September 22, 2020

Germ Fighting Soap Leads to New Possibilities

Utopia Cleaners Banner

When the state of Massachusetts shut down and recommended the Commonwealth work from home, the large Boston office buildings emptied. Many city residents fled to the suburbs and even out of state. With that mass exodus, Myeong Lowe, founder and owner of Utopia Cleaners, witnessed the need for dry cleaning services plummet overnight; No button-down shirts, suits, and handle with care apparel required for these now remote workers. Rather than dwelling on the loss of business, Lowe focused resources on another arm of Utopia; wash, dry and fold with pickup and delivery services. Only a few weeks ago, Lowe, a long-time client of Northern Bank, called Justin Thomas with Northern’s small business lending team. Lowe shared with Justin he “doesn’t know when dry cleaning will ever come back to where it once was but is excited to take a chance and grow the wash and fold side of the business.” This expansion opportunity required securing financing options and Lowe knew that Justin would listen to his plan and develop the most optimal solution. At Northern we stay true to our mission as Your Partner for Growth®.


It all started when a few of his Downtown Boston “regulars” called Lowe and asked about that “special soap” he uses for sanitizing clothes. “They remembered I had a process that was environmentally safe and provided germ free cleaning, and with Covid, people want to make sure their clothes are really clean.” Utopia had been an early adopter of the eco-friendly garment cleaning process referred to as wet cleaning, which replaces the commonly used (and often hazardous) solvent, PERC (perchloroethylene), with water and biodegradable detergents. Lowe’s innovative approach to traditional laundry services was about to be the differentiator he needed to stay afloat. Never did he think this would lead to expansion during an economic downturn.

THE PIVOT

Referrals and Utopia’s website toting these green laundry services, with high sanitizing capabilities, contributed to an uptick in business. His Boston customers started asking Lowe and his team to travel to their homes for laundry pickup and delivery. Also, existing corporate accounts began requesting extra laundry services to meet the demand of their own customers. For example, Lowe provides laundry services to one of the largest online retailers for their local grocery delivery operations. Lowe told Northern, “the people work all day in refrigerators getting together the groceries, so we wash all those warm winter clothes.” Due to the major increase in grocery delivery orders during the Pandemic, Lowe went from picking up laundry at this facility three days a week to seven days a week.


Word continues to travel about this germ fighting soap and process that Utopia utilizes, and even a couple of hospitals have reached out for pickup and delivery services. Lowe, who is adamant that he continues to keep the health and safety of his employees above all business opportunities, is uncomfortable at this time, taking on these new accounts. “I need to do more research before I send in my driver. I need to ensure he is safe when picking up, because that is a lot of people to come in contact with.” His thoughtfulness about his employees spills out into the communities he serves, as Lowe has decided to not charge the police officers looking for dry cleaning services during the Pandemic. He had always provided these front-line workers with a discount but found this as an opportunity to say thank you for your service. Even though his dry cleaning business is down a substantial amount in comparison to previous years, Lowe continues to stay true to his employees and community.


THE OPPORTUNITY

There are a lot of unknowns ahead for Utopia Cleaners, but Lowe is ready to take that leap of faith and grow the wash and fold side of the business. Unfortunately, many of Lowe’s fellow dry cleaning businesses have had to close their doors, and they are trying to sell their equipment. Lowe explained to Justin that with a loan he could purchase this equipment and retrofit them to be used in the wet cleaning process. He sees this as a win win for the people trying to unload the equipment and for himself, as he needs to meet the growing demand of his customers. Additionally, with the increase in pickup and delivery services, Lowe would like to purchase a new van and hire another driver. He is confident expanding this arm of the business is key to surviving the Pandemic.


Justin and his team believe in Lowe’s tenacity and entrepreneurial grit to overcome what has destroyed many small businesses. Here at Northern, As Your Partner for Growth®, we celebrate the perseverance of our clients and support them when they need us most.


Do you have a vision for expansion? Or a new business opportunity? Let’s connect! Justin and the Northern Team are here for your SBA lending needs.

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