Small-business owners, what are you doing to stand out from the crowd? Each week, we focus on an entrepreneur who has lessons to share that we think will resonate with other small-business owners.
David Kistner, founder and president of non-toxic dry cleaner Green Apple Cleaners, answers our questions:
What are you doing to stand out from the crowd?
Traditional dry cleaners have been known to use potentially carcinogenic chemicals like perchloroethylene, or PERC, and hydrocarbons, but Green Apple Cleaners treats its customers’ clothing with carbon dioxide and water -– a cleaning process the industry calls “green” or “non-toxic.” Green Apple Cleaners is the first non-toxic dry cleaner to set up shop in the tri-state area. (There were only 29 other non-toxic dry cleaners in the country when we launched.) Dry cleaning remains our main source of revenue, but we have also built out a green consumer products company. Today, we’re not only working on inking arrangements to franchise our concept, but we’ve also launched a variety of other green ventures: Green Apple Interiors, Green Apple Consumer Products (natural soaps and detergents), Green Apple Concierge, and, most recently, the non-profit Green Apple Foundation, whose mission is to help teach children about protecting the environment.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
I get to spend more time with my family. Last year, I got cancer, which luckily put me out of commission for only six months. During that time, I grew to appreciate owning my own business. Having the flexibility that stems from not answering to anyone is invaluable.
What’s the biggest challenge of owning your own business?
Educating consumers about the value of our service and the dangers of the chemicals used by traditional dry cleaners. When my wife was pregnant with twins, we read seemingly every parenting book. Upon reading one for dads, I found that my wife shouldn’t be having her clothes dry cleaned while pregnant. As it turns out, the chemicals used in the typical dry cleaning process are carcinogenic and bad for developing fetuses. Teaching others about these dangers, which we discovered for ourselves only six years ago, is an immense task. In addition to informing customers about how we’re different than our more traditional counterparts, I regularly attend and speak at eco and sustainability tradeshows.
Name: David Kistner
Business: Green Apple Cleaners, a non-toxic dry cleaner.
Industry: Dry Cleaning
Location: New York
Year founded: 2006
Number of employees: 80
Web address: GreenAppleCleaners.com
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?
It is expensive to use green technology — especially in an industry that has price points and delivery times that are determined using less expensive technology. Our machines cost a couple hundred thousand dollars, whereas regular dry cleaning machines cost about $15,000. We do everything differently, but we still have to do it within the benchmarks of the industry. To make these costs easier to absorb — in the beginning, at least — I brought in partners and shopped my concept around to investors.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I didn’t prepare well enough for the pushback I’d encounter in the industry. Although I’m certain that to be successful it’s necessary disturb and even destroy complacency, I’ve found that many of my competitors don’t share my views. In these rough economic times, people are doing anything and everything to sabotage my company. Between leaving fake messages on Yelp and even posting inappropriate things about my family online, it’s clear that some of my dry cleaning competitors fight dirty.
What’s the best business advice you can offer?
Don’t be afraid to be bold. Don’t be afraid to do something different. Don’t let the naysayers get in your way.
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