Photo by Roy L. Williams.
John Mattioli operates Dry Clean City on U.S. 31 in Vestavia Hills and 5 Star Cleaners just off Valleydale Road in Hoover.
When John Mattioli learned of Belk’s Parisian takeover and his subsequent layoff in August 2006, he decided to move forward in a totally new career field: discount dry cleaning services.
Partnering with his wife, Holly, Mattioli bought Dry Clean City of Vestavia Hills in May 2007 from out-of-state owners.
Within the first three months of their ownership, the couple reorganized all of the systems and developed an efficient dry cleaning process with an emphasis on a Parisian-like customer service strategy. In November 2012, they opened a second business —5 Star Cleaners in the Valleydale Village Shopping Center in Hoover. The Mattiolis also operate a corporate dry cleaning pickup and delivery service called 5stardryclean.com.
In a Five Questions interview, Mattioli talked of how he says their discount dry cleaning service benefits individual and business customers and shared insight of what the dry cleaning process is like.
Tell me why you decided to get into the dry cleaning business.
When Saks announced they had struck a deal with Belk in August 2006 to sell them the Parisian division, my initial reaction was to start looking for work with another retail company. After the initial shock started to subside a few weeks later, my wife and I decided that this was our opportunity to do something we had dreamed about—own our own business.
My initial step was to start looking for a franchise opportunity, since my perception was that this was safer than starting your own business from scratch. I looked at various franchises but could not find an opportunity I felt comfortable with. After ruling out franchises, I met with the various business brokers in town and reviewed businesses that were for sale.
In December 2006 I saw a newspaper ad for a dry cleaning business for sale in Vestavia Hills. I called and spoke to the owner and after a month of doing due diligence and making an offer, we were able to acquire the business and close the sale in May 2007.
What are some of the differences between running a small business and working for a large corporation?
As a small business owner, you are responsible for everything. You don’t have a boss setting your agenda and giving you direction and feedback. You have to be focused on the big picture and what it takes to run a profitable business or you will not succeed.
You don’t have support departments such as human resources, information technology, marketing, accounting, etc. As owners, my wife and I have to wear those hats. Sometimes we have to outsource projects or repairs we can’t do ourselves.
Being business owners, we get paid after all of our employees and suppliers get paid. We can’t just wander around hoping for business, we have to create it. We decide how good our customer service is. We decide how good our quality is. We decide how we will get customers. We decide everything. Our business doesn’t just happen, we make it happen. That’s pressure, but we love it because we have total control.
What sets 5 Star Cleaners and Dry Clean City apart from your competitors?
Our strategy of everyday value pricing drives our model because we will dry clean and finish three times as many garments as any typical full price dry cleaners will. The higher the volume of the garments we process is the lower our cost is to process each garment. The key for us is to keep costs down so we can pass the savings on to our customers in the form of everyday low pricing.
What exactly is dry cleaning?
Even though the name dry cleaning implies “dry,” dry cleaning is actually “wet.” The reason it’s called dry cleaning is the process is done with dry solvent as opposed to water. All dry cleaners have similar cleaning machines and the process is the same regardless of who the dry cleaner may be.
The only significant difference is that there are different types of dry cleaning solvents being used in the industry. The solvent we use is called Hydrocarbon and it is environmentally friendly. This solvent is so safe that it is not even regulated by the EPA.
How often should I dry clean or launder my clothes?
I would recommend laying your clothes out and letting them air out when you change them. Once they are dry, hang them up and brush any wool blend or wool garments with a horse hair clothing brush to remove any dust or dirt on the surface and restore the nap to the fabric. If you do this you should be able to wear them two or three times before you have them dry cleaned.
Dirt acts as an abrasive, much like sandpaper, that can cause your clothes to wear out prematurely. Also, perspiration, antiperspirants and cosmetics can cause the dye in your clothes to discolor or dry rot, so the more often you have your clothes dry cleaned or laundered the better. Always have your clothes cleaned at the end of each season to remove any stains or body oils that may attract clothing moths.