By Vincent Dajani
In “Where Are They Now?”, SmartCEO takes another look at companies and CEOs previously featured on our magazine cover. Zips’ cover story appeared in February 2012. Read it here. If your company was featured on our cover and you’re interested in having us revisit your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When SmartCEO last talked to former Zips Dry Cleaners CEO Brett Vago, he estimated that in 2014, the company would have 80 stores. That year has come and gone, with the store count at 37, or less than half that projection. But don’t count Zips down-and-out just yet. As SmartCEO learned, the past few years have been monumental for Zips.
In April of 2013, the original founders decided that it was time to bring in a partner to increase revenue and get Zips in a position to expand. Cue venture capital firm JPB Partners and Reid Bechtle, a man who describes himself as having “been in big business my entire career, in terms of fixing companies for investors.”
JBP had worked with Bechtle’s consulting company in the past, so it knew of his experience with growing businesses. When JBP looked for a leader to grow Zips, the offer went to Bechtle.
“I found it to be a very intriguing business with a tremendous amount of potential,” says Bechtle, now CEO of Zips.
So what is his plan? How is he going to steer this revolutionary dry-cleaning business in the right direction?
“We’re trying to become a value-based dry cleaner and the dry cleaner of choice,” he says.
Bechtle sees not just more regional stores on the horizon, but is eyeing national expansion. To grow the way both Bechtle and Vago have predicted, Zips will have to undergo a lot of changes that are sure to shake up the dry-cleaning industry even further.
“We’re trying to understand our customer better and looking at our customers of the future,” Bechtle says. “We’re focusing on social media and consistency within our stores. Before, our stores were cash only. One of the changes that are going into place in 2015 is that we’re accepting credit cards.”
Zips has even hired an analyst. “People in the dry-cleaning business looked at us and said, ‘Why in the world do you need an analyst?’” But that hire has helped Zips get in touch with its existing customers and expand its marketing toward future customers, Bechtle explains. Dry-cleaning customers today, according to Bechtle, demand flexibility. “We’ve made a new mobile app because most inquiries that come in are from mobile devices,” he says. “It also seems that people that love Zips love coffee … so stores do better near a Starbucks or a Dunkin Donuts. We want to get the clothes in by 9 a.m. and out by 5. We want to be more convenient. We want to put up a lot more Zips stores. It’s like getting a haircut. If it’s not convenient, you can avoid it.”
Bechtle believes that Zips has more to offer than any other dry cleaner, and he plans to prove it. “We’ve become a lot more aggressive within the marketplace,” he says.” Our new ads are saying, ‘Look, why are you paying more?’ We have people from the local dry-cleaning community call and threaten to sue us. They would tell us that we’re not as good, and this and that. And our point to them was: Well, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
In the future, Bechtle believes, half of Zips’ customer base will come from existing dry cleaners, while the other 50 percent will be people who don’t use normal dry cleaning because it’s too expensive. Zips plans to turn the dry-cleaning industry on its head and clean 30 million garments in 2015.