How I Got Here : Steve Arnold

Current Position: Steve Arnold, 58, is one of five partners at Classic Cleaners in Indianapolis, Indiana. He also serves as their general manager, a post he has held for 28 years.

The company is currently celebrating 33 years in business and belongs to the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists. Classic Cleaners prides itself on quality cleaning, excelling in technological advancements and continuing its commitment to VIP-level customer service. They also offer lockers and kiosks for 24/7 convenience. Among their many accomplishments and designations, Classic Cleaners won the American Dry Cleaners 56th Annual Best Plant Design Grand Prize for 2017.

Currently, Classic Cleaners has a total of 21 locations, as well as six routes serving a large area in Marion, Hendricks, Boone, Hamilton, Johnson and Hancock Counties. The company continues its plan to expand its footprint by adding more locations in the years to come.

Company History: In January 1985, Carl Arnold, his sons John and Steve, and Jeff Stroman opened their first two stores as Professional Cleaners in northeast Indianapolis. At the time, Professional Cleaners was a franchise based in Atlanta, Georgia. “In between opening our second and our third location, they sold ownership and the new owners wanted to double each location’s franchise fee,” recalled Arnold. “We didn’t think that was fair so we went ahead and opened up under the different name of Classic Cleaners.”

In 1990, Classic Cleaners gained additional capital and opened more stores when Leon Neal bought into the company becoming a fifth partner. Neal brought dry cleaning technical expertise to Classic Cleaners and charged with overseeing quality control as well as wedding gown cleaning and preservation.

Classic Cleaners started its first route in 1993, by delivering to the north side of Indianapolis. That same year, Tim Day joined the company as its sixth partner, serving as operations manager. He was in charge of site planning, store construction and mechanical operations. Stroman eventually sold his shares in the company to the existing ownership group. “The five partners all deserve credit for working together all these years,” Arnold said.

The Formative Years: Born in Dayton, Ohio, Arnold’s family relocated to Indianapolis when he was eight years old.

“I’m a history buff with a strong interest in U.S. History, especially the Civil War.” Arnold said that his interest started when he was involved in an accident at age 10, that resulted in time spent in a hospital. “My older sister gave me a book on the Civil War. Since I had a lot of time recuperating, I read and studied that book quite a bit; I still have that worn out book.”

He fondly remembers his dad taking him to visit the Indianapolis Civil War Round Table when he was fourteen. “Military history is probably my biggest hobby,” he said.

Another enduring memory from Arnold’s childhood is visiting Gettysburg with his parents and brother, Rick.

Opportunity Knocks: After one semester at Purdue University, Arnold concluded that being a collegian was not a good fit for him. He decided to go back to a company he worked for while in high school, local pizza chain Noble Romans. He went through their management training program and took over an under-performing store. Arnold’s ability to get this store profitable led to a promotion at a higher volume store in need of his leadership. “Within three years I became a district manager for Noble Romans. From there I went to northern Indiana to run a district,” he said.

Then the opportunity known as Classic Cleaners came knocking on Arnold’s door. “I was getting disenfranchised with the Noble Roman’s corporate office,” he said. Arnold was not in alignment with the company’s vision for future growth, so he took the opportunity to get into the dry cleaning business. “I had no experience in it; I think I had taken a coat to the dry cleaners one time in my life prior to coming to work at the dry cleaners, and that was it,” he admitted. “I’ve done a lot of work learning on the fly,” Arnold said of his indoctrination into the garment care industry.

Blazing New Trails: According to Arnold, Classic Cleaners was the first dry cleaner in the Indianapolis area to introduce 24-hour drop-off and pick-up locker service in 2004. Since adding this feature, Classic Cleaners has made it a standard practice to have this particular service available at most of its new stores.

Classic Cleaners remodeled its central cleaning facility in the mid to late 2000s to accommodate growth. The needed expansion project along with installing a state-of-the-art assembly and bagging system increased productivity in both the laundry and dry cleaning departments. “This investment reduced the amount of necessary garment handling and virtually eliminated misplaced garments,” boasted Arnold.

Switching It Up: In the early part of this decade, Classic Cleaners discontinued the use of perchloroethylene (PERC) and made the transition to the new Eco-friendly SYSTEMK4 dry cleaning machines and fluid. Arnold believes that this change resulted in better cleaning performance and long-term energy savings. “The fluid is odor free, dermatologically safe (will not irritate sensitive skin) and it cleans better than PERC,” he said. “This transition took place without losing a single day of cleaning and allowed Classic Cleaners to reduce their impact on the environment; customers’ whites and colored garments are brighter with this Eco-friendly fluid.”

Onward and Upward: The purchase of an existing structure in the Castleton area during the summer of 2015, helped facilitate Arnold’s intention of expanding the plant and corporate office space. Their facility almost doubled, from 17,000 square feet to 32,000 square feet. Moving the entire plant and office space was completed in November of that same year and increased the plant capacity as well. “The new building allows us to be more energy efficient and provide enhanced services for the customer such as 24-hour drop-off and locker service and same day service for items dropped off by 10 am,” said an excited Arnold!

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Arnold realizes that one of the hallmarks of a successful and vibrant organization is the people it has on board. He cites key employees over the years: Dee Godwin, Crissy Daniels, Ohi Suhre, Rosa Benavidez, Eyvi Noguera, Julia DeMartinez and Jim Whittington. “All of them have been around for over 15 years,” he said.

Future of the Industry: Classic Cleaners has been able to weather changing trends by adding specialty services to its fundamental core of dry cleaning and laundry. Wash-dry-fold, purses/luggage, leather, area rugs and shoe polishing and repair are some examples. “Unfortunately, I see the piece count of the dry cleaning industry continuing to go down over the years,” said Arnold. “The dry cleaners that are willing to add services and technology to their operations are the ones that will succeed in the future.”

Arnold truly believes that the future of dry cleaning is trending upwards in a positive way. “The industry is changing, but it’s not going away,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out where it’s going to go and once we do that, the first person to do it will probably succeed the most.”

Leadership Style: “I have learned to listen instead of doing all the talking. I seem to have learned more since I started doing that, which is a critical part of communication.”

By his admission, Arnold claims to have a “hands-on” mentality when it comes to guiding those under his charge at Classic Cleaners. “I’m hands-on because I follow up with people,” he said matter-of-factly. He continued, “The main reason we’ve gotten things accomplished over the years is that we set goals and I’m the one who reminds people to get things done.”

Guiding Principle: “I believe in being a good, honest person because I believe in karma. Good things happen to good people.”

Personal: Steve Arnold is married to the former Pamela Dickey. Their epic love story is one for the ages.* “I’ve never met a person like Pam; we work well as a team,” he said. “We look at each other; we know what to do, what to say and we just go take care of things.”

The couple makes their home in Fishers, Indiana. Pam and Steve enjoy household chores, yard work and going camping. They consider their two sons, two daughters and four grandsons among the greatest of all their treasures.

About John Leano

John Leano can be reached by e-mail: Leano@BryansCleaners.com or Twitter: @JohnLeano or www.facebook.com/johngleano