All In The Family: Part 1

Back when the average price to clean a two-piece suit was $1.50, my father Sid Tuchman had weekly “take my daughters and son to work” days. He proved himself to be ahead of his time as this practice is commonplace in today’s world. I hope this two-part series will put a smile on your face as you recall your own memories of growing up in the dry cleaning industry or inspire you to bring your children or grandchildren to work.

When my brother Mitch and my sister, Kathy, and I were younger, we three Tuchman children loved going to work with our dad on Saturday mornings. For us, at that time in our lives, it was great fun to “play” at Tuchman Cleaners. The employees were like extended family. We all recall organizing buttons, sorting dirty clothes and pulling the poly bags down over the finished items. My favorite activity during those wonderful Saturdays was “helping” at the front counter with Gladys. She was kind, took me under her wing and taught me how to deal with customers. It was especially fun if I got to work the cash register! Thinking back all these years, the fur vault was the best. During the hot, humid Indiana summers, the fur vault was the perfect temperature controlled refuge. We used the clothing rods as our own private jungle gym.

When we became teenagers, we all worked in various capacities at Tuchman Cleaners. My first paid job was working in a package plant. It was that summer when I was fifteen that I truly learned the dry cleaning business. I learned how to work all of the dry cleaning machines, how to press pants, and steam shirts and deal with customers. I especially liked the automatic shirt button sewing machine. No cracked or yellow button escaped my eagle eye.

Tuchman Cleaners in Indianapolis, Indiana had the exclusive contract during the 500 Mile Race. During the few weeks of race activities, Tuchman Cleaners had a trailer at the race track for the drivers and staff to drop off and pick up their uniforms. What fun it was to bring folding chairs, place them on top of the trailer and watch all the action. My dad was treated to a ride around the track by the great race car driver, Mario Andretti.

My sister Kathy told me, “When I was in middle school I was assigned a research report. I chose to do it on how to get spots out and the dry cleaning process. I spent time with the lead spotter, Oscar Ford, who taught me how to get out spots.” I know she got an A+!

My brother Mitch recalls, “One Saturday, I asked my dad to give me a job so I could buy a new Beatles Album – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He needed help hanging clothes and was paying by the piece. I started working side-by-side with some Tuchman Cleaners employees and by lunch they told me to slow down. They were worried that I would show my father that the hourly quota should be raised! I slowed down, but between the minimum wage of $1.60 per hour and my overage pay, I got the album.”

I asked my mom Charlene what she recalled about those special Saturday mornings. I was expecting to hear some wonderful memory that I had long forgotten, she merely replied “I was just happy to get you kids out of the house!”

I asked the Houston Family of Crest Cleaners in Cocoa, Florida, for their reminisces. Lang Houston, responded, “back in the 1960’s, my wife Judy and I went to work for her father, N. H. Glidewell in his dry cleaning business in Cocoa. Ultimately, we bought him out. We ran the business and our sons, Keith and Kevin, grew up working as teenagers in all capacities. Over the course of the years, we expanded the operation from two to four plants and seven pick-up locations”. Lang continued, “ When Keith graduated from high school I invited him to join the business, he decided to go into the Navy instead. I told Keith ‘If you ever change your mind, let me know’. In 1988 when Keith’s tour was winding down, he decided to join the family business. Kevin went to college and graduated with a finance degree from Florida State University. I invited him to join the business but he decided to pursue other opportunities. I was pleased when he joined the business in 1991. Approximately 20 years ago I turned Crest Cleaners over to my sons, Keith and Kevin. They have endured the ups and downs of the industry and continue to do a great job.”

Keith Houston recalls, “We learned many lessons from our dad. Not only is he tough and disciplined, but his favorite saying is ‘anything worth doing is worth doing right’. If we did not complete a task the correct way, we did the job over.

If it still wasn’t correct, we did it again. The job had to be done right!” Keith reflected, “at Crest Cleaners we would help the mechanic with any project.

The call would come in early Saturday morning for mom to bring my brother Kevin and me to work. We cleaned boilers, machine built shelves and counters.

You name it, we cleaned it! During our early teenage years the sea port at Port Canaveral docked its first passenger ship. It was small by today’s standards however we cleaned and pressed all their sheets and pillowcases. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. The press was three feet by ten feet long, the sheets went in slightly wet and twenty seconds later they were dry and pressed.

We cleaned hundreds of them! Kevin and I played a lot of baseball. During the 70’s and 80’s the major league Houston Astros team had their spring training facilities in our hometown of Cocoa, Florida. Dad had the contract to clean all their baseball uniforms. Everyday Dad would pick up the uniforms and the Astros expected quick service. Our job was to clean the uniforms, remove all the clay stains, and press them. The fun started when we went back to the ballpark to return the uniforms.

We walked into the club house and got to meet all those famous big Leaguers. Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richards, pitchers who threw over 100 miles per hour. Bruce Bochy, Allan Ashby, Enos Cabel, Bob Watson and Joe Morgan. Walking around with them was a real thrill. I never thought of joining the family business. I was ready for a new adventure and joined the Navy in 1983. I served a little over four years as part of a jet crew that tested missiles in California. I had a great job and enjoyed the time I served. It soon became apparent that if you get a bad boss or are on a poor team, you are stuck. You have little to say as to how things are done in the big picture.

In our family business when I see a good idea I can usually make a quick change.

Dad stepped back and gave us more responsibility. That allowed us to run the business while continuing to learn from dad. It made the transition much more enjoyable.” Kevin added, “Growing up in the family business taught us about hard work and doing what was necessary to get the job done. I remember working with my dad on the weekends as a young teenager. We would clean the Houston Astros baseball uniforms during spring training. I always worked while I was going to high school and local community college at least two afternoons a week and most Saturdays.

My daughter Lauren joined the business three years ago and represents the fourth generation. She is currently working in the dry cleaning and spotting department so she can learn the business from the ground up.

Keith and Kevin agree that “Joining Crest Cleaners was a wonderful decision. We all have ideas, we all have each other’s backs and it is comforting to know that your family is there if you need some help. Our dad is a great guy, tough as nails, and is lots of fun. He would give the shirt off his back to help a friend, not to mention his sons!”

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “All in the Family” in the October editions of Cleaner & Launderer.

About Ellen Tuchman Rothmann

Ellen Rothmann has 30 years of experience in sales and marketing and utilizes these skills to support and facilitate seminars for Tuchman Advisory Group (TAG). Prior to her role with TAG, she was VP of Operations for Richard Wolffer’s Auctions that specialized in sports and entertainment memorabilia. As an Account Manager for K101 – a San Francisco Bay Area radio station – she worked with small businesses to build unique and profitable advertising and promotional campaigns for her clients. Growing up in the dry cleaning business, Ellen worked in numerous capacities at Tuchman Cleaners. She also held sales positions at Apparelmaster and Tuchman Cleaner’s Home Carpet and Drapery businesses. Rothmann earned her B.A. in Marketing from Indiana University. She lives in San Francisco with her husband John, they have two sons For more information contact Ellen Tuchman Rothmann, President, Tuchman Advisory Group. e-mail: ellenrothmann@yahoo.com