Fashion Cleaners, marking 60 years, in Fort Lauderdale, and La Mar 1 Hour Dry Cleaners, celebrating 50 years in Miramar, are family-owned businesses and micro-economies of the demographics they serve.
Covey Cantville, of Fashion Cleaners, and Jim Falkowski, of La Mar, say they owe their success to the communities that support them and to loyal employees.
Though Fashion Cleaners, founded by Cantville’s father-in-law, Tom Harber, has been long established, Cantville looks for creative solutions to keep business running as usual. From seven locations at its peak, Cantville scaled back lesser-performing units over the years to its two current stores, one on West Broward Boulevard and another serving southeast Fort Lauderdale on South Federal Highway.
Diversified clientele: hotels, yacht crews, utility workers and performing artists help deflect the effects of wash and wear fashion trends and economic peaks and valleys, Cantville said.
“Having no debt such as a mortgage on the buildings keeps us flexible,” he said. He keeps overhead costs lower with the use of gas-efficient vehicles for pickup and drop-off services, while outsourcing some services like leather and suede cleaning, gown preservation and reweaving.
The company recycles plastics, cardboard and hangers to reduce trash costs.
“You have to constantly look for efficiencies,” Cantville said.
Fashion Cleaners is thanking the community for the past 60 years with a food drive to benefit LifeNet 4Families, a Fort Lauderdale feeding program. It’s the beginning of a new tradition, Cantville said. Going forward, the company will mark each year with a food drive to support local charities and residents.
Both Cantville and Falkowski say their businesses are built on referrals and reputation passed down from one generation to another: owner to owner, customer to customer.
Not only is providing an excellent pressed shirt necessary to keep consumers satisfied, but experience and a more than casual interest in fabrics is essential, Falkowski said.
“My dad was my teacher,” he said. “He taught me all he knew about fabric. There’s a lot more to this business than just putting the key in the door.”
Falkowski cut his teeth on the dry cleaning business his father, William Falkowski, founded in 1962. Customers knew Jim Falkowski as a boy and later as a teenager working at La Mar’s for the summer.
The establishment serves a mostly residential clientele in Miramar, West Park, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood with a niche in the cleaning and restoration of smoke-damaged clothing and fabrics.
“We took a big hit in ’07 and ’08 like everyone else,” Falkowski said. “From waiters and lawn crew to the car salesman and nail salon person, everyone was hurting.”
Like Cantville, Falkowski avoided layoffs and instead cut back hours. When an employee left, the position wasn’t filled.
Attending trade shows and staying educated about the latest in natural materials, synthetic fibers and fabric blends keeps Falkowski current with trends.
Falkowski remodeled the storefront lobby and upgraded equipment that runs more efficiently. He invested in software that e-mails customers when their clothing is ready, and he’s in the process of revamping the website.
“This is a high-volume, high-labor business,” Falkowski said. “You can’t disappoint the customer.”