The Winding Path to Success as Dry Cleaning Franchisees
Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, we're honoring power couples in franchising. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angel and Anne Marie Ramos's path to becoming ZIPS Dry Cleaners franchisees was a long and complicated one. The couple had always known they would move to the U.S. after Angel retired from his military service in the Salvadoran military. However, they weren't sure how they would make a living.
The dry cleaning business seemed like the perfect solution. First, they opened a Dryclean Depot location. Then, they partnered with 12 other dry cleaner owners to form ZIPS Dry Cleaners. Today, the couple owns two of their own ZIPS locations as franchisees in Fredericksburg and Dumfries, Va.
Here's what they've learned.
Name: Angel and Anne Marie Ramos
Franchise(s) owned: ZIPS Dry Cleaners, in Fredericksburg and Dumfries, Va.
How long have you owned a franchise?
Angel and I have owned our dry cleaning store in Fredericksburg since 1999. We were originally part of a chain called Dryclean Depot. In 2001, we partnered with 12 other dry cleaner owners (we collectively owned eight dry cleaners in the Mid-Atlantic) as a buying collective to help cut costs. We branded ourselves ZIPS, pooled our advertising funds and agreed to standardize operating procedures and offer same-day, one-price dry cleaning – currently $1.99 per garment. The project worked so well that in 2006 we decided to franchise.
As co-founders of ZIPS, we first decided to open company-owned stores, but very early we found out it was very difficult with fourteen owners trying to run the stores, and this led us to the best option, franchising. Something very unique is that the fourteen of us still own our own stores. I would add that we have gone through the learning curve. We have established the brand with the support needed and a formula for success.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I owned and operated an import export company from 1984 until 1988. After selling the business, I started teaching science and Spanish as a Second Language in El Salvador. When I moved to the United States in 1998, I worked as a substitute teacher for Montgomery County.
Angel retired as a full colonel after 31 years in the Salvadoran army. His last assignment was in Washington, D.C. as defense attaché. Upon retiring in 1999, he received the Legion of Merit award from the United States for the cooperation he developed between the Salvadoran and U.S. military.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Angel and I always agreed that we would live and raise our children in the United States upon his retirement, but weren't sure how we could make a living. We definitely weren't looking for a franchise. One day, I brought Angel's uniform to a dry cleaner and saw the long lines to drop off and pick up the garments. When I came home, I said, "Hey listen, Angel, I think I just saw the opportunity for us – a dry cleaner."
ZIPS Dry Cleaners' successful business model is based on a concept revolutionary to the industry and clearly in high demand to today's dry cleaning customer – dry cleaning that is ready for pick-up the same day it's dropped off and all for a flat-rate price of $1.99.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Back in 1999, we were not buying into a franchise. It was a different concept. We started as a lessee owner/operator and put a down-payment, and we bought the business for the second year's gross sales which in our case was one million dollars. We were in the store open to close during those first two years working longer than 12 hours a day six days a week.
Currently, the average initial investment to own and operate a ZIPS Dry Cleaners ranges from $616,150 - $778,500, which includes the $50,000 initial franchise fee.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
Angel and I spent countless hours discussing the opportunity. It is important that everyone involved is aware of what it will require, especially if you are a husband and wife team. Then, we spoke with other store owners, and our family and friends. It is equally important to speak with existing store owners.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
The 14 hour days. Angel and I were always hard workers, but we never had to work as hard as we did when we decided to get involved in the dry cleaning business. We learned every single position from production to administration, and this gave us an edge. We could show our employees how to do things and how quickly, because we had done it ourselves.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
You absolutely must be excited and enthusiastic about owning your own business. And don't get into it believing you will only work eight hours per day. If you are a husband and wife team, you must have the support in place, because it will be very difficult especially with small children. You will probably work much harder in the first few years than ever before.
What's next for you and your business?
In 2013, the 14 original ZIPS founders decided to take it a step higher. We sold a controlling interest in ZIPS to private equity firm JPB Capital Partners. With their help, we believe that we can move the concept through its next phase of growth including improved execution of the existing system and further geographic expansion of the concept. There are currently 40 stores open and operating throughout the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
On a personal level, Angel and I bought an existing ZIPS franchise last year and in less than 12 months increased the sales by 25 percent. We were also awarded the ZIPS Franchise of the Year Award.