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Omaha Magazine

“You do what you have to do”

Jan 20, 2020 11:58AM ● By Jeff Lacey

One month, 28 pounds: in the first 30 days of operating the dry-cleaning business that would become Fashion Cleaners, Kermit Engh lost a small pitbull’s-worth of weight.

“I would take four shirts with me every morning so I could change,” Engh explained.

In those days, Engh worked an average of 14 hours—from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“You do what you have to do,” Engh said; apparently, that’s what he did. His robust work ethic, combined with the steady application of knowledge (Engh earned an MBA from Creighton), resulted in great success. Fashion Cleaners reported a 30% growth rate for five years within the first 10 years of Engh’s ownership.

Engh attributes his growth success to luck, as some smaller cleaners were going out of business at the time he started, allowing him to purchase the businesses at the right time. He pays constant attention to his industry. Fashion Cleaners has been certified by the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists and his company was one of the first to use eco-friendly dry cleaning that replaces petroleum-based products with products based off of silica, or sand.

He manages by using best practices, and one of those best practices is putting together a great team.

“Kermit as an acute business sense,” said Courtney Wolf, a former director of marketing at Fashion Cleaners. “He puts ownership and accountability into the hands of the people he trusts. He allows any of us that work for him to shine and bring our talents and gifts to the table.”

 Engh has grown two additional cleaning companies. One is FRSTeam, a company that specializes in fire and water damage cleanup. The other is Midwest Ultrasonic, which specializes in ultrasonic cleaning, and tackles everything from window treatments to sporting gear. His daughter, Audra Gude, runs the daily operations of those businesses.

After decades of hard work developing multiple new businesses, what else could an entrepreneur possibly grow?

He grows other entrepreneurs. Engh believes in supporting his peers in the business community by offering them guidance on their own growth. To this end, Engh serves as a managing partner of Methods for Management, an organization that brings cleaners together in order to support them with information and mentoring. Members from as far away as Toronto and Mexico City are organized into bureaus, and Engh is responsible for quarterly meetings that provide information and mentorship opportunities. It’s a way for business owners in the industry to share best practices, and more.

“He’s regarded as an industry expert. He’s the person people go to when they want advice.” said Wolf, who serves as director of marketing and events at Methods For Management Inc.

“We provide the ability to measure financials for productivity,” Engh explained. “We’ve redeveloped a platform that allows us to compare member against member to calculate averages in a group and benchmarks for performance. If someone is showing great advancement in lowering their cost of production, we are going to have a discussion about how they’re doing that.

It’s a labor intensive industry, so we are looking for ways to help people automate what they do without reducing/negatively effecting work they do.”

Engh gets a lot of pleasure working with members. “I have a lot of fun working with them,” Engh explained. “I had a phone call last night for an hour with a client in Toronto. We’re working out a path to get them on a road of growth. I enjoy that kind of thing.”

Despite all of his successes, Engh doesn’t take much credit. “I’m just lucky,” he said. “I try to surround myself with people who know what’s going on.  My job’s just to guide them towards the goal. I’ve just got a great staff.”

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This article was printed in the February/March 2020 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Kermit Engh of Fashion Cleaners