Full Steam Ahead Approach Leads to Two Decades of Success; Westbank Dry Cleaning Celebrates 20th Anniversary

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First-generation and locally owned, Westbank Dry Cleaning is fueled by a business strategy that underlines customer service and commitment to the community.

Twenty years ago, Westbank Dry Cleaning owners William and Angie Charnes faced a major wrinkle in their career paths. William Charnes’ position as a real estate portfolio manager had been eliminated, a casualty of the continuing effects of the real estate bust of the late 80s. Not to be deterred, the husband and wife entrepreneurs rolled up their sleeves and built a nationally recognized dry cleaning business, one garment at a time.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Westbank Dry Cleaning is the only dry cleaner in Texas selected as one of America’s Best Cleaners™. In the past two decades, the company has grown from an entrepreneurial vision and a single, small store to 45 employees across eight locations and a 20,000-square-foot production facility.

Though the couple launched their dry cleaning business on the heels of the downturn of the late 1980s, they had a clear vision for their company – exceptional care of clothes and customers. “The premise really is to treat our customers the way we’d like to be treated,” explained owner William Charnes. Plus, realizing that Austin dry cleaning was primarily discount-based, the couple believed that customers wanted the very best or the least expensive, and there was no in-between. As a result, they formed their company to serve the former and have never looked back.

Westbank Dry Cleaning began with one location, a 1,100-square-foot facility at Westbank Market on Bee Caves Road. “We had two employees—one presser and one person that helped run the counter,” said William Charnes. “And, I was there 12 hours a day, six days a week.”

With a background in commercial real estate, William Charnes was able to leverage that expertise to select and negotiate the first, and subsequent, shop locations—an advantage that has given this first-generation dry cleaner a leg up in a competitive market. Additionally, he is quick to credit his employees with much of the dry cleaner’s success.

In celebration of its 20 years, Westbank has created an ad campaign called “The Face of Westbank,” along with a portfolio of video and photo assets, to showcase its employees, some of whom have been with the company as long as 18 years. “Our employees are the face of our business,” said William. “They are a big part of why we are successful.”

Also, as part of its anniversary celebration, the company is giving away $2,500 in free dry cleaning—20 $100 prizes and a $500 grand prize--through a contest for its Facebook fans.

“It’s really a people business,” said Angie. “We care about our customers, and we know how to properly care for their clothing,” added William. “That’s what really sets us apart.”

Said Angie, “We are continually researching the latest equipment and committed to ongoing training in the details of fabric care and the environment.” The company is a Certified Environmental Cleaner and a member of the Green Cleaners Council. “While other cleaners have converted from using perchloroethylene solvent in recent years, we’ve never used it because we believe in the safer alternatives available,” she said. “We use a biodegradable and odorless hydrocarbon solvent. We also use biodegradable poly and recycle our hangers and poly film.”

“That type of success is not typical in today's market,” said Nora Nealis, executive director of the National Cleaners Association. "It's a real tribute to the type of business people the Charnes are," said Nealis. "With close to 30,000 dry cleaners nationwide, it's not easy to differentiate yourself from your competitor down the street, and to do it as an independently owned start-up is even tougher."

The Charnes duo is still bucking the trends of economic downturn. In the wake of the recent recession, the couple undertook a new, but complementary, venture, a business expansion into fabric restoration to reinstate smoke-damaged clothing and other soft goods. The widespread needs of victims of the devastating Bastrop wildfires last year validated the need for this kind of service in Austin.

Reports estimate that restoration can save 80 percent over replacement costs on a typical insurance claim. “We have been told that Westbank’s FRSTeam franchise is growing faster than any other new startup with the FRSTeam franchise,” William Charnes said. In addition, the dry cleaner is setting itself apart by offering free home and office delivery, a VIP Express program, as well as executive, bridal and other specialized services.

Still going strong two decades after it began, Westbank Dry Cleaning shares its success by giving back to programs like Project School Bell (with contributions exceeding $150,000) and Prom Rack, which helps provide more than 5,000 prom dresses for girls in the foster care community. And its partnership with Dress for Success has helped women throughout the community have a better chance in the world of Austin business.

The company’s motto is “Authentically Austin, Absolutely Clean™.” By combining personalized service and quality cleaning, Westbank has built a reputation that some might say is, well, spotless.

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About Westbank Dry Cleaning
Westbank Dry Cleaning has eight Austin locations, as well as a production facility, and has provided high quality dry cleaning and laundry service since 1993. The business is affiliated with the Dry Cleaning & Laundry Institute and The National Cleaner's Association. Westbank holds a triple certification from the Dry Cleaning & Laundry Institute, including Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner. They’ve also been named Best of Austin twice by Austin Chronicle voters, and have earned environmental recognition by the Green Cleaners Council. For more information, visit http://www.westbankdrycleaning.com or find Westbank on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/westbankdrycleaning.

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Diana Smith

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Barbara Wray

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