companys route sales reps, who call on their customers every week and keep the line of communication open. But earlier this year, Butz realized that his customers busy schedules meant he needed another way to accommodate them, and an e-commerce website was the perfect solution.

In January 2007, I decided we needed to be more responsive to our existing customers request to purchase garments. The only way to do it with my existing staff and systems was to try to give good information and sell the items they needed via the web. Sometimes, if you cant respond immediately, you lose the sale, he says.

In March, at the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Show, the new website was launched. Clothes Clinic chose to go to e-commerce not to sell to the world, but to be more responsive to existing customers. People can do business with us on their schedule, and its the ease of doing business with us that really determines our success. Everybodys busy. Servicing our customers by making direct sales available the fact they can do it seven days a week, 24 hours a day, on their schedule has really opened up a lot of opportunity for us. Even the ability for customers to browse and research the products we have available without going to other websites has proven valuable Butz says.

At first, the task was daunting, and he believed he couldnt afford to put up a site like that. After signing up to use the UniformMarket Store System, Butz says, I found out I was wrong. I had a website up and running within six weeks. Its been incredibly successful. Its paid for itself already.

Doing business via the website will never replace doing business in person, he says. I still need to come see you, meet you, greet you, show you samples and tell you pros and cons of options for your particular business. We help you make the best buying decision, whether its purchase or rental. And then we feel that the follow-up should be as easy as possible. You can go and order a few more shirts online on your schedule.

Having no minimum orders is a big advantage for customers too. Say you hire two new waitresses, and theyre extra small. Most companies say you have to buy 12 at this price, 25 at this price, 144 at this price. Not us, says Butz. We have a simplified, single-pricing structure with no minimum quantities and no freight charges.

The company is very involved in the community through many different service organizations and churches in West Bend. A week doesnt go by without assisting a charitable organization or putting on a function or fundraiser.

Im personally in Rotary. We just had a three-day seafood fest. We supplied everything they needed: towels, aprons, you name it. We love being involved with the community.

Butz sees continued growth for the company, especially since it expanded its ability to create and sustain relationships via the e-commerce site. Our success is based entirely on relationships. Getting back to customers [and] keeping an open line of communication will always be very important in our business. And the ease with which they can do business with us is the key to that.

The other part of the success equation is continuing standards for quality service. We dont take any of our customers for granted. We dont say, Oh, theyve been a customer for 20 years. Its okay to make a mistake. Its not okay, says Butz. We keep reminding ourselves were only as good as our last delivery.

Clothes Clinic Inc.
1526 Lang St.
West Bend, WI 53090
(262) 338-5225

We dont take any of our customers for granted. We dont say, Oh, theyve been a customer for 20 years. Its okay to make a mistake. Its not okay. We keep reminding ourselves were only as good as our last delivery.

Jim Butz
Clothes Clinic Inc.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2007 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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