After almost a half century in business, Schickel’s Cleaners is the highest volume cleaners in the state, but, remarkably, it offers individual care for every single garment. It uses pure clean solvent in every load, so no article of clothing is ever exposed to used chemicals, as is common with some other cleaners. And its “the-customer-is-always-right” policy has ensured over the years that it has repeatedly been voted the Number 1 cleaners in polls by a variety of publications.
“One thing that is very popular is our in by noon, out by 5 by request, and faster service if needed,” said owner Lou Schickel. “Very few cleaners in town can do that. Our four plants are all total package plants. That means we are complete plants, we do all of the work on site. If the manager is there and you say I need something in 30 minutes, they are going to bend over backwards.
“We’ve had people walk in and say, ‘Can I take this suit off and get it cleaned and pressed,’ and in 30 minutes they walked out (with it done).”
At Schickel’s Cleaners the customer never has to worry that contaminated solvent has touched their clothing.
Ron Zimmerman, general manager of the cleaners since 1996, said that every garment is cleaned with 100 percent clean solvent.
“Dirty solvent never touches the clothes. It’s all pure clean solvent on every load. We started doing that about 7 years ago. It’s pure solvent like it came from the factory.”
That might not mean much to folks who are unacquainted with the way some cleaners run solvent through several different loads and even “filter” it after that to use it again.
“The thing about clean solvent, it costs money to do that. People will skip that, they’ll cut corners.” Mr. Zimmerman said.
The cleaners also uses a process called “wet cleaning.”
“It’s a process, virtually like you’d wash at home,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “It’s very gentle and uses great detergents. (Clothes) smell fresh, smell great when they come out.
“It’s not exclusive to us. We were probably the first people in Arkansas to do it, but we’ve upgraded the equipment several times since then. It is a process that a lot of people on the coasts use, like New York City, San Francisco, the big cities, because they try to do everything with water, and you don’t have to worry about the environmental aspects of a solvent.”
Ron said it’s used on items ranging from delicate knits to large comforters. “It is so much nicer if you run polo shirts through the wet cleaning system.”
In the late 1960s, when Lou decided to open a cleaners, he wanted to learn the business inside and out. The Cornell University graduate with a civil engineering degree continued his education with classes given by the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute, the oldest certification institute in the field.
“When I first got into the business, I had a serious interest in really learning the business and the technology,” he said. “Today I am a certified garment care professional.”
He also served on the board of directors of the Southern Dry Cleaners Association for many years.
The first Schickel’s Cleaners opened in1969.
“We opened in the Southwest City Mall in 1969. We moved across the parking lot in ’73 and built our own building. The next store we opened was Highway 10 in ’78, We remodeled it in 1996 and tripled the size. In ’89, we did Bowman Curve. And then we did Maumelle, our finest looking store in 2003, and we won several national awards for being the Number 1 dry cleaning plant built
that year,” Lou said.
“From the time I was a little kid, I had this yearning to be in business. When I was six years old, I went in the neighborhood
and sold rock garden plants. When I was 15 years old, we moved to a little farm. I sold eggs. I sold broilers. I sold vegetables. … All these things I kind of made into business.”
Building up the cleaning business was a far cry from those years of selling eggs, not to mention the multi-million shopping center and office building complex Lou built on Cantrell Road, including the posh Pleasant Ridge Town Center.
Schickel’s Is Different
Lou said that one thing that sets apart Schickel’s from other cleaners is its generous hours of operation. “Our hours are 7 to 7 Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 on Sunday. We are the only plant that does that.
“And all work is done on the premises. Your clothes don’t leave the building. We have fewer mistakes.”
Over the years, a number of improvements have been made for the convenience of the customers. Starting in 1996, conveyers were replaced by pipe racks, Lou said.
Angie Janton, who has worked for Lou for 22 years and coordinates various aspects of his many business enterprises, said pipe racks are a great advantage, keeping a customer’s clothing in one location, so that it can be quickly found. Conveyers have to
spin around, finding a shirt in one spot and spinning again to find a pair of pants in another. In addition to the speedier service with pipe racks, multiple customers can be waited on at one time.
Another innovation has been to add full-time employees to do alterations at each of the stores.
Ron credits a good deal of the success of the business to long-time employees.
“I have one manager who has been there 25 years with us. I’ve got another manager who’s been 20 years with us. Tom Dober has been with us 10 to 12 years. He’s the best stain remover in town.”
Ron describes the cleaners as “full-service, full-price. “We are not the most expensive in town, but we are not the cheapest. We are not a discounter.”
Mrs. Janton said: “What we are is the ‘tell us if you are not happy, and we’ll make it right’ cleaners.
“You can go into the discount cleaners and see a sign with 20 things on it as soon as you walk in the door about what they don’t do, what they can’t do and about what you can’t ask them to do. They are not liable for anything.”
Lou agreed: “When somebody calls up and says ‘You screwed up my $1,000 suit, Lou.’ What do I ask them? I don’t ask them ‘How do you know we did it?’ I say ‘How much do we owe you? We’ll send you the check or bring it to you.’
“If you go into most cleaners in town and you come in with a complaint, they send it to a lab that takes six weeks. We did that for some years. Nine times out of 10, the lab comes back and says it was the manufacturer’s fault or the customer’s fault, seldom the cleaner’s fault. If you want to know how to lose a customer and all their friends, you tell them it was their fault and not yours.”
Ron said most of their claims payouts are simply done in the spirit of “goodwill.”
“We want happy customers. We’ll tear something or rip it every once in a while. If we do, we’ll call ahead to tell them in advance that we boo-booed.”
Lou said that Schickel’s Cleaners is the “highest volume cleaners total in Arkansas, and we’re the highest volume individual store in the state of Arkansas, which is Highway 10.”
Ron wanted to emphasize that in spite of the high volume, each item of clothing is given individual treatment.
“We handle every single garment, finish every one individuality. Pressing it, doing quality inspections. Discounters do it by volume. They’ll send it through a steam tunnel to get all the creases out.“You get what you pay for.“
This story was written by Bobbi Nesbitt and appeared in the April/May issue of Shoppe Talk.