If you’ve ever served on a jury, you know how difficult it is to get a dozen people to agree on a single decision. Now imagine getting 14 people from all walks of life to agree on every decision.
That’s the situation Zips Dry Cleaners found itself in when the north Virginia chain decided to begin franchising in 2006.
The company’s board puts the Village People to shame in terms of diversity and includes everyone from a retired El Salvadoran general to an IRS agent to a nuclear energy consultant.
Back in 2001, the 14, who collectively owned eight dry cleaners in the mid-Atlantic, came together as a buying collective to help cut costs. They branded themselves as Zips, pooled their advertising funds and agreed to standardize operating procedures and offer same-day, one-price dry cleaning — currently $1.99 per garment.
The project worked so well that in 2006 the group decided to franchise and agreed to elect four board members as officers. Every month they get together to hash out the details, a process that’s at times raucous, at others tedious.
But that vast array of experience and 10 years of cooperation has allowed Zips to grow to 28 franchises, with another 10 to 15 coming this year.
We spoke to owner Bart Casiello and owner and board chair Brett Vago to find out the true meaning of cooperation.
What’s it like working with all those people?
Casiello: Having 14 owners is challenging, to say the least. Each one came from owning their own business and is used to making their own decisions. We have a lot of respect for each other, but it’s tough to give up control. In the beginning, we would argue over stupid things like how tight to tie hangers together.
We like to say we have to take three votes, because whatever group is most passionate about an issue wins at first. Then the group that loses sways enough people to go in the opposite direction. Then we vote a month later and it can go in any direction. We’re only as fast as our slowest owner.