By John Paul Roggenkamp
In this article, we’ll look at how four different drycleaning professionals approach the rewarding challenge of using mentorship to turn promising individuals into talented and self-assured leaders. It’s usually helpful to start out by defining the topic at hand, so here goes: mentoring is the act of showing people what you do each day while also explaining to them a bit of the reasoning behind each decision (verbally, nonverbally, both, or neither) until they viscerally understand your provenly-successful modus operandi and can purposefully model their actions upon it.
Closeness Builds Community
Being in the physical presence of other people is one way to start turning associates into friends, and friends into family. “What I do is to look for somebody who is hungry to learn, someone who doesn’t appear to have had someone to give them some guidance in the past,” said Norman Way of Puritan Cleaners in Richmond, Virginia. Way currently serves on DLI’s Board of Directors. “Personally I find that most mentoring involves spending time with a person. And taking them along for the journey when you’re making decisions or implementing a project,” no matter how big or small. “Professionally,” he continued, “the best mentor I know is the president of my cleaners. Gary Glover runs his business this way, by taking someone under his wing and showing that person what the daily decision-making process involves.”
“You begin by caring and finding business associates with potential and the same core values as yourself,” said Jan Barlow of Jan’s Professional Dry Cleaners and Laundromat in Clio, Michigan. Barlow is also a DLI Past President. Mentoring someone “starts with a conversation,” she said. “I am an accumulation of experiences and opinions from those I have surrounded myself with.” Mentoring from afar is easier today than during any previous age, too. “Usually I meet with my mentors by phone,” she continued. “Geography doesn’t count anymore. Everyone has a super busy life so the phone is the vehicle to communicate best currently.” Streaming-video chat and messaging services add a visual component to remote mentoring, allowing for the transmission of subtle but crucial facial expressions and other types of body language.
“When I started at Street’s I had recently graduated from college, so much of my knowledge was theoretical and not practical,” said Kristen Vos of R.R. Street in the Chicago area. “This may sound pretty basic, but L. Ross Beard showed me practical ways to organize complex projects and large events that would help ensure all the details were covered.” Even if the lights go out, a business owner or manager who understands how each part of a drycleaners works will be better equipped to triage the business in times of crisis, knowing what to pay attention to and what to leave dormant. “I believe that it is essential to have a variety of people in your life whom you turn to as trusted and experienced advisors, who can offer great insight into all kinds of situations and decisions,” Vos continued. And don’t fret about keeping or losing mentors. “Sometimes a certain person will only be a mentor for a short period in your life in a given situation,” she wrote. “Others are lifelong mentors. Both are extremely important and valuable.” In other words, consciously value each moment spent with everyone you meet.
All mentors eventually become family, but some start out that way. “My mother had a British accent and she was very dynamic,” said Lynnette Watterson of Crystal Cleaning Center in San Mateo, California. Among the endearing stories she shared about her mother Violet Janks was that the matriarch founded the current business at the age of 45, shortly after emigrating to America from South Africa. “At all of the meetings or conventions she went to secured a front-row seat during each presentation, always participated in Q&A, always paid very close attention, and always interacted with the presenter.” By nature admittedly not as outgoing, Watterson said she finds herself copying her mother’s habit of speaking publicly. “We still have a huge picture of her [hanging up above the cash registers]. That front area is full of so much of her presence. She’s still mentoring in absentia. Her little expressions influence me even today.” The best mentors guide us even when they are no longer with us.
Knowledge Shared Is Knowledge Gained
“My mentors have impacted my life in a positive way, and I strive to implement their guidance,” said Watterson. “I’ve been in all the official positions on the California Cleaners’ Association, and I continue to be active in the industry associations, which is how we stay in touch with and support [i.e. mentor] each other.” Whenever one looks, it seems, are opportunities to both teach and learn.
There are no known downsides to mentoring, or being mentored. In fact, passing along as much of what you’ve learned as possible is one way to keep life balanced. “Ideas and information are the kind of things you can give and receive but never have to let go of,” said Way.
“The bottom line is this,” Way said. “In the Bible there’s the story of the apostle Paul and young Timothy [Acts 16]. Paul was the older, wiser guy who poured into Timothy’s ear, but Paul had someone earlier in his life who poured into his ear. In your life, you should always have someone you pour into, and someone who pours into you,” he said. “The Dead Sea is dead because it only has an inlet. It doesn’t have an outlet. As you’re given things, you should give them away.”
That’s the kind of advice people young and old need to hear. Take someone aside, ask if they’re ready to start learning, then share one of your best practices with them, today!