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Business Observer Monday, Sep. 18, 2017 1 year ago

'Burden of excellence'

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An intensely focused entrepreneurial couple, with a rarely satisfied mindset, targets dizzyingly fast growth.
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Baseball legend Pete Rose, also known as Charlie Hustle, doesn't know Andrew Rhodes. But Rose would no doubt give Rhodes a tip of his cap.

In Rose's world, you don't trot to first base on a base on balls. You sprint there with the idea of taking extra bases and coming home a winner.

Rhodes and his wife, Lynette, have taken extra base opportunities ever since they arrived in Naples from Arkansas in 2014 to take over Platinum Total Fabric Care. Another couple, Joe and Sandy Waite, started the business in 1989.

The Waite's business gave the Rhodes a platform on which to build, Andrew Rhodes says. Joe Waite “had an unparalleled knowledge of dry cleaning, an absolute wizard,” he adds.

The Rhodes renamed the business Platinum Dry Cleaners. The couple has since expanded to six locations from two and added four routes to their free pick-up-and-delivery service. They also hired a full-time marketing director; invested $250,000 in equipment upgrades valued at $1.5 million; and added services such as rug and couch cleaning, restoring water-damaged items and shoe repair.

The investments have paid off. Sales rose 86% from 2015 to 2016, from $2.25 million to $4.2 million.

Beyond sales, the couple — he was an executive with an ambulatory medical care center and she was an educator — says they measure success by how well they do getting new customers and keeping old ones. “We created a vision first and foremost of where do we want to be,” says Andrew Rhodes. “We said we wanted to double the size of Platinum within three years.”

Adds Rhodes: “We're hitting 95% of where I'd really like to be. I'd like to see ourselves double in size (again) over the next four years. Once we get north of $10 million in four years, we may want to set new goals.”

He expects profits of 15% to 17.5% will be among those goals.

He also expects to sustain the intensity that got Platinum this far. Says Rhodes: “We're focused and extremely driven — these are the things that are going to help our small business be successful.”

Rhodes says he and his wife ventured into the Collier County dry cleaning market with the idea of eliminating the competition. Acquiring dry cleaners or their customers would accomplish this, they decided.

They targeted operators content with annual revenue in the $500,000 range, he says. “We will destroy” those, Rhodes says. “They don't do anything to grow their business. So, they are done.”

Platinum acquired a competitor on Marco Island earlier this year, for example. He has since grown pickup and delivery service on the island by 30%. “That owner saw the writing on the wall,” says Rhodes, who now has his sights set on a single remaining competitor on the island.

To get ideas and check out possible acquisition targets, Rhodes does a lot of mystery shopping in other dry cleaners. The idea, he says, “is to learn how we can do better by knowing our competitors' issues and errors.”

Platinum has doubled its workforce under the new owners, to nearly 20 employees. The couple would like to eventually grow to 75 employees. And they are determined to keep and develop the ones they have by offering rewards — both financial and occupational.

“There will always be a focus on continued training for current and future employees,” Lynette Rhodes says. “They understand we are a family-owned business and aren't able to do this on our own.”

This includes an open offer to take part in English lessons. “I only ask that they complete the class and buy the $30 book,” he says. “We had six people go to the class the first day. Now, we consistently have 25 to 28 people going to class. They are speaking English better.”

Rhodes says Platinum pays workers about 30% or more than other dry cleaners and provides vacation and holiday pay. But he cautions upfront “if you don't want to be excellent every day, if you don't want to live with the burden of excellence, Platinum is not the place for you.”

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