“Water, fire, mold and storm” reads the wording on the fleet of vans lined outside GoGreen Dry Cleaners’ year-old dry cleaning store and
processing plant on a bucolic stretch of the Long Island Sound shore in Norwalk. Recently, WAG met with GoGreen founder Igor Madrit to consider the meaning of those words for an entrepreneur as well as the increasing importance of the environment in a business that has often been singled out for harming it.
Igor, thanks for talking to WAG. Before we get into the serious business of cleaning, tell me a little bit about your background.
“I’m originally from Latvia and moved here when I was 9. I grew up in Mamaroneck. Like any other immigrant child, it was tough for me in the beginning. I didn’t speak the language and really, I came from nothing. I built everything myself.”
So how did the ‘building’ start? And why dry cleaning?
“I started working in a dry cleaners in Eastchester when I was in high school. The guy — the owner — seemed to be successful and so I got to thinking this was a good business and gradually got into it. I opened my first store in Yorktown, then another in Mohegan Lake and then just kept on going.”
And the state of play now?
“We have 11 stores — in Brewster and Mohegan Lake, two in Mamaroneck, one in Pelham, two at Harbor Point and one in Norwalk, and now three in Florida — in West Palm Beach, Jupiter, Palm Beach Island. And we’ll soon be opening another in Miami. We also have a partnership with the Brightline (the new train service between Miami and Orlando) and plan to do drop stores in all their train stations.
How did Florida come about?
“My partner moved south and wanted to copy the model we had here. We considered franchising but have so far rejected it. Like nearly all businesses, ours took a tremendous hit during Covid, but I really believe that by the spring it will start coming back. It’s been a tough time for sure, but things seem to be on the up.”
What makes for being a great dry cleaner as opposed to being just an average dry cleaner?
“Number one, the quality of the cleaning. Number two, I would say, customer service. Number three, pickup and delivery. Number four is going out there and getting the business, building relationships, marketing, being more strategic. We work with communities. We set up booths at green events (such as the Green Expo in Harbor Point and the Green Event at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich). And we also treat our employees right, so we hang on to them. We pay them a little bit more and get a little bit more out of them, because they’re happy to work here.”
And is it fair to say that effective dry cleaning is compatible with greener dry cleaning?
“Absolutely. We genuinely use greener cleaning. We use silicone, not PERC (perchloroethylene, the most common solvent used for dry cleaning in the United States). PERC is a carcinogenic, which causes a lot of problems. A lot of old-school dry cleaners are very sick now because of that. (With silicone), there’s no smell, clothes come out brighter and softer and they last a whole lot longer, because silicon doesn’t interact too much with the fibers.”
Besides your own commitment to greenness, is the business changing generally, and if so, how?
“Yes, it’s changing… the old mom and pop store, with just the one shop, no pickup and delivery service… that’s going away at this point. And it’s not such a corporate environment either, you know, especially since Covid, fewer suits, less collared shirts. People are wearing yoga pants to their offices.”
And operational challenges?
“Finding the right staff is always hard and you have to stay on top of things. If you have one bad apple, it can hurt you a lot, just like in any business. But for my part I’m nice to people. I treat them the way I want to be treated. That’s my No. 1 goal.”
Any future plans?
“Day by day. I do have some ideas. We want to open up more stores in Florida, focusing more on pickup and delivery and the concierge service, as well as developing the restoration side of the business. “
Ah yes, I was coming to that. Tell me about it.
“We’re really two businesses — Go Green and Go Green Restoration of Norwalk, which I got into a couple of years ago, although under the same umbrella. We help people with smoke-damaged clothes, with soot in their clothes. We have wet-cleaning systems and dry-cleaning systems that get out the smells and all the carcinogens that come from mold and smoke. With fire and water damage, we see what’s salvageable and what’s not. We can deal with insurance companies and even help finding temporary accommodation (for our customers) in apartments and hotels.”
And mold is a big one, right?
“For sure. Mold grows on dust — people don’t realize. They have allergies or get sick and a lot of the time they don’t even know they have mold in their home. So, it’s very important to educate our clients. We do testing. We send tests to the laboratories. We get the results back and see if the levels are high or low. People can (even) go to their doctor to check the mold levels in their blood.”
Fascinating. A very scientific approach.
“Yes, it is very scientific. You know, a lot of the time people will tell us, ‘Oh, we have a little water in our house,’ but what they won’t know is that it might be Category 3 water, which means it might be mixed with sewage water, with a lot of viruses and bacteria. And air — air is very important. You’ve got to clean your HV systems yearly, or at least every couple of years because you breathe this stuff…the same if you have a lot of rugs or drapery.”
You’re making me nervous.
“I don’t want to make you nervous, but let’s say… let’s just say, it’s especially important to be clean these days, with all these viruses that we know are around.”
For more, visit gogreendrycleaners.net and gogreenrestoration.com