Sunday, March 11, 2001

At Kroner, change is constant


Processes new, care timeless

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        “Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.”

        The French saying about continuity through change - the more things change, the more they stay the same - might well be Kroner Dry Cleaners' motto.

        Since the late Lou Kroner Sr. established the Cheviot venture in 1939, Americans' habits and clothing have altered dramatically. Synthetic and easy-care fabrics, dual-income households, casual wear in the workplace — all have affected the dry cleaning industry.

[photo] Lou (left) and Ray Kroner at the family business in Cheviot.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        But these changes have created new opportunities for Kroner, which prides itself as moving with the times without sacrificing its customer focus.

        “We take pride in what we put out,” said Lou Kroner, who's been part of his family's business since he was discharged from the military in 1946. “It's a constant challenge to keep abreast of things and promote your business, but the fact that we are part of the community is important.”

        Said Lou Kroner's son Ray, the company's vice president: “This is a labor-intensive business that requires personal attention, and we have structured our company to meet customer needs.” He and his sister Mary Kroner are the third generation to ensure that folks on Cincinnati's west side are pressed and clean.

        Those customer needs have shifted through the decades. Time was when the bulk of Kroner's business consisted of men's clothing. Now the items that come in to be cleaned are predominantly women's. And because those women are in the workplace, they don't have time to wash, starch, press and mend — an opportunity for Kroner.

[photo] Mary Kroner presses a pair of trousers at Kroner Dry Cleaners on North Bend Road in Cheviot. Her grandfather started the family business.
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        “Women used to stay home and do their husbands' shirts,” Ray Kroner said.

        Now, customers let his company clean and launder them, make sure the buttons are secure and the collars and cuffs smooth. In September, Kroner stopped outsourcing its laundry service and installed its own facility to better handle the work.

        That's just the latest in a series of improvements Kroner has made to respond to change in the marketplace. Those improvements, such as computerized tracking and billing and a 24-hour drop box, have kept the company competitive and profitable.

        “We probably have averaged 5 percent growth per year since I started in 1978,” Ray Kroner said.

        That's despite the trend toward easy-care fabrics and casual clothing.

NO FUMES NOW
    Remember how dry-cleaning shops used to smell when you were a kid?
    Those heady fumes are gone now, Lou and Ray Kroner say, thanks to improvements in dry cleaning equipment. “Closed-loop” machines phased in during the past 15 years mean a more healthful working environment and less waste.
    “We're still using the same chemical, but need less of it now that we no longer use a transfer system,” Lou Kroner said.
    The chemical, perchlorethylene, is used by 85 percent of dry cleaners, Ray Kroner said. “Our consumption of it has decreased 40 percent with the new equipment.”
    But the industry has always recycled, he said. “We had systems to recover the perchlorethylene through separators.”
    Kroner Dry Cleaners also welcomes hangers, and can recycle plastic garment bags if customers return them.
    Kroner Dry Cleaners is at 3820 North Bend Road in Cheviot. Call 661-1400 or or visit www.kronerdrycleaners.com.
        “In the 1970s, the wash-and-wear craze affected us, but we rode through it,” Lou Kroner said.

        What the Kroners discovered was that people still want to look their best, even if they are wearing slacks and a polo shirt.

        “My pants pressers are doing gobs of Dockers,” Ray Kroner said. “In the summer, we'll see lots of golf shirts. It used to be that spring and fall were the traditional busy seasons, but this winter has been busy for us as well.

        “The impact of casual dress at work has not hit us. We find is that if people spend less on their daily wardrobe, they can afford better care for their better clothes.”

        Kroner has made it easy for its customers to use their services. Local customers are given a personalized bag, and can deposit their soiled clothes in the store's 24-hour drop. The clean clothes are ready for them two days later, with tissue paper protecting folds and stuffed into sleeves.

        “We can honor special rush orders, like for funerals, but we try not to promote same-day service, because then we start cutting corners to meet deadlines. We don't want that,” Ray Kroner said.

        For folks who don't pass the North Bend Road location frequently — an estimated 40 percent of Kroner customers — two vans provide pickup and delivery service. The routes cover the west side, making between 250 and 300 stops each week. There's also service to two downtown office buildings.

        “I have a list of names of people in other areas who want delivery, but I don't want to expand too fast. I don't want to lose control,” he said.

        Most of the customers who use the pickup and delivery service maintain charge accounts with Kroner and are billed monthly. That's been an effective way to attract and retain customers, he added.

        The same computer system that handles the monthly billing keeps track of each garment as it moves through the cleaning or laundry process, and records the cost of service.

        And although much of that process is automated, Ray Kroner emphasized that his staff is still involved at many checkpoints.

        “We inspect garments as they're cleaned,” he said, watching an employee touch up a shirt collar. “We're constantly looking for stains and loose buttons. Hands-on makes a big difference in laundry and dry cleaning. Here, a lot of hands are touching the clothes.”

        Finding those hands has not been a problem for the company.

        “We've been fortunate in that labor is not an issue for us,” he said. “Some employees have been with me for about 20 years.”

        Ray's mother, Ann, whom he calls “a seamstress extraordinaire,” helps with the mending, as she has done for many years. And his sister Mary, who left the restaurant business four years ago, fills in wherever she's needed.
       



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