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Business as Usual: Local Dry Cleaners

Business as Usual
Non-Technology Companies

As most of us work from home wearing our more casual attire, the need to get our formal business duds dry cleaned on a regular basis has all but disappeared.

To detail another impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy, we welcome Justin Strong, Chief Executive Manager of 7th Movement Development LLC, to detail how the dry cleaning industry is coping and innovating to keep their doors open.

You may also know Justin for his creative efforts with the former Shadow Lounge in East Liberty. Justin will also detail his work as a creative consultant in the Pittsburgh region. Join us for what will be an informative and lively conversation.



Good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russa, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. And we have a great guest today as we always do. But I'm really excited to introduce Justin strong in just a moment. And I just want to set the stage for a couple of things. First of all, I want to give a big shout out to Huntington bank for being our sponsor, and supporting us in all the experiments that we've been running in through the last 10 months of doing this show. And we're very thrilled at all the people that we've met and the connections that people have made all across the community, Jonathan kersting is with us here each and every day. And he is the Vice President of all things medium storytelling at the Pittsburgh Technology Council. He's gonna keep his eye on the chat and make sure that if there are questions that we can throw them over to Justin and I also want to give give up exposure to the organization called 40. By 80, which is part of the tech Council. It's longitude and latitude, Pittsburgh, and we focus on all things workforce development and entrepreneurs, you're going to hear a lot more about the work that we're doing in workforce development very, very soon. But if you want to know more, go out to our website, and you can find information there. So we have muted your microphones. And we do that because we just don't want to hear what's going on in the background wherever you are, and making sure that we're paying attention to our guests. And like I said, we have a chat, this is not an opportunity for you to sell your wares. We are focused on our guests today. So our guest today is Justin strong. And Justin, thank you so much for joining us today Really appreciate it

is my pleasure. Thank you for the invite.

It's so great to have you here with us. And and we are going to talk a little bit I mean, you are you are a man of many interests and have done a lot across the community. But today, we want to kick off and really focus on the family businesses, small businesses, family businesses, and what they've experienced, particularly over this last year, and your business has been, you know, definitely impacted. And I think you have a great story to sort of share. So what would be great is talk about this one business, which is the dry cleaning business that has been in your family and you've been at the helm of

Yes. So currently, I am the CO owners and operators of strong to dry cleaners, which is the current legal form of the operations of a family dry cleaning business that will turn 91 years old in April. Wow. So started by my grandfather 90. I mean, 19 1999 No, no, he was born like 1930 in Shelby, North Carolina. And he made his way up from Shelby to the Pittsburgh area 1942 and kind of been like a mainstay of, you know, within the black business community in Pittsburgh. You know, for those decades and currently, we're we have the plant located in Homewood since 91. When my dad moved there from Braddock, down in Homewood in 91. So, yeah, just you know, cleaning and steaming.

located exactly and how many operations Do you have right now today?

Currently, the main plant is in Homewood on Frank's town Avenue. This law block that has a handful businesses, Dorsey's records and Jones printing are some of the other anchors that are also some of the oldest black generational black businesses in the metro area, all on the same block. And we have a downtown affiliate store that we sold off this summer that operate under our names but is owned by a different company. It's located at grant building the corner third in a really awkward storefront. So it kind of works out perfectly for us. It's just like a drop your stuff off and no work is done. There's just like a, an exchange and then last week, we just did a partnership with a tailor shop on armour Boulevard and Forest Hills an express drop site which basically you come with your your bag with your name on it was handed to him and go, we pick up processes tag it, do the payment, drop it off, we just pick it up so it's almost like a Amazon locker. Yeah. situation, I'm playing around with different things, I've got to get creative, where to add value, you know, on my end, but also there's other, you know, creative ways where other small businesses that are looking for additional revenue stream, whether it's like $200 extra a month or $500 extra month makes a big difference. Hmm. So I'm looking for, you know, it could be a convenience store, or tailor shop or just somewhere where someone's just like, this could just be a drop spot for people. And we've been, you know, pushing our delivery service more, especially during a pandemic. So we have a new POS system that has an app. So people can go on and request service and track their orders and pay their orders on app. So we really kind of took this crisis opportunity to kind of look at where we're at, and how we can pivot and take advantage of situation,

the signs of a real entrepreneur.

So you always, always say, unfortunately, good crisis management.

So the application the app that you use, is that locally developed? Or is that an app that you actually purchased?

The Yeah, it's a part of the POS, the point of sale system that we switched over to is actually based in London. Okay, clean cloud, and they pretty much give you you know, you have your cloud base, POS systems, so we literally, were just on a website, putting in the orders, printing out the tags, and then it comes with a pretty much a white label app that has your store logo on it. And your customers find your store listed on an app, and then they can go from there.

Yeah. And so just as we're still talking about the store, you've actually made it through the pandemic doing doing okay, because of all the pivots. So you actually offer a lot of different services, right?

Yeah, I mean, we're, we're full service. So you know, the work gets done there. Only thing that we do not do, there's our leather for business, which, you know, you need a special specialist to clean those. So we work with outfit, Detroit, that actually does pretty much everybody's working. So they come in once a week with a shuttle, pick up ticket to Detroit, and then weeks late, but, you know, laundry, dry clean, alterations repairs, you residential, commercial government, institution, you know, we do it all.

So what do you hear from other Dry Cleaners? Do you hear? Do you? Is there a network of people that that you know, that are in the business? Are you hearing anything around the region in terms of their success, one person has talked about their dry cleaning had to go to pick up and delivery only and even still struggled? So what are you hearing?

Now, this is rough out there across the board, some of the handful of cleaners that I've talked to and have relationships with over the years that because you know, typically what happens in the dry cleaning business, something breaks, and you still need to get work done. So it's good to have relationships with other cleaners, right, come in and say, Hey, can I press these pants? Or can you do these shirts for me, while I get this piece of equipment, you know, some always, you know, touching base with them. And, you know, some have suffered anywhere from 60 70% down in the worst month, which is like round May last year, we were down about 75%. I know over the summer, we got back up to my time, September, we're running about 20% behind you, you know, compared to last year. And I just ran the numbers for January. We're actually only down about 544 or 5%. But that was through you know acquiring new clients. And you know, just you know, it wasn't so much like we went on the offensive with the advertising the marketing. So I think a lot of times and in times of panic or or stress or crisis, a lot of times we like to do a well as me back, I just want to look at me. Right now we're here. We're still here, we're still you know, pumping it out. And when you're done especially with some wood cleaning, or dry cleaning, you're done. It's very personal, you're dealing with people's clothes. They want to have the confidence that I'm looking Do this, you know, $1,000 suit. I'm paying 13 bucks to get it clean that is gone. I'm not gonna show up in the places padlocked and you can't get my items. So, you know, what were the 91 years we've been through a lot. So it's kind of key know, happens. I mean, happen happens up here. Spanish Flu happens. But you know, you know,

yeah, we get this great. I just got a direct message, a question, what was the prop from Matt Rosenberg? What was the process? And how you selected the point of sale software clink cloud? And Was this an essential part of your transformation?

Um, actually, I saw a ad on Facebook. So you know how Facebook listens to your conversations? Sometimes it's really Facebook, I was just talking about, you know? Oh, no, it's weird. Oh, I looked into it and read some reviews. And the guys, they, you know, walked us through some, you know, trial runs, and we liked the cloud format. And it's always good to, you know, we were with our previous one, probably in some capacity since like, oh, seven. You know, I know, I had the, you know, the desktop and the computer and like, that stuff for at least five years. I'm like, no upgrades on this. So it was just like, Yeah, come let's let's, you know, take advantage of the situation, let's not try to do the same thing, the same way and expect,

you know, good for you. Well, we got your link out there. I think Lexi and our team put the link out there. So if you want to know more about his business and get in touch with all the services that they have, we put it out there. So I just want to shift for a little bit, Justin. And because everyone can hear already, that you're an entrepreneur, we've listened to, you know, the kind of innovation and collaboration already and just your examples. But you've also, you know, done a lot to shape our communities or local communities here. And you know, can you talk about, like, let's just talk about his liberty. I mean, can we all like just talk about? Yes, thumbs up, okay.

I'm mining with kids,

right now.

No, you're my okay. I thought to me, okay. Okay. So what what conversations can you just talk about yourself in some of your work? Can you celebrity? Um,

yeah, so I, um, you know, somewhat pretty much known, but I was the founder and co owner of Chateau lounge and Eva in the slavery that ran from 2000 to 2013. And East liberty and I did a short one year stint in North Oakland at the O Luna bar that lasts more than a year but um, yeah, so the chat lounge was a place I opened when I was 21. I was should have graduate pit that year and I did not previous two years of my pit endeavors I was done on parties and family fashion shows and lyricists battles in my backyard on my iron Avenue and sounds a little bit behind in my studies kind of play around this idea for two years prior and then one day was an East liberty and looked at a couple different places and one of them actually was like I have to have to check by Thursday and Oh, okay. And you know, use the check one of those cash advance checks on my American Express blue Don't ever do that. Is this fun now so funny story.

great stories later doesn't it?

got turned down for a vantage card and still jacking me up? I'm joking. Once all your information Yeah, it was this performance lounge I grew and gave a platform for social and artistic expression and were some some great talent that is known and unknown. Everyone from Wiz Khalifa mac miller when they were like in high school to a man Dow Jones who's killing the game and the drum world who used to be our house drummer. Mike my every weekend. You The drummer for jack white, you know, so I get to see him on Yeah, on Grammys and have friends that you know Margo B who's like, I don't know what she's on now. So a couple ABC shows and it was just like, you hear these stories of these times, photos, impact, whether it's on Renaissance or like the, you know, New York City disco days, like at those moments you never know who's who, you know everybody just kind of is experiencing something together. Like you know, especially you're not sure how it's gonna pan out. But I've always had an interest in playing a role in that and not to be like, in a big role like just that one little piece of it. Everybody can refer back to so it was a great time man. We expanded and open you know, lock some holes and some walls and added some additional rooms and branded the rooms differently and does everything from poetry to monthly African dance nice to global beats nights to reggae to hip hop to jazz was big. Yeah. And then the development came, we haven't go

it happened because I remember I think I remember Weren't you connected into what was then originally the second bar Marco. Was there like a connection?

Not so there was we were like an L shape so that Oh, you came in on bomb Boulevard. Eva, you came in, in South High on some pizza place that was there. And we connected through this middle hallway. And then sitting on a corner originally was the eastern formals The schepis had a formal rental business tuxedos there for foof decades I think I got my believe I got my high school tux there for primer semi. He was there for a long time. And then have to miss sheffy This is Jeff he passed away they closed that and that turned into something and then after that something seeing you did their art project on the corner to the waffle shop.

That's right. They used to have they used to have food from countries that we were not on good terms with

so that was after waffle shop with conflict kitchen so waffle shop when I talked to john Reubens class and I went over there and he said What should we do here is I do like a cafe or coffee shop. And at that time we were getting our liquor we had our just got a liquor license. And when you serve alcohol, you have to have food. So our food menu was waffles. So kinda get get around the city. And I got sick and making waffles. Yeah. Come on, man, bro. Just gonna kill waffles.

Diego's instead just

done that, but you know, can be fancy. So I was like, yo, why don't you serve waffles here and I gave him my waffle irons. And I was like, oh, if I need waffles we just because it was connected to another hallway. Shared hallway sounds like we need someone's gonna come through the back. Hey, burn just service. So that's the you know, store behind the waffle shop and then on their side door on bomb Boulevard, they start doing conflict kitchen because I was selling a let someone sell hotdogs next to them out front. So they're like, Oh, hold on, you're competing with our late night. We're gonna set up here.

That's a fun time. So right. So listen to grow Pittsburgh, given your leadership. So to grow Pittsburgh, we have to make a community that's really welcoming for all. And music, culture, food, you know, they're essential. They're there. They're essential to our fabric. So what are some of the positive trends that you're seeing? I mean, I know we're in a pandemic, but you certainly have an ear to the ground. What are some positive trends that you're seeing?

Um, I would say from a macro standpoint, and this is a project I'm involved with now consulting in you starting to have, I guess, developers or at least people that have leverage and power that are at the table that make these decisions that kind of ripple through communities and have unintended consequences that are wanting To be intentional about those ripples and not just doing things like, Alright, we got land, hey list, bam, bam, bam, bam, set this up, make our money, whatever happens, whoever gets the elbow, too bad free market wisdom. So the project coming in now they, I was asked to join in June of 2019. And we signed on September 2019. That's one reason I'd stepped down from spirit in 2019 to pursue this. And then COVID hit that got on pause for a little bit, but that's back up and running. So I think even if you're doing a project or development that is actually financially beneficial, to be inclusive, to make sure that there's a certain level of minority participation. That's not just pandering. Best, like, I'll let you know, one of the things that I see on board all the time is always talk. So all this development money that's being poured at home, which is true. And then when I see like the the work sites, where they go by direct traffic, or they're working heavy machinery is getting throughout Pittsburgh, if you see any roadwork going on, it is a black person on the crew, they're the ones holding for the nine times out of 10, they're the one holding the sign this is slow down, stop. They're not the ones working the heavy machinery. That's actually like the trade. So that thing that needs to happen. And that's just on a tangent, some of the things I see that

are great, right?

Like, we're just want to be my girlfriend, Tommy went to Cleveland, last minute, see Kendrick Lamar a few years ago. And we're like, a little bit late. We're rushing through Cleveland to House of Blues, and came across the construction credit, I lost my mind. We tombos I know. It's like 10 o'clock at night. They all black working, like, and that's how the time Pittsburgh is. Like, why is that exciting? To me. It's not like the doctors are just regular dudes doing regular, you know, construction drill stuff. But that was like that blew my mind. Like, oh, they'll never let that happen. So there are some, you know, the top top levels of where these decisions get made, who gets what and where that money goes. Because when I when I drive around, look at these development projects. I'll look at like, Oh, that's nice. So they're doing something new, I count paychecks know, how many paychecks do I see out there? And how much of that money is actually going to people that, you know, later hit down at night in this neighborhood. So if you're not measuring that, then it's not really a development. for them. It's not development for home. It's a development for wherever that money cuz that one's getting spent at their restaurant or bar. Or, you know, bartender, you know, busboy, and if you just follow where that money goes, ladies, for the most part, black communities just end up with new shiny things that they don't own. So then it's just another wealth extraction. You know, like I said, we got these new affordable housing or, you know, what, it's for rent? Or what, huh, no, that's no. Okay, that is new, I guess. Let's get that $60,000 house that, you know, we could put 20 into it and make that available for sale. So my mind goes all over the place.

No, it's great. You got a big community supporter, and you have wide eyes. I mean, you're looking at everything with wide eyes. So I appreciate that. But you know, based upon your unique perspective, though, you know, how can culture really help Pittsburgh rebound, whether it's the pandemic, whether it's the whether it's, you know, the leaving people behind or everything that you just talked about a moment ago, in terms of work? How can

we, I think, culture, music, food, once we get, hopefully back to places where we can gather socially. This is one of the things that you know, I reflect back on shadow lounge and a lot of people were Reach out and say what they appreciate was that it was a cross section of everybody, because the common denominator was people's love for the culture. You know, so it didn't matter if you're coming from a nine to five behind a desk, or, you know, throwing up drywall. You know, there is a conversation that could, that could be had, or a certain acknowledgement of humanity was like, yo, we're both experiencing this thing right now together, that can never be duplicated. And that's one of the things we're like live music and just being. There's so many things that happen where, you know, you hear about the next day, and it's like, yeah, you know, this isn't Netflix or Hulu, I can press pause and watch it in its entirety again, and not lose anything from it. It's being in a place time, with certain people and energy that they give that is just like, it shifts the way you think. You can have those experiences together. And someone that you may have, you know, a certain outlook towards or thought differently, the next time you see them. Outside of that you saw you have a better conversation, what do you do, and those are things I like on a real small micro level that could snowball into could just be a relationship could just be Facebook friends, it could just be, you know what, I have a job opening up, I haven't posted it yet. You will be perfect for it. And that's how everybody gets jobs, you know, someone knows someone, and they have in mind, but if we are in our own silos not meshing, then it's, it's, you know,

it doesn't work. It doesn't work.

It's not a word. So the more the more stuff you have on the top level decision making, the more you expand your your network,

the right you're spot on. And, you know, we're coming to the end of our time with you. But I would be remiss to not plug your business and make sure that people know about your business and know that he's actually been incredibly innovative during a time where many have not survived. And I I applaud all the things that you're interested in Justin, and what you've done behind the scenes, and probably haven't gotten enough credit for being the Pioneer that you've been, and you will continue to be, I have no doubt that you will continue to do that. And I asked that everyone in the tech community who is listening on this call, follow Him and listen to the words that he's just articulated in the brief time that we've had together. And it's hard during the pandemic to you know, bust out of your silos. But you know, here we are, we met Justin today. And I'm sure it's easy to find him and he can figure out lots of ways to keep us connected. But I also want to issue a challenge to everyone, if you don't use Justin Strong's cleaners yet. And he does almost everything, as he mentioned, you know, we put the address out there. But if not, and you are living near cleaners or using cleaners, go out, take something out of your closet, and go to your cleaners and take a picture of it, and share it with all of us, okay, I don't care what it is share it with all of us. And just tag it, I don't care, tag it on social media, PGH, dry cleans. But it's our job in the tech community as we prosper to make sure that all those around us prosper. That's what our role is, as we build companies, we're building the future. And we're also building communities. And that community includes all the services that actually drive an amazing place that we are. So it's our responsibility in the tech community, where we are, many of us have the luxury of being able to do these things is to spread it. And Justin gave some good tips and ways to bust those silos. And he's also i'm sure on to a million other things I'm sure as we hang up, he's got his hands and a million other things. But I just want to thank Justin for just taking the time with us just, you know, talking a little bit about where you're at and the kinds of things that matter to you and some of the advice that you're giving all of us and I value that I really appreciate that and we are listening and we're learning and we the pandemic has given us an opportunity to learn.

Yes, that's when people say go back to normal. I know we don't know.

I'm with you. They're going back. Going back. I want to thank you, Justin don't we are no longer strangers. So if there's anything that any of us can do, don't hesitate. I want to thank Kitt Mueller for making sure that we stayed connected and Ryan, Jen and our team. And tomorrow, don't go away. Because tomorrow we have dawn Keizer, is that right? who runs our Pennsylvania film industry and there's a bunch of films that are being being shot here locally. And she's gonna give us a little bit of an update about what's happening in that arena. So again, thank you to Justin strong, take pictures, go to your cleaners, take advantage of our people who are building small businesses because those small businesses are the fabric of Pittsburgh. So thank you again.

Oh, can I kind of plug my site? Yes. Okay. So if you choose us, you can go to come get my dry Okay, pickup and delivery don't have to go nowhere.

That's great. Thank you so much.

Thank you guys. Like last day,

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