Looking for a manager?

Let’s face it.  It’s difficult to find managers in this business.  Wait.  Let me be more specific.  It’s difficult to find qualified managers in this business.  This is a very inconvenient truth because I believe that the most valuable investment that you can make – the one with the most significant return on investment – is a qualified manager.   I see clear patterns.

1.    Hard workers with an exemplary work ethic are promoted to management.

I am as guilty as anyone of taking a great employee and wishing them into a supervisory role.  This has a clear advantage.  It is important that employees view their leader as a person that isn’t ever afraid to “roll up their sleeves”.  If you expect a lot out of your staff, but are personally a slouch, you will fail as a manager.  However, the downside will keep you stagnant.  This person will do whatever it takes to get the work out.  They will push through anything to make it happen.  They will work long hours if necessary.  This is the most common type of manager that I see.  The problem is that they work harder than they should.  They are just fine with being the best employee in the company, but they don’t groom their subordinates to be the same way.  There was a drop store manager in Louisiana some years ago that I am certain was the best drop store manager ever.  And he knew it.  He loved being the envy of his peers; the one that they looked up to.  He would do anything that was asked of him except for one thing.  I believe that he would have been much more valuable to the company if he worked to make the other managers in the company as good as he was rather than just viewing them from his ivory tower.  These managers are often too involved in the day-to-day and in their own agenda to look for ways to improve their company, streamline the operation and improve the customer experience.  Change is tough for them and they cite being “too busy” as the reason for wanting everything to remain status quo.


2.    Long term employees are promoted to management.

This type of manager isn’t quite as common as the previous type, but there’s a bunch out there and they are often very poor.  Most times I find that they are on the wrong team.  They are in a management role but they aren’t on your team.  Its easy to see this once you peel back the candy coating.  Let’s say that this person is your production manager and you pressure him/her to improve pressing productivity.  Their response will be “I keep telling them” [‘them’ being the press staff] but nothing improves.  Many managers think that they have done their job because they “keep telling them”.  Their job isn’t to tell them; their job is to make it happen.  Anybody can do the telling!  When push comes to shove, the manager still has failed to improve pressing productivity but now the defense for failure becomes more vivid.  Now, instead of saying “I keep telling them”, they say “these people need their hours”.   You know that you have the wrong person in place when they say this.  This statement shows that they are on the employees’ team, not yours.  When I hear this, I am not even sure that they ever sincerely addressed a productivity issue with the press staff.  I consider that they probably chose to sidestep the issue in order to avoid a confrontation with the staff.  Remember, this “manager” was once their equal, but now they are expected to be their superior when they jumped to your side of the fence.  That change in their thinking never took place, in spite of their words.  The results, or lack of them, proves this.

3.    New hires that used to be a manager for another drycleaner are promoted to management

Sometimes you think that you’ve scored a touchdown when you stumble upon a person that was a manager at another cleaners, near or far.  Sometimes you will be right, but not always.  The trick is to make sure that this person adopts your methods first rather than you adopting his or her style.  They might come to the table with everything you need, or they may come with a set of bad habits that has continually thwarted his success or advancement.  If he is the former, then he is demonstrating his flexibility and his ability to adapt.  Just because you need a manager does not mean that any of your procedures need changing.  Just because you hire someone from the outside does not mean that their ideas are better than yours.  I see this often with new startup plants.  Someone completely unfamiliar with this industry hires a (much needed) manager with an extensive resume.  Every word this person utters sounds like gospel.  This is very dangerous, especially in the case of these industry newbies.  By the time the new owner catches on, much damage has been done.  And sometimes its too late.


As a very costly byproduct of any of these, investments in equipment are made in an effort to do the management work.  Equipment doesn’t run any business.  Managers do.   When you have any sort of problem, the solution always lies within management.  But it’s a costly lesson.  Examples of this are everywhere.  You find that your shirt pressing quality is lacking.  Customers are complaining, or worse.  You see a shirt unit at the Clean Show that presses shirt after shirt, flawlessly.  You buy that but do not get the same results.  Because you are only getting 20 pants per hour, you buy a sandwich legger so that you can get 50 pants per hour.  It doesn’t happen.  You switch to barcodes to speed up assembly and eliminate errors.  Nothing changes.  All of these undesirable results happen because you didn’t need a shirt unit, a pants press or an assembly machine.  You needed a manager that continually develops the staff, works to improve the company and to enhance the customer experience.  Equipment minus management often turns out to be a train wreck.


I have found that former restaurant managers adapt well to this industry.  The environment in which they work is similar to ours in that the surroundings are not glamourous, the need to get it done now prevails and it can be hot and uncomfortable to work.  Admittedly, the learning curve can be steep, but the right person easily overcomes that obstacle.


Unfortunately, the epilogue here does not contain a magical answer, only wisdom.  We all have done bad hires but the trick is to be capable of recognizing when enough is enough; being able to read the handwriting on the wall to be able (one more for the cliché-fest) to see inside the crystal ball.  If you have multiple plants, train a new manager for plant A at plant B.  If you don’t have more than one plant, train a new manager at a drop store so that he/she gets as much experience as possible with everything that goes on there.  Including reading lots of back issues of this and every other publication. 


Good luck.  It’s a challenge out there!

Donald Desrosiers

Donald Desrosiers

Don Desrosiers has been in the laundry and drycleaning industry for over 30 years.  As a management consultant, work-flow systems engineer and efficiency expert, he has created the highly acclaimed Tailwind Shirt System, the Tailwind System for Drycleaning and Firestorm for Restoration.  He owns and operates Tailwind Systems, a management consulting and work-flow engineering firm.  Desrosiers is a monthly columnist for The National Clothesline, Korean Cleaners Monthly, The Golomb Group Newsletter and Australia's The National Drycleaner and Launderer.   He is the 2001 winner of IFI's Commitment to Professionalism Award.  He has a website at www.tailwindsystems.com and can be reached at tailwindsystems@charter.net or my telephone at 508.965.3163

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