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
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.
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.
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
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.