b'PAGE 6 / NATIONAL CLOTHESLINE / OCTOBER, 2019Roots and routesvenduringlastdecadesreces- tainly doesnt hurt when you own a endsstraighttothebaysandclean the routes one day in ten or so years,E sion,CurtisCleanersofGrand drycleaning plant. Also playing a big them up and sweep the floors in the Chris added.Rapids,MI,enjoyedgrowing role was Kevin Smith (not to be con- laundry. All the things that I complainsales. The company, now 66 years old, fused with the director of Clerks and about now that dont get done, I used ot all cleaning jobs are equal at ahas been in the hands of a third gener- Mallrats) who married into the family to do. N drycleaning plant, of course, butationbrothers Andy and Chris Cur- and also spent most of his life with Cur- He currently sits on the board for somearecompletelyunique.tisfor more than ten years, though, tis Cleaners. the Michigan Institute of Laundering Case in point: a person called the com-thesecondgenerationowner,John Kevin was honored after his death and Drycleaning. pany out of the blue one day and said,Bucky Curtis, is still around to watch aboutfouryearsagowhenCurtis Ivegotsomefirehosescanyouhis sons steer the ship. Cleaners added to its sign: Now De- hris, on the other hand, went an- wash them?In the last decade, theyve focussed livering to Pearly Gates. RIP Kevin. C other direction at first. He spent a A local firefighter goes around theonexpandingpickupanddelivery It was kind of sad, Chris recalled. few years as a residential realtor, countryandcollectsusedfirehosesroutes. The move was borne out of ne- He and my dad were partners and butunfortunatelythoseyearswere thathavefailedtheirtestsandtheycessity when the Curtis brothers real-ized that the continuous growth of thefamily business hit a snag. years,we Curtiswww.curtiscleaners.comDuringtherecession were always growing by 15, 20 or 25percentbecausewewereaddingpickup and delivery even though retailmight not have been going up. We werealwaysgrowingnewroutes,noted FamilyChris. Then, a couple of years later itfinally hit us. It was kind of a flat yearand retail took a dive. Routes didntgrow for the first time and we thought,Whoa! Whats going on?Foraboutayear-and-a-half,thedownward trend persisted prompting Chris, John and Andy Curtisthe brothers to hire Business Develop-ment Manager Greg Cutler to reinvig-orate the routes. Revenues soon beganto climb back up again. they worked out a buy-out. He was of- right on the cusp of the recession. cantputtheminserviceanymore,I think Greg asked me to buy a new ficially retired and he made it six weeks I went into real estate right out of Andy said. He goes around and col-van in June. That was a pretty solid before he passed. high school, he explained. It was not lects them and turns them into apparel:no. Then, he wanted to start a new a great time for an 18-year-old to try to belts, rugs, wallets, all sorts of differentroute and a new territory and then fter Richard, Kevin and Bucky sell real estate. I needed a paycheck. stuff. They were power washing themwell, now we have a new van and a A spent decades building the busi- Then, Andy started telling me about for a while.new route, Chris said. I hope by this ness up, about 15 years ago a this pickup and delivery thing. It took some figuring out but wevetime next year to have another man and load of rags almost ended its run. Thedeliveryrouteshavealways got a system now. So, he brings in loadsanother van. We had a fire in 2004, so were kind been an area of focus for Chris with the of fires hoses and we run them throughOriginally,whenChrisjoinedthe ofcompletelyrebuiltatthatpoint, company.Heoverseesalotofthe some of our old washers in the backcompany he was a bit confused by the Chris noted. In the laundromat, there routes himself and finds time to work warehouse that we use for horse blan-delivery concept. He asked Andy if it was a customera restaurant cus- the front counter and the back office. kets and that kind of stuff. We run themwouldbesimilartopizzadelivery. tomerhad left their rags in the dryer. Andy is the head drycleaner/spotter through there and hang them up to dry.Andy explained that the idea would be Our staff member removed them from who runs the day-to-day operations of Its good money.more like a garbage truck, having spe- the dryer and placed them in a paper the plant and also shares times with his Originally, it was quite perplexingcific routes to run on certain days. sackandtheyspontaneouslycom- duties at Curtis Equipment, Co., which to receive giant wads of 150-ft. longIt was not a bad analogy considering busted. Bucky still manages. fire hoses. Now, they worked it outdirty laundry is about as desirable as He also noted the humor of the situ- The two siblings have worked well with the client (the business name isgarbage to some people. Regardless the ation, especially the timing: I always together so far. Its certainly not al- Ladder 34) to bring them in rolled upCurtis familys roots were built on piles liketojokewiththemwewere ways sunshine and rainbows, but at the and folded up more neatly in contain-of unclean clothes. blessedbecauseofthefirebecause end of the day, were all in it together, ers.Kevin and Bucky had to deal with all Chris laughed.ack in the early days, Andy and of the headaches and now we have to ccording to Andy, its jobs likeB ChrissgrandfatherRichard deal with this brand new plant. oday, the companys main pro- A that one that keep the work in-Curtis (not to be confused with Of course, the Curtis brothers have T duction facility takes up a little teresting.the director of Notting Hill and Love Ac- had their own challenges to overcome. over 7,000 square feet in Lowell, Theres always something to do. Iftually) didnt mind dirty work; he just When revenue growth atrophied, they plus they have two additional locations youre bored and you cant find some-didnt want dirty attire. called in the Route Pro James Peuster in Grand Rapids and Cascade. Overall, thing to do, you dont want to be here,As a lieutenant in the Marines, he for help. they employ roughly 30 to 35 people. he said. Theres always a stain youhad grown accustomed to impeccably I went out with James that [first] Approximately ten years ago, they cant get out or a challenge on a delicatecrisp and clean uniforms. Starting Cur- day and I think we signed up the per- had zero route customers. When Andy itemandthewaytheymakethingstis Cleaners was essentially a way to son at the first door we knocked on. started the project, they put five good now.Itsalwayschallenging.Mostmakesurehecouldhavehissuit James says, Its not always that easy! regular customers on it. That was the drycleaners dont keep up with the fab-pressed to his liking. Chris recalled. Next, Peuster went to beginning of 2009. rics. They keep changing the way theyHecouldntgetanything help Andy. We met back up a few min- Afteryearsofdodgingslamming makealltheclothesandwedontdrycleaned in town. He couldnt get his utes later and they were running down doors and flying fruit (We try as much change the way were processing thesuit pressed, Andy noted. He didnt a driveway getting oranges thrown at as we can to have our guys be door-to- clothes. Thats one thing weve done inlike that. them. door salesmen, Chris said.), they esti- the last couple of years; weve reallyAt about the same time he opened All the good things happened to mate about 60 to 70 percent of the busi- changed the way we process clothes. Ithe business in 1953, he also utilized James when he was with me, Andy ness is from the delivery routes. think thats going to make a big differ-histinkeringskillstobuildfully laughed. We currently have six route vans ence in the long run.stocked drycleaning plants and laun- Andy is a liferin the cleaning in- ontheroadMonday/Thursdayand The fire of 2004 was unfortunate, butdromats, including many Wash King dustry and if he had to wager a guess, Tuesday/Friday,Chrisexplained. virtually every piece of equipment hasfranchises. That venture became a sec- hed say hes been at the plant since the The total number of routes could be been upgraded since and the plant isond business: Curtis Equipment Com- day he was born. anywhere from 14 to 16. running better than ever. In the end,pany.Richardsetupstoresallover I think I got my first official pay- Even when a foot of snow falls, the just as it was for Richard in the begin-Michigan, Indiana and Florida. check when I was in sixth grade, he routes remain open (though the vans ning, its about that final result.As gifted as Richard was with his recalled. For a little while, we had a mightcarrysaltbucketsandbe Its always about getting a higherhands, he also had a larger-than-life car wash, too, in front of the building. I equipped with snow tires).qualityandlettingthemachinesdopeople-pleasing personality, which cer- would come after school and on week- I think weve only officially closed more of the work, Andy said.'