Commitment to Cleaning-Up Dry Cleaning Finds Global Appeal.
Can you remember the world before ride-sharing, two-day shipping, and on-demand movies? In an age when groundbreaking ideas are upending old ways of doing things, GreenEarth® Cleaning fits right in with a clear vision for taking dry cleaning to a positive new place.
“We’ve worked for over two decades to create a higher standard for an industry that needs it badly,” says GreenEarth President Tim Maxwell. “Dry cleaning that takes better care of clothing, people, and the planet is a revolutionary idea born right here in Martin City that’s now spread to over 40 countries.”
GreenEarth develops and licenses products and technologies with the ambitious goal of cleaning up the entire dry cleaning equation, from the moment cleaning begins all the way through to its impact on the environment. When you consider that the U.S. dry cleaning industry alone is in the neighborhood of $9 billion and hasn’t changed much over the years, it’s easy to see how a smarter approach can draw so much interest.
“We don’t offer dry cleaning services ourselves or run a franchise,” explains Maxwell. “We have a good idea and exclusive technologies that we license to dry cleaners and related businesses around the world. We’re sort of the ‘Intel inside,’ a little company with an extraordinary solution that gives small businesses and giant brands alike the power to turn green and do dry cleaning right.”
GreenEarth licenses are sprinkled all over the U.S. and across the globe with partners ranging from small dry cleaners on street corners to high-end luxury hotels and fashion brands that have become true believers. Endorsements from clothing manufacturers and hospitality movers and shakers are hard to beat for an up-and-coming cleaning star.
If that’s not impressive enough, look at who else is tapping into the brainpower and industry savvy on 135th Street just west of Wornall Road. “General Electric and Procter & Gamble partnered with us from the beginning,” says Maxwell. “They knew we were onto something big.”
That ‘something big’ is now coming of age at a time when all of us are thinking more and more about the responsibilities we share in taking better care of each other and the world we live in. GreenEarth is on the rise with the number of affiliates now well into the thousands, and Fortune 500 companies lining up for a closer look at how they might contribute to what’s poised to become the future of dry cleaning. At the center of it all is a team in Martin City that Maxwell describes as small but powerful and incredibly important.
“We have workers in the field helping affiliates, but our core team of about 13 people here in Martin City is the headquarters for worldwide support. They’re really an amazing group. Our job is to do whatever it takes to help our affiliates with resources, marketing, and any other guidance they need to serve their customers and spread the word about the higher standard we’re creating.”
Buttoning-Up a Game-Changer
GreenEarth sprouted in 1998 from three entrepreneurs. Chairman Jim Barry, Managing Director Ron Benjamin, and Technical Director Jim Douglas had loads of laundry industry insight, including experience running hundreds of traditional dry cleaners. Many of those dry cleaners had been managed from Martin City and that’s where the team launched their new enterprise.
Maxwell joined soon after and brought his own expertise as an established dry cleaning pro from a family-owned dry cleaning business. GreenEarth’s pioneers saw the industry’s dirty reputation as an opportunity rather than something to just live with and try to hide.
Maxwell says back in the old days, dry cleaning was downright dangerous because it depended on chemicals that could literally explode. Then in the 1970s and 80s, different chemicals came along that eliminated the explosive danger but wound up creating another danger over time in the form of ground pollution. As the need for massive cleanup operations started taking shape, GreenEarth’s founders set their sights on a solution to take the industry in a different direction.
“We worked with a scientist who borrowed an idea from personal care products. Turns out a silicone-based ingredient in many shampoos and conditioners offered promise in dry cleaning applications. It’s an effective carrier of cleaning solution that works great and then disappears into the environment without harm.”
GreenEarth approached General Electric as a potential supplier because GE had been a leading provider of silicone for decades. GE liked the idea so much, they wanted to be more than a supplier. They wanted to invest.
“GE was excited and quickly brought in Procter & Gamble, one of its biggest customers, to help us too. P&G, of course, has all kinds of experience using silicones and developing effective cleaning products. So with GE and P&G behind us, we were on our way. And they really helped boost the kind of credibility we needed to get attention in the market.”
GreenEarth is a privately owned company and both GE and P&G continue to be minority shareholders to this day. The three businesses put their heads together to develop, fine-tune and package the GreenEarth idea into an industry earthquake. And you can imagine the message sent when P&G rolled out the successful experiment of Tide Cleaners as a GreenEarth-optimized dry cleaner.
“The first one in the world was built right here on 135th Street and Roe Avenue in Leawood,” says Maxwell proudly. “Securing the GE and P&G partnerships early on really speaks to the genius of our founders.”
Effective Dry Cleaning Meets Sustainability
Earth-friendly products are nothing new, but you have to look much harder to find earth-friendly products that are also effective. Ever bought a natural toothpaste that didn’t do much for your smile or a sustainable shoe that quickly fell apart? The reality is many people see a sustainability message as a sure sign that a product won’t work. Sustainability usually means a trade-off in performance, but not with GreenEarth, and therein lies the dry cleaning gold.
“GreenEarth checks all the important business boxes,” says Maxwell, near a pallet of Cleaning Solution in the testing area of GreenEarth’s facility. “Our Solution is environmentally non-toxic, odorless, and made from liquid silicone, which is an abundant natural resource. Just as important is the fact that it works great separating dirt from clothing in the wash cycle.”
After the wash cycle, all of the silicone and dirt is filtered out with the help of natural clay from Mississippi. The result is a dark, granular waste mixture that shows just how well GreenEarth Cleaning Solution works. “You can really see what comes out in the wash,” says Maxwell, holding up a jar full of post-wash gunk. “It’s funny to think this same clay is commonly used to filter beer.” All of that cleaning power plus no smell or shrinkage, and gentle wear on everything from silk to sequins.
GreenEarth technologies are precious and patented. They’re the product of an international collaboration that unites key components from specialists as far away as Japan, Italy, and Germany. And now the push is on to fix the rest of the dry cleaning process with smarter, cleaner innovations.
GreenEarth has adapted dry cleaning machines to make the best use of its products and dramatically reduce energy usage too. There’s also microfiber filter technology in the works to catch tiny clothing particles that pollute oceans far more than the disposable plastics you see on the news. It’s no surprise that GreenEarth is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and similar advocacy groups. Could there be a way to help iron out pandemic problems too?
“We’re working on hygienic benefits,” says Maxwell. “Hygienic clean is going to become as important as green clean if not more. We want to deliver it. Consumers are going to start becoming much more aware of what they’re putting on and where it’s been.”
Breaking Through with Daring Ideas
A natural, sustainable, and highly effective approach to dry cleaning. It sounds too good to be true and that presents what may be GreenEarth’s biggest challenge. Yes, they have the facts, technologies, and results to back them up, but the company still struggles to be taken seriously by a historically dirty industry and the businesses that surround it. Maxwell says pushbacks are a way of life.
“There are many, many great people in dry cleaning, but this is an industry that’s very entrenched in the way it does things. It’s extremely difficult to introduce our ideas in a culture that immediately assumes they won’t work or will be too expensive. We put a lot of emphasis on convincing dry cleaners that GreenEarth is ‘good,’ effective, and will not hurt your profits. It’s an uphill battle.”
Dry cleaners who aren’t receptive to the message face growing pressure from government regulators, landlords, and property managers. GreenEarth is so environmentally friendly that it now escapes regulation. There’s simply no need. And property managers who used to keep the dangers of dry cleaning operations confined to isolated locations are opening new doors to GreenEarth affiliates.
“Our affiliates are safe and there’s no risk of contamination so they’re being offered more options in strip malls and other areas dry cleaners have never been allowed before,” explains Maxwell. “We work with some of the biggest shopping centers in the world. Some only allow GreenEarth on their properties. About a third of our U.S affiliates have been told by their landlords to stick with GreenEarth or move.”
Meanwhile, there’s tremendous emphasis on marketing. Changing perceptions, sparking new conversations, and breaking through the dry cleaning industry’s rigid cultural barriers require moving mountains with messaging and imagery that stirs hearts and minds.
GreenEarth carefully defines communications in all the right places with the help of outside creative specialists and its own Martin City team, known for giving an old industry new social media appeal. “For decades, dry cleaners basically only communicated hours, location, and price. Now we’re helping them and their customers look at dry-cleaning in a whole new way that’s far more meaningful than it’s ever been in the past.”
As GreenEarth sharpens and sends a bold new message, it’s also fighting off so-called ‘greenwashed’ competitors who highlight their own use of slightly more natural materials while downplaying their continued reliance on harsh chemicals. There are also dry cleaners who tout cleaner technologies but don’t talk about the limited applications on different fabrics.
The pandemic has added even more laundry to the workload. GreenEarth’s Martin City team has been on the phone constantly to affiliates all over the world with thousands of calls offering additional support to calm anxieties over sudden restrictions.
“You’ve heard a lot recently about businesses having to develop curbside or contactless service. Now imagine walking businesses through those strategies from France to Australia. That’s what we’ve been up against,” says Maxwell. “Our affiliates are smart and resilient, but thinking out of the box is tough because the dry cleaning box has been the same for ages.”
Made in Martin City
If you want a rare outsider-insider perspective of our community, chat with Tim Maxwell. He’s Canadian-born and moved to Martin City in 2007 to lead up and evolve the GreenEarth business. Relocating from Toronto to 135th Street was quite a change, but Maxwell was highly motivated.
“I thought, you know, how often in life do you get a chance to maybe do something that transforms an industry and makes a tangible difference in the world? Then I get to Martin City and it turns out to be a great place too. The revitalization going on here is really a credit to a small group of people who recognize Martin City for what it is; a special place to visit and a good place to do business.”
Looking out Maxwell’s window, you have to agree that he may have the best office view of Martin City. You can tell he’s proud of it and what our community has become in the 13 years he’s been a part of it.
“Toronto is a beautiful city but a big city. I feel like Martin City gives me some of that city feeling but with a hometown flavor. That’s really, really special to me. I love taking my car to George’s Imports and eating at all of these restaurants. And what Fishtech Group has done on Holmes Road is just amazing. I think what I probably like best is how close all of these different businesses are to each other and how friendly their people are. I mean that’s really Martin City to me.”
And that’s really a good way to sum it up, Tim. We appreciate all the work your team is quietly doing in Martin City for a global community trying to achieve successes we can all celebrate. Thanks for contributing to our diversity and we applaud your search for solutions until some of the world’s dirtiest deeds are finally all washed up.