ST. LOUIS — In the late 1970s, Victor Kiam, who was the owner of Remington Products at the time, starred in a national television commercial for the company.
The catchphrase? “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company!”
That’s how Mark and Kathy Huntebrinker came to own Simply Clean Laundry Service, located here.
“We purchased an existing diaper service [Baby Care Diaper Service] back in 2006 after we used the service ourselves and fell in love with it,” explains Mark.
For the first five years of their ownership, he says the business operated out of the couple’s house, outsourcing the laundering of diapers to another laundry service.
“We had a dedicated room in our house where Kathy and I sorted the diapers, bagged them and then delivered them,” Mark remembers.
In the beginning, he says the diaper service was so small that Kathy took care of most things while he continued to work full-time.
“In order to keep costs down, when we first started, we used our personal van with magnets to do deliveries,” he shares. “Now we have three dedicated, wrapped vans for deliveries, and we run seven days a week.”
It was in 2011 that the business had grown enough for the couple to rent a 1,500-square-foot building and start washing the diapers themselves.
For the first seven years of its existence, the couple exclusively ran the business as a diaper service. Mark says that in 2013, they decided to venture into the commercial laundry industry.
“Once we had our own machines and the costs associated with renting a space, we knew we had to increase the size of our business and add revenue from commercial accounts,” he says. “We knew from our early experience of having our diapers washed that finding a service that specialized in washing customer-owned items instead of renting items was hard to find, so that became our focus.”
Mark says he and Kathy knew they would have to have additional revenue streams to take the business further. Commercial laundering of customer-owned items seemed like a niche they would fit perfectly into, so they made the move into commercial washing, he adds.
Early commercial accounts came by word of mouth, according to Mark. However, the couple knew it would take more than person-to-person advertising to succeed.
“Once we decided to go all in on commercial, we created a new website and started contacting businesses within certain markets that we knew could use our services,” he says. “Businesses such as chiropractors, massage therapists, maid services, doctor offices, etc.”
Within two years, the one-time diaper service had expanded to more than 20 commercial accounts. Mark says the business has continued to grow from there.
“Now we use mainly pay-per-click and SEO (search engine optimization) marketing to target new leads and customers,” he shares. “Potential client responses have been very positive. There are a lot of people out there looking to outsource the laundry aspect of their business, and we work to make that seamless and stress-free for them.”
The business kept growing, and in fall 2017, Simply Clean Laundry Service purchased and moved into a 4,200-square-foot building. Besides increasing space and wash capacity, the new building also allows Simply Clean to park its vans inside for loading and unloading of goods.
“This allowed us to expand from our original two washing machines to five machines total,” he shares. “We process everything from cloth diapers to commercial items such as sheets, towels, microfiber, gowns, etc. Minus hand towels and diapers, we exclusively operate washing customer-owned items.”
Like many small businesses, Simply Clean Laundry Service faced challenges as it grew. Mark says those challenges are similar to what other growing small businesses experience.
“In our case, that was mainly having enough space to scale, and hiring good people that fit into our culture,” he explains. “We alleviated the space issue with our recent building purchase, and that will allow us to add more machines and grow.”
As far as hiring good personnel, Mark says he and Kathy have a great team of employees, but that has taken a little time.
“We have learned a lot about what makes a great worker and someone to fit into our small-business family,” he adds.
Today, the laundry has seven employees and processes more than 300,000 pounds of goods a year.
As Mark looks back at the beginning of the business through to its current state, he says there are things he is proud of—and things he wishes he would have done differently.
“Looking back, we are most happy with how we managed our overall finances,” he says. “We did well in managing expenses, keeping costs down and not taking on any additional debt as we grew. This allowed us to price ourselves a little lower than others and still make a profit.”
What would he have done differently? Hired help sooner.
“I wish we were a little quicker to hire more help to do things that would allow us more time to focus on continued growth,” he shares. “I feel we worked ‘in’ our business a little longer than we should have, but we have learned from those decisions, and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.”
To make the combination of diaper, residential and commercial markets of the business work, they believe in having good systems to help keep everything organized, Mark says. Each customer has specific wash, dry and folding instructions, so those are documented with a tagging system that stays with the customers’ items from the time the goods are picked up.
He adds that Simply Clean’s employees each have certain strengths, which is helpful in keeping the business running smoothly.
“For example, we have some that oversee and fold the residential portion of the service and others that focus more on the commercial portion, but all of our employees are cross-trained on our major accounts,” Mark says.
While the company has grown in size and service, it doesn’t plan to stop growing.
“We are excited to have the new space, and we are excited to continue our growth there,” shares Mark. “We would also love to add a drycleaning option for our customers by partnering with an existing dry cleaner and work as the delivery portion of that. Also, we currently don’t press tablecloths, but going forward we would like to add presses so that we can offer that service.”