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June 19, 2017

5 Lessons from my Dad the Dry cleaner

We just celebrated Father’s Day and in honor of my dad, who will be 93 in just a few short weeks, I wanted to share some of his business wisdom.

I am the owner of a media production company but my education in business began long before I started the business. It began in the backroom of a dry-cleaning establishment. It was a family-owned business operated by my dad and his two brothers, the descendants of Greek immigrants. The brothers also owned a small burger joint right next door where the specialty was, what else, Greek chili dogs.

I can remember working at the cleaners from the time I was old enough to follow directions. Every Saturday he would take my sister, younger brother, and me to the store. While he did paperwork, or caught up on loads of clothing in need of attention, we would check in the dirty clothes, put paper inserts on hangers, and clean the store. It was my first foray into business and believe me, there was no better feeling than having the run of the store. As I got older, I worked my way up to being a counter girl, my first sales experience. Then, I could open and close the place, my first management experience.

Some 30 years into my own business I am still amazed that what I learned from my dad still holds true. And the advice is as sound as what you get from business gurus whose books make the New York Times bestseller list.  So here are dad’s lessons.

Lesson 1: No one can pay you enough money to do a job you don’t love. My dad always said “do what you love and the money will follow”. It does not matter if your passion is clean clothes (as it was for my dad), or media production (my passion), when you love what you do it is not work. And, people who are passionate about what they do excel.

Lesson 2: Learn every aspect of your business. If there was a garment that needed attention to get out nasty spots, my dad knew how to get it done. He could press creases into pants that were perfect. He could run the counter and greet every customer by name. He knew the machines and money side of the business. There are many stories about people who have moved from the shop floor to the C-Suite. It is not an accident. People who learn business from the ground up are often the most compassionate and informed leaders.

Lesson 3: Treat every person with respect. It did not matter if a customer brought him one suit or a whole closet full of clothes, everyone got special treatment. There were no small customers, just smaller orders. I have learned this lesson first-hand.  By taking a small job no one wanted I gained a large manufacturing client and have a 30-year history of working with them. Pay attention to small customers, they get bigger.

Lesson 4: Value loyalty. My dad was fiercely loyal to suppliers who helped him get started in business. They trusted him and extended him credit when some would not. As he became more successful, everyone wanted his business and tried to undercut his long-time suppliers. My dad never even considered making a change to get a discount. Relationships are important. That also holds true for employees and everyone who is important to you in your personal and professional life.

Lesson 5: Give back. My father believed very strongly that business has a responsibility to give back to the community long before it was popular. He donated free dry-cleaning to schools and non-profits. He and mom volunteered. They gave of time, talent, and treasure. To this day, my dad is still working and giving back. He is known for the beautiful birdhouses he designs and builds. You can’t buy one, but he will give you one if you donate to his church in Raleigh…where he also sings in the choir.

It sounds simple. Do what you love. Know your business inside and out. Be respectful and loyal. Give back.

Thanks for the lessons, dad, and Happy 93rd Birthday.

(Note: Afendoulis Cleaners is still family owned and in the capable hands of Cynthia’s first cousins.)

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