OXFORD, Miss. — Herron Rowland really didn’t want to sell the corner location his Rainbow Cleaners occupied. For months he politely declined the inquiries of a real estate developer representing a major drug store chain. The chain kept looking for a suitable site in Oxford but always came back to Rainbow’s corner. Eventually, Rowland agreed to sell the property and relocate his business.
He promptly set into motion a plan to build a better plant. Having seen his business operate out of what once had been a steakhouse, Rowland was excited to take advantage of the opportunity to build new.
He invested in excess of $1 million to design and develop a 5,000-square-foot “building that’s purpose was to function as a dry cleaning operation.” That high-visibility plant, located just seven blocks from Rainbow’s previous location, earned the Grand Prize for Best Plant Design in the 52nd Annual American Drycleaner Plant Design Awards.
Rainbow Cleaners has served Oxford, home to the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss, since 1970. Rowland is an Ole Miss graduate, having received a business degree there in 1985. He recalls that Rainbow always stood out among the nine or 10 cleaners that once served this community.
It was originally located in the city square but as the retail environment changed and being located downtown became less convenient for customers, Rainbow Cleaners was relocated into a defunct steakhouse on Jackson Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare that borders the Ole Miss campus, in 1996.
When Rainbow’s founder decided to retire several years later, Rowland and wife Cynthia acquired the dry cleaner in 2003.
They made no immediate changes to the business that had experienced growth during what Rowland calls the “Eli era.” The Ole Miss football program had risen to prominence in 2000-2003 on the right arm of quarterback Eli Manning, and the community and the university had grown because of it.
A few years after Manning went pro, Rowland upgraded the business with a new dry cleaning machine and some presses. “I had no intention of moving,” he says. “My plans were to continue to improve the location and the property, but I was approached by a developer for CVS Pharmacy. I was not interested in moving, but after an 18-month process, we finally reached an agreement that I would relocate.
“If I was going to go through this, instead of making a cleaner fit in a Bonanza Steakhouse building, we had an opportunity here to start from the ground up.”
Rowland wouldn’t have to look far to find a new location. Just up the road, “catty-corner” to the western entrance of the Ole Miss campus, sat a vacant lot. The project that had been planned for the site had stalled when the economy slowed down.
Construction on the new Rainbow Cleaners commenced there in June 2011, and the business began transitioning in November 2011. The move was completed in early 2012.
As Rowland worked with an architect to develop a plant layout based on positioning of certain equipment, he considered switching to a SPOT Business Systems computer system. When he asked the software company for references, it recommended he contact Deluxe Cleaners in Birmingham, Ala.
Upon talking to the principals at Deluxe Cleaners about his software needs and describing the type of build-from-scratch project he was undertaking, they suggested he seek out Sheldon Bray, a dry cleaning consultant with Cleaner’s Mentor Consulting out of Nashville, to review his plan.
“I picked up the phone and I called him,” Rowland says. “During those conversations, I sent him a copy of the plant layout, which was sufficient, but Sheldon presented a plant layout that had a business model with it. We scrapped that first plant layout, and I handed it over to Sheldon.”
The drive-thru at the previous location was in the back of the building, and wasn’t highly visible or accessible.
“I wanted to create a drive-thru-dominant store that not just offered drive-thru but almost attracted the customer to the drive-thru rather than the counter,” says Bray, a fourth-generation dry cleaner himself. “Wanted to be able to wait on a lot of cars at once.”
Where the previous plant had used perc for dry cleaning, Bray advised Rowland to switch to hydrocarbon dry cleaning plus wet cleaning, which he did.
The previous location was confining, says Rowland, with little natural light reaching the back of the business. He really wanted a plant that embraced open spaces and let the light shine on the dry cleaning work his employees was doing.
Tomorrow: Opening the plant for all to see...