How I Got Here: Rhonda Eysel

Current Position: Rhonda Eysel, 46, is the CEO and General Manager of Master Kleen Dry Cleaners.

The Company: Founded by J.W. Wade (Eysel’s grandfather) in 1969, Master Kleen Dry Cleaners is a third-generation, family-owned and operated establishment with over 60 years of experience in the laundry and dry cleaning industries. The family’s commitment to high-quality clothing care and exceptional customer service are just a few of the reasons Master Kleen Dry Cleaners was able to celebrate a milestone 50th year in 2019.

Master Kleen Dry Cleaners has four locations in Columbus, Georgia and one store in Phenix City, Alabama. Their efficient and thriving route operations have allowed them to provide free pick-up and delivery service to Columbus, Phenix City, Harris County and Fort Benning for over 30 years.

In addition to being full-service garment care specialists that can handle everything from casual to couture, Master Kleen Dry Cleaners also has a fire, smoke and water restoration division.

The Early Years: “Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher; I played school a lot when I was little,” Eysel fondly recalls. “I liked to play dress up, but I also liked to be outside riding bikes.” She remembers being “super organized and more of a ‘Type A’ personality.” However, she has come to grips with the current state of affairs and admits to being “not so organized now!”

Getting Started: Eysel’s genesis in the dry cleaning industry happened 31 years ago on a hot summer day in 1988 when she was fifteen years old. “The person bagging clothes at our dry cleaning plant didn’t show up for work,” recalls Eysel. “My dad asked me to come fill in, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Though she had early ambitions for a career as an educator, Eysel saw the need to help her parents out in the family business. While working at Master Kleen, she attended Columbus State University and earned her degree in business management.

Overcoming Obstacles: With a long and storied career in the dry cleaning business, Eysel understands the challenges faced by owners, operators and managers. “I think everyone who’s been in the dry cleaning business for any length of time would agree that it’s not always a smooth road,” she said. “We face challenges every day.”

Whether it’s finding new personnel, staffing issues, lower piece counts, evolving fashion trends, or a more casual wardrobe environment in the workplace, Eysel and her leadership team have been willing to do what it takes to pivot and power through difficulties. “Keep up to date with equipment trends, be willing to adapt to change and find a network of dry cleaners you can befriend or call on when you’re facing challenges and struggling,” advised Eysel.

Support Group: “My dad and husband have been my biggest cheerleaders and mentors,” she said. “It’s easy to get frustrated and burned out when you wear a lot of different hats,” Eysel said of the multi-faceted task of being an owner/operator. “They are both in the business and understand all too well any frustrations and struggles.”

Eysel’s father, Warner Wade, serves as the president of Master Kleen. Her husband, Chris, oversees operations and plant management. It takes all three of them to help steer the ship, and they all multi-task with various layers of responsibilities, but it’s evident that Master Kleen is Eysel’s show to run.

Management Philosophy: As with any team in a work environment, every employee has their distinctive character and uniqueness. Eysel is continually finding balance when it comes to leading with her “Type A” personality and showing empathy and compassion when it’s appropriate.

She stresses the importance of knowing what each team member needs to function in their roles effectively and what motivates them to accomplish his or her tasks. “I wake up every day and ask God to help me to lead with a servant’s heart because I want to help and guide our people as much as I can,” said Eysel. “Invest in your people, and they will help take care of your business.”

Industry Outlook: “We know dry cleaners are seeing fewer pieces because people aren’t dry cleaning like they did before the 2008 recession,” observed Eysel. “A lot of big businesses have gone from just having a casual Friday to every day being casual because they’re trying to attract millennials; we’ve seen this trend here in our area.”

Eysel believes this practice will continue. She is emphatic that dry cleaners must figure out other ways to counter the adversity by actively pursuing fluff and fold, government contract work and restoration.

Never Bored: Her full-time duties at Master Kleen doesn’t deter Eysel from serving in various capacities for other organizations. She is the current president of the South Eastern Fabricare Association (SEFA), serves as a board member for the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and is on the advisory board for the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia.

Eysel is also the chairman of the board at Pedaling for Kids. Pedaling for Kids is a non-profit, charitable organization whose goal is to provide necessary items not provided for by other insurance and governmental agencies to local children with disabilities.

Personal: Rhonda and Chris celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in July. Her parents have a houseboat on West Point Lake, and they occasionally retreat there to escape the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. Chris loves to fish while Rhonda takes in the serenity of being near the water by relaxing on the boat.

They have two children. Clayton (son, age 23) graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in business management. He worked at Master Kleen before recently embarking upon a new career in Atlanta. Maddie (daughter, age 21) is majoring in environmental science at Columbus State University.

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