Jeremy Tutt of Dixie Cleaners

In the heart of Kannapolis, North Carolina, a small family-owned business has been serving the community with dedication and passion since 1969. Dixie Cleaners, now under the stewardship of Jeremy Tutt, continues to uphold the values and traditions established by his grandparents, Bill and Inez Tarlton. At 39 years old, Jeremy, born in Easley, South Carolina, has a rich history and deep connection to the business that stretches back to his childhood.

“As a young kid, it was like a playground,” Jeremy recalls, fondly remembering his childhood visits to Dixie Cleaners. “Hiding under the rack and swinging from the slick rails. But as I got older, I remember visiting and seeing my grandmother always in the corner sewing because the work had to get done. My grandparents were devoted to the cleaners, and I remember thinking this place is a very important piece of our family and it would be neat to follow in their footsteps.”

Despite his early interest, life took Jeremy in different directions before he could return to the family business. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Sports and Entertainment Management degree and began his professional journey elsewhere. However, in 2011, the opportunity arose for him to take over Dixie Cleaners, and he moved from South Carolina to step into his grandparents’ shoes.

Taking over the business was a challenging feat. Jeremy faced significant challenges, not least because his grandfather, suffering from dementia, was unable to pass on his knowledge. “I didn’t know anything about the business itself,” Jeremy admits. “I really depended on my staff to teach me. Martin Young was a tremendous resource early on. He got me engaged with the Dry Cleaning Association, and the resources they provided were crucial to me learning about the industry.”

One of the most challenging moments came just months after Jeremy took over. In August 2011, a truck drove through the side of his building on a Sunday afternoon. It took out most of his dry cleaning presses and did some structural damage. “I didn’t have anyone to call other than Martin Young. He came to my plant and helped me assess the damage, reassured me everything was going to be okay, and by Tuesday, new equipment was ordered and existing equipment was working to the best of its abilities so we could at least continue to work.”

Jeremy’s journey wasn’t just about business but also about building a life in Kannapolis. Meeting his wife, Misty, and starting a family brought new perspectives. “They provide perspective and a foundation. No matter how good or bad of a day I have had at work, when I get home, my family needs me as a husband and father. That provides an outlet for me to escape the grind of work and ‘turn it off’ for a period of time.”

His faith, nurtured through his involvement with Grace Covenant Church, plays a central role in his life and business. “My faith is my foundation. It is the moral compass by which all decisions are based,” Jeremy explains.

The importance of mentorship and support has been evident throughout Jeremy’s journey. “Martin Young was there for me during some of my most difficult times as a business owner,” Jeremy shares. “There have been times where I was ready to give up on this industry, but he has always been there to answer my questions and guide me through the years.”

Jennifer Whitmarsh, another significant mentor, has also played a crucial role. “Jen has helped me through some of my most difficult times as a business owner,” said Tutt. “There have been times where I was ready to give up on this industry, but she has helped coach and support me through the years. At times, I believe she had more faith in me than I had in myself. Our shift in culture would not have occurred without her support.”

Over the years, Jeremy has worked hard to cultivate a positive team culture at Dixie Cleaners. “I have matured over the years as a leader, and that has helped a lot. The biggest change I have made is my hiring practices. When I find a good person, I hire them whether I have a need or not. Get them on the bus first, and then we can find them a seat.”

Trusting his team has also been a crucial strategy. “During the interview process, I have potential candidates shadow the job for a couple of hours. If my team has a bad feeling or doesn’t mesh with their personality, I move on.”

Community engagement is also a cornerstone of Jeremy’s approach. “We recently started serving Meals on Wheels. Once a month, myself and two team members deliver meals. It has been a great bonding experience with my team.”

The dry cleaning industry has faced many changes, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Many operations my size didn’t survive for various reasons. We shifted our business model and operations. We focused on routes and added wash and fold. I believe that is the reason we were able to survive.”

Personal connections with customers remain a key focus. Jeremy and his team go above and beyond to create these connections. “We handwrite cards for our customers. Most recently, my team learned a customer was celebrating 71 years of marriage. I hand-delivered the card. At first, she was confused as to why her dry cleaner was at her front door, but once I told her why I stopped by, she was overcome with emotion. Her husband is suffering from dementia, and she is now spending most of her time caring for him. She was amazed that we would think of her on this occasion.”

Jeremy’s plans for the future involve growing the family business by adding more pick-up and delivery routes. “We will grow and expand at the rate we are able to attract and retain quality people who buy into our mission. This industry is very difficult, and it can have a negative perception. Having a culture that empowers employees and values its employees can overcome negatives in this industry.”

Reflecting on his lessons, Jeremy emphasizes the importance of relationships. “People make all the difference in the world,” Tutt said pensively. “Surround yourself with enough good people, and the results will take care of themselves.”

Jeremy’s prior career at Enterprise Rent-A-Car has also influenced his approach to business. “The mission statement was ‘Take care of your customers and employees first, growth and profit will follow.’ We have monthly lunch and learns based on the topics covered from the monthly Route Pros calls. I buy lunch, and as a team, we discuss our takeaways from the call and if there is anything we can implement. Often, changes or new ideas that are implemented have come from an employee’s idea. I believe this investment into my employees allows them to take ownership in their position and thus improves our ability to serve customers.”

For those considering taking over a family business or starting their own dry cleaning business, Jeremy offers this advice: “Define your ‘Why.’ Simon Sinek has a great book titled ‘Start with Why.’ Running a family business and being in the dry cleaning industry is not for everyone.”

Balancing the traditions of a long-standing family business with the need to innovate and stay current in the industry is a delicate act. “The innovations of the business are how we do things. The traditions of a long-standing family business will always be about the people. Our team and our customers are at the heart of any small family business.”

One of Jeremy’s favorite aspects of the business is the close relationship with the community. “We have a ‘We Love Our Customer’ board in the front lobby. We have customers bring photos of themselves celebrating their successes. Whether they are on vacation, at a formal function, or engaging in their hobbies, we want to celebrate our customers. Cleaning clothes is a personal business, and Dixie Cleaners plays a small part in our customers’ lives.”

Jeremy Tutt’s story is one of dedication, resilience and heart. From his childhood dreams to overcoming significant challenges, Jeremy has turned Dixie Cleaners into a thriving business and a vital part of the Kannapolis community. Jeremy continues to honor his grandparents’ legacy while steering Dixie Cleaners toward a bright future through faith, family and an unwavering commitment to people.

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