Women in Laundry: Interview with Classic Drycleaners and Laundromats owner Paula Kostick

With nine drycleaners, five Laundromats, and a central plant for drycleaning and wetcleaning services, Classic Drycleaners and Laundromats owner Paula Kostick is without question an influencer in today’s laundry industry.

However, as a teenager, Paula found it hard to envision herself with a serious career – much less one where she was overseeing the Classic brand of businesses, located in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania metro area. “I wasn’t much of a ‘school person,’” she shares. “I did like to work though, and ride horses. That’s all I knew about myself.”

Paula had an after-school job working at one of her father’s Laundromats. That is, until she was let go. “I was 16 and like many 16-year-olds, I tended to act like one,” recalls Paula. “One day the store manager had enough and fired me.”

Taken aback yet undaunted, Paula walked across the street from the Laundromat and got a job at Wendy’s where she worked the rest of her junior and senior year of high school. Then Paula went to college. About a year in, she decided the college experience wasn’t right for her.

Two peas in a pod

“I’m a lot like my dad, Paul,” muses Paula. “We both place a high value on doing an honest day’s work.”

After leaving college and returning home, Paula began working in various fast-food restaurants without any clear career path. “Then I asked my dad if he was hiring and he said he didn’t know,” laughs Paula. “’Just fill out an application and get an interview.’ So that’s what I did.”

By this time, the Classic brand had grown to include several drycleaning locations and Laundromats. Paula’s father employed general managers who were responsible for running the daily operations.

Paula interviewed with one of her father’s general managers and was hired on the spot. However, she was quick to point out that she received no special treatment.

“I started where everyone pretty much starts out in the drycleaning business, pressing pants,” Paula says. “I drycleaned for a year and was eager to learn all I could about the business.”

Then an opportunity appeared

A general manager’s position opened up within her father’s company. She was only 23-years old, but Paula felt ready to take on the responsibility. “I went through the interview process along with other candidates,” shares Paula.

Up until this point, Paula’s father had been contemplating selling the business her parents had begun before she was born.

Paul and his wife Joanne Kostick had opened their first drycleaning store in 1970. “It was a One Hour Martinizing drycleaning franchise and they did it for 10 years,” explains Paula. “In 1980, they opened a drycleaner under their own name, Classic DryCleaner. Mom even designed the logo.”

Sadly, Joanne passed away when Paula was 11. Paul continued on raising their family and growing the Classic brand; building what he and Joanne had created together.

Over the years, Paul had always enjoyed the real estate aspect of running a sizable business as well as purchasing equipment, but he disliked the day-to-day involvements. Paul struggled with the notion of handing the reins over to an outsider. Now with his daughter seeking a leadership role, Paul decided to put his trust in her.

In 1998, Paula was hired as general manager

In her new role, Paula very much wanted to prove her worth. Growing up, Paul and Paula didn’t always have a warm and fuzzy father-daughter relationship.

“He was always a very straightforward type of dad,” reminisces Paula. “For instance, when I came home from college, he told me I had two weeks to get a place to live or pay him rent. He wasn’t mean about it, it was just the way it was.

Now, Paula can better appreciate her father’s practical nature and no-nonsense child raising. “Looking back, he really prepared me to be a responsible person and a business leader,” she shares. “I can’t thank him enough.”

Making her mark

As general manager, Paula worked hard, immersing herself in the everyday operations and strategic planning to make her own mark growing her father’s company. She would quickly get her chance to do exactly that.

The early 90s was a time when “Dress-Down Friday” was fast becoming the norm, and by 1998, Paula saw the financial impact polo shirts and khaki pants were having on Classic’s drycleaning services.

To combat the steadfast acceptance of “Casual Work Days,” Paula decided to branch out with her unique idea – partnering with CRDN.

“Certified Restoration DryCleaning Network, better known as CRDN, offers insurance restoration for clothing damaged in household disasters such as floods and fires,” explains Paula. “We partnered with CRDN in 2003 and it has been an invaluable resource for us, creating direct relationships with insurance companies. It felt great to trust myself and make the decision to run with it.”

Trusted relationships with Wascomat Commercial Laundry Equipment

When it comes to choosing commercial laundry equipment, Paula likes to follow in her father’s footsteps. “My dad always purchased Wascomat washers and dryers,” says Paula. “We have 30-year old Wascomat machines that are still running and look great.”

Paula has also continued the longstanding business relationship with Wascomat Regional Sales Director, Dan Goldman. “Dan is not only our trusted sales rep, but a friend,” shares Paula. “Throughout the years we have relied on him for his candid advice and expertise.”

When it came time to buy a wetcleaning system, Paula turned to Dan and the Wascomat brand. “The Wascomat WetClean System was perfect – environmentally safe and dual-use for drycleaners,” says Paula. “What can I say, I love Wascomat equipment!”

Mindful leadership

Being environmentally accountable is also part of Paula’s mindful leadership. Under her direction, the Classic company has implemented changes that help reduce the impact on the environment.

“If you use your drycleaning solvents properly and use specific wetcleaning detergents correctly, you are making a positive impact. Our Wascomat Wetclean System also complies with OSHA, EPA and other environmental regulations. It’s been a great complement to our drycleaning capabilities.”

One of the biggest eco-friendly changes Paula made was getting rid of a drycleaning staple – paper covers.

“Paper covers fit over the hanger and it’s a huge branding item for many drycleaners,” explains Paula. “It’s also an incredible waste of paper.”

Earth Day 2018 focuses on significantly reducing plastic pollution 

In addition to using less paper, Classic reuses hangers and recycles plastic bottles collected at its locations. Classic makes use of automatic bagging too, which further reduces plastic consumption since the machine only metes out as much plastic as a garment requires.

“We bring our plastics to a local grocery store that we have a recycling partnership with,” says Paula. “Being conscious about curbing waste and using eco-friendly products has its costs, yet it absolutely saves money too. And I tell you, our customers really appreciate the eco-friendly changes that we made and that makes me especially happy.”

The most important relationship of all

What Paula values most about becoming general manager was that it created a closeness with her father. “My position forced us to work side-by-side,” she shares. “I started to make him proud. And created a friendship that we never had before.”

Paula’s father passed away in 2010, entrusting the Classic family legacy to her.

What’s next for this entrepreneurial woman?

Two years ago, Paula and her team made the decision to aggressively go after a new money stream in the drycleaning business: offering wash-and-fold and laundry pick-up and delivery to their drycleaning customers.

“Millennials want more time for their family and friends and for themselves,” says Paula. “They don’t want to spend it doing laundry if they don’t have to.”

Paula is excited to see how this recent business decision continues to unfold. “These days, I find it very satisfying to not only ‘work’ but work at something I care deeply about.”

Advice and insights from Paula Kostick

Surround yourself with industry leaders. I belong to the Coin Laundry Association. I also joined a local business group eight years ago. We’re in noncompeting industries and we meet monthly. It’s good to be able to talk through things and get new perspectives from other business owners.

Your people are everything. My greatest achievement to date is being able to find the best people to run and manage the businesses – and retain them. I got that knack from my dad. My dad was always really good about taking care of people. We have one manager who has been with us for 40 years. Shirley started with us in 1978 and now manages one of our Wascomat Laundromats. Your people are everything. You have to stand up for them.

With over 40 years of experience, Classic Drycleaners and Laundromats takes great pride in its stellar reputation in the Greater Harrisburg area. Voted “Simply the Best Drycleaner and Laundromat” by the readers of Harrisburg Magazine for over 10 years, Classic takes great pride in being known as Harrisburg’s preferred garment care specialist. Paula is excited to continue her journey and remains committed to advancing her father’s legacy. “We love our customers, our employees and our community!”