All In The Family: Part 2

Paul Billoni, President of Colvin Cleaners in Buffalo, New York recounts the romance that sparked the beginning of Colvin Cleaners. “My Uncle Phil was a tailor and my Aunt Angeline was a silk finisher. They met while working at the same dry cleaning business, fell in love, got married and in 1931 opened their own company, Colvin Cleaners. My father, Tony, joined his brother after World War II and purchased Colvin Cleaners from Phil in 1970.” Although Paul has now been in the business for 40 years, he tells me he never had an assigned job in dry cleaning growing up. Paul remembers, “If I needed extra money for something while in high school I would just ask my dad what I could do to earn some cash. He told me I could come in on weekends and clean up.”

In 1976, when Paul was in college, Colvin Cleaners struggled due to the advent of polyester. Paul transferred to Buffalo State so that he could be close to home to help his parents. “I told my parents that I would just lend a hand until they don’t need me anymore. If anyone asked me what I was doing, I said that I was going to college and helping out. I started by building up the route business. Ultimately, I learned enough and it was a relief for dad to turn the business over to me. I was never pushed into my father’s business; I got involved by my own choice. After we got married, my wife Cyndee managed a Drop Store and eventually moved into Customer Service.”

Paul recalls that his children’s involvement developed in much the same way. “My son Chris talked with me about joining the company. I told Chris that if he wanted to make a commitment to take over Colvin Cleaners, I would love to have him. Chris is now Vice President of the company. My daughter Erica joined us 2 years ago. She managed the CSRs and the Central Detailing Department. She now runs her own route and is the top producer.” Paul’s advice to others is “be as fair with your kids as you are with your employees. There is a tendency to be firmer with family. Manage consistently and treat everyone the same. I am proud, excited and fortunate to be working with my family, we make a great team.”

Chris Billoni, Vice President of Colvin Cleaners added, “When I was growing up, I really didn’t know what dry cleaning was, it was just what my father did for a living. After I received my business degree in college, I was accepted into a Management Development Program at a bank. After 2 years, I decided I did not like working in the cubical world. I was responsible for cutting expenses, but I needed some customer interaction in my life. I told my father I was thinking about changing jobs. He told me what he was up to at work and I realized I knew very little about the family business. We talked more over the next few months and realized we could both benefit if I came on board. That was seven years ago and we have never looked back. It was nice getting out on my own and getting some work experience. My grandfather started Colvin Cleaners 85 years ago and I am extremely excited to take it into the future, I feel completely at home here.”

Kyle Nesbit, VP Business Development for MW Cleaners and Memories Gown Preservation in Houston, Texas explains, “working with my father is different from most multi-generational professional dry cleaners and owners. The family business of my youth, Nesbit’s Cleaners, no longer exists. Since 2003, it has been owned by Tailored Brands (formerly The Men’s Warehouse). When dad and his business partners decided to sell the company it was absolutely the right move, but with the sale went ‘real’ job security and the opportunity to move up the ladder quickly. I understood it was time to get to work and give all my effort to make a name for myself with my new employer. This journey of ‘giving it my all’ continues today as I pursue the prize, to one day be blessed with the opportunity to succeed dad as the President of MW Cleaners. Dad serves as both my biggest supporter and my toughest critic. With a blend of encouragement and discipline, he has been a great motivator, coach and leader.” When asked about his early memories of growing up in the dry cleaning industry, Kyle fondly recalls, “I remember visiting dad at the dry cleaning plants as a toddler. I played in empty laundry bags, jumped on top of full transport bags like they were huge pillows, was pushed around in laundry buggies, tried to hang and pull myself up on five slot assembly hooks and loved to watch clean pressed items go around on the store’s conveyor. I guess not much has changed as I still love seeing and playing with all of those things in the back of a dry cleaning store. I started to work the summers at Nesbit Cleaners during high school and college. I hopped around as a floater working in all 23 stores. I worked the front counter, drove laundry shuttles, worked as a bagger and ran home pickup and delivery routes. One Nesbit store cleaned high school drill team uniforms. I especially enjoyed working at that store near that school to see all the cute girls. My father was quick to point out that we shouldn’t mix business and relationships. That is not exactly how he said it but to stay above reproach, we will leave it at that.”

When Kyle thought about going into the dry cleaning business after college, his father Mike Nesbit, President of MW Cleaners advised him “the dry cleaning business is hard work, there is little time for vacations and the dry cleaning market on a whole is in decline.” Kyle continued, “Dad did his best to prepare me for other options outside of the dry cleaning business, but like most young boys I wanted to be like my hero and my hero was a dry cleaner. Once I started with MW Cleaners, dad distanced himself from training or working with me in the day-to-day business. I believe his motives were, 1) He wanted to show respect to his management team and allow them to manage me like I was any other employee off the street. 2) He wanted me to work as hard as I possibly could, to sink or swim and to receive recognition on my own merits in the business. We talked about how work was going but purposely he and I never worked at the same location.”

Mike Nesbit, President of MW Cleaners in Houston, Texas states that, “No greater gift for a dad is watching his children grow up and be the kind of human being you envisioned them to be. Not only has my son Kyle met my expectations but he has exceeded them as a co-worker, leader and now the father of my grandchild Kassidy!” Mike reflects, “You always hear the horror stories of children working for their parents.” Mike was delighted to tell me that his story is different. “Every day I get the opportunity to watch Kyle excel at the task put in front of him. I get to watch him grow as a manager and as a caring person.” I asked Mike if there is a generation gap. Mike responded, “Because of our age difference and life experiences we do see things differently but that is more complimentary than not.” Describing himself as a “driven person,” Mike made clear that “I enjoy working towards being the best at my chosen profession. There is only one thing I enjoy more and that is watching Kyle be better than his dad.” Mike concluded with this memorable thought, “so forget what you may have heard, having a relative work with you is a great thing if you have the right relative!”

Family businesses are an important component of the American Dream and contribute to what makes this country so amazing. According to the Conway Center for Family Business, “35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled and account for 64% of U.S. gross domestic product, generate 62% of the country’s employment, and account for 78% of all new job creation.” StatisticBrain.com reports “30% of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation, 12% into the third generation, with 3% into the fourth-generation level and beyond. Additionally, 47% of those retiring have not selected a successor.” Family owned businesses show an incredible passion for their work and demonstrate a goal-oriented mindset. No wonder they are so successful!

The Tuchman Advisory Group is family owned and is very proud of our family-owned business partners and their accomplishments.

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