Lapels Dry Cleaning
Lapels takes an environmentally friendly approach with its dry cleaning services.
By Alan Dorich
Some dry cleaners say that they are “organic,” but Lapels Dry Cleaning sets itself apart by using the world’s only 100 percent non-toxic cleaning solution. Made from liquid silicone, “It’s found in shampoos, deodorant and lotions,” Vice President of Franchise Development Michael Eisner says.
Not only does the solvent allow Lapels to operate a 100 percent, non-hazardous cleaning process, but it also is easier on garments. “It’s also much healthier to wear garments that have been cleaned in this solvent,” Eisner adds.
Based in Hanover, Mass., Lapels has 85 locations in 15 states that offer its environmentally friendly dry cleaning services. The company started operations in 1999 when its founders, who had franchising experience in Massachusetts, got the idea to bring a higher-end experience to the dry cleaning business.
Over the years, President and CEO Kevin Dubois says, Lapels added the green aspects to its business, including plants that serve satellite stores in the surrounding towns. “We do that with same-day service,” he adds.
That approach has paid off for the company, which now has 50 more stores under development, including locations overseas. “We’re building right now in Qatar,” Dubois reports, adding that Lapels is in negotiations for locations in Switzerland and China.
The Perfect Model
Dubois and Eisner are longtime veterans of Lapels. Dubois joined the company 11 years ago, but Eisner started with it in 2001 as its first franchisee. “I’ve played a role with the corporate office since that time,” he recalls.
Both credit the company’s success to multiple elements, including its business model. “It is something that is not a fad, and it has withstood the ups and downs of the economic cycle,” Dubois says. “We filled a void in the market that the consumer was really looking for.”
Lapels also offered an environmentally friendly approach “before it was as hip and cool as it is today,” he continues. “The founders of this company wanted to do a process of dry cleaning in a more environmentally friendly way because they thought it was more responsible.”
Lapels serves a customer base that varies by geography, Dubois says. For example, in the city of Boston, “There are more millennials that we’re dealing with,” he says.
“In another market like northern Louisiana, that customer is a little bit different,” he continues. “That’s a 35- to 50-year-old professional.”
Lapels caters to these clients through its marketing efforts, “where we can see where customers are coming from and market to them specifically,” he says. “We’re doing lots of things through social media and digital marketing to attract new customers.”
The company also strives to be flexible with its customers, which is shown through its technology initiatives. Lapels recently introduced an app that allows its clients to sign up for pick-up and delivery services for their garments.
Thanks to the app, customers can notify stores that they are on their way to the location, and Lapels’ employees will service them like a drive-in carhop. Its customers also can log into their accounts and change their preferences, including the level of starch used in their garments.
“Pick up and delivery has become a big part of our business today,” Eisner adds. “You find more households have both family members in the workforce, so convenience becomes a major topic.”
Teaching New Tricks
Lapels recruits franchisees with a diverse range of experience. “They’ve come from a multitude of backgrounds, ranging from financial services to engineers,” Eisner says, noting that the company typically avoids recruiting those with previous dry cleaning experience.
“It’s very hard for us to teach an old dog new tricks,” he explains. “We find that if we bring in new people to this industry, we’re able to teach them the Lapels way.”
But Lapels also looks for those who have been in charge of large operations. Thanks to this experience, “They’re able to manage their overall business, focus on marketing, customer relations and hiring people on each side of the business: the back of the house and the front of the house to best service our customers,” Eisner says.
The company also makes sure to provide its franchisees with proper support, Dubois adds. “We pride ourselves on taking turnkey to the extreme,” he states. “When somebody buys a franchise with us, we help in terms of real estate selection, lending, architecting, building permits, construction oversights, training, grand opening, marketing and the ongoing consulting of the business moving forward.”
Lapels saw a 22 percent increase in store sales in 2016 and plans for more growth, Dubois says. “We intend to build 20 new stores this year,” he says, noting that the company has a strong business model for franchisees.
“It’s not a fad and the future looks very bright for the industry, with more and more garments being dry clean only,” he says, noting that the company plans to build its brand with good partners. “There is no reason we can’t build the brand to 500 stores in the next five years.”
He predicts that Lapels will construct more stores overseas. “The demand and inquiries from partners outside of the United States has been getting stronger throughout the year,” he says.
Eisner agrees, adding that the company also has a new development model that will help it achieve its five-year goal. “Our development model is available only in certain markets around the country where we currently do not have a tremendous amount of penetration,” he says. “This type of model has been very successful with several large brands as we will be very selective in our process with candidates before we award a territory.”
Also,“We are looking into strategic partnerships that can help us get to that number as well,” he adds.