Women’s History Month: Interview with Spin Doctor Laundromat Owner Cathy Neilley
March is Women’s History Month. What better to celebrate women’s contributions in the workplace than by acknowledging the achievements of women in the laundry industry. One such outstanding businesswoman is Cathy Neilley who left a thriving corporate career to start a high-end laundromat and create the Spin Doctor brand in 2012.
Spin Doctor Laundromat located in Hamilton, New Jersey, is a fresh modern take on today’s laundromat. The mission of the 3,000 square-foot store is to enrich the lives of its customers. To accomplish its mission, Spin Doctor features a customer-centric staff and high-performance Electrolux professional equipment.
Winner of Reader Ranking’s business award for “Best Local Business,” Cathy is truly an embodiment of the entrepreneurial mindset. With a professional path full of interesting twists and turns, she meets every new challenge with the appropriate amount of resilience and determination.
“I learned to think of ‘setbacks’ as challenges,” shares Cathy. “Which in turn would lead me to new opportunities.”
Her first career challenge came early on
“I didn’t get into medical school, which was a huge disappointment,” says Cathy. “But I had so many positive family influences involved in science that I wasn’t going to give up on a science career quite yet.”
Cathy’s mother was a hospital administrator at Kings County and Harlem Hospital. Her aunt was the second black woman to graduate from Yale medical school and was a pioneer in sickle cell anemia research. Another aunt served as the Acting Health Commissioner for the State of New York.
And from her father, a love of science-fiction paperbacks. “My father didn’t leave for work without his paperbacks,” laughs Cathy. “In addition to being an avid reader, he was a professional photographer, and a motorman for the NY Transit Authority.”
If medical school wasn’t an option, Cathy resolved herself to find something that was. She went on active duty in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and upon return, trained in the field of clinical pathology, where she could stay within striking distance of a career in medicine.
After being certified, she worked in several New York hospital laboratories. However, she soon found career opportunities within the lab very limited.
Her second career challenge led to a new goal
“At that point, I thought, ‘I’ll get my MBA and continue working in the lab,’” explains Cathy. “An MBA degree would be my entry into hospital administration or the pharmaceutical industry and I’d be set.”
As she began her MBA studies, Cathy purchased a book that would ultimately change the direction of her calling.
“The book was how to make a million dollars from an investment of hundred bucks,” says Cathy. “Definitely not on the required-reading list! But I was single and wanted to prepare in case I didn’t get a well-paying job or married, which I know probably sounds incredibly strange to young women today.”
“The book suggested owning a car wash or laundromat since they were considered ‘crown jewel’ businesses, thought to be recession proof,” explains Cathy. “I mean, you still have to clean your clothes no matter what happens in life, and that particular point resonated with me.”
At that time, Cathy lacked the funds to make such an investment. Yet with her MBA degree now in hand, she sought to break into pharmaceutical sales. It was an especially difficult transition to make for women without nursing or solid sales experience. “To address the gap,” shares Cathy, “I took a second job as a management trainee for Frito-Lay and drove a delivery truck.”
Her hard work paid off
After all the hard work, Cathy finally landed a coveted sales rep position and began her long career in pharmaceutical marketing and sales. However, Cathy says, “Over time, I couldn’t help but see the “-isms” and how they played into corporate politics.”
“Ageism, favoritism, sexism, and racism were sadly rampant,” says Cathy. “A corporate career left me disillusioned. I was ready for something new and entrepreneurial.”
Cathy jumped on two opportunities as they presented themselves: First, she started a small home-based sporting-goods company named Catania Sports; and then took a new position as a brand manager for Johnson & Johnson. There she spearheaded the creation of a “green” marketing campaign that took off.
The advanced technology and environmentally friendly platform became a major selling point to hospitals,” Cathy explains. “Johnson & Johnson’s equipment was better not only from a technological standpoint, but for the environment and community. The ‘green’ aspect was top of mind when I finally left to start my first Laundromat and create the Spin Doctor brand.”
An exit package, personal savings, and a consultant job were the winning combination that launched Spin Doctor Laundromat into existence.
Cathy’s unwavering determination and accomplishments are sure to inspire other women, and men, to achieve their professional best. Here are some hard-won business gems that Cathy has learned along the way.
Entrepreneurial insights from Cathy Neilley
- Use every single job in any career to sharpen your leadership skills and learn to become an effective team member.
- Don’t discount the intangible “softer skills,” such as listening and creative problem-solving to promote relationship-building and improve customer service.
- Don’t be intimidated by the idea of joining a “boy’s club” since virtually all Laundromats are independent and/or family-owned.
- Find mentors in and out of the industry; join women’s and business organizations for business and personal support.
- Get an accountant well versed in business that can help manage the books.
Cathy also encourages giving back to the community
For instance, Spin Doctor Laundromat is an annual sponsor of the Hamilton Girls Softball team; has raised money for One Simple Wish and Big Brothers Big Sisters; donated clothes to the Rescue Mission of Trenton, Salvation Army, and Goodwill; and hosted a blood drive.
“In October 2016, we hosted our first Laundry Love event,” shares Cathy. “Laundry Love is a non-profit, out of California, that seeks to help organize free laundry days for struggling members of the community. St. Mark’s Church in Hamilton approached me about hosting it and we partnered up for a successful event.”
On the business side, Cathy offers up her Laundromat to host networking events for local business groups. Additionally, local and national businesses can advertise on Spin Doctor’s Laundry Card kiosks.
“Every patron must interact with kiosks at some point to first obtain, add money to, and check activity of their laundry cards,” says Cathy, “so that translates into thousands of views for an individual business at extremely low rates.”
With a career unlike most – from medical to service to sales and now entrepreneurship – we are so proud to have Cathy Neilley as an Electrolux store owner and to feature her this month to celebrate Women in Laundry.
If you would like to learn more about Cathy and Spin Doctor Laundromat, please visit: