by Petula Caesar
Today’s piece is an interview with Louis Monk.
Like many of the artists I talk to, he had a vision of what he wanted his life to be, and was prepared to do what was necessary to achieve it. In his case, it meant leaving stable nine-to-five employment and purchasing a laundromat/dry cleaners in his neighborhood. It is my hope his story will encourage others to get out of the passenger seat of their lives.
Louis Monk is owner of Patterson Park Laundry and Dry Cleaners , located at 2805 East Fayette Street in Baltimore, hours 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. He became the owner in December 2013 after deciding he wanted his life to go in a different direction – a direction that would allow him more control over his fate.
I had to ask if he just loved the 70’s sitcom “The Jeffersons”, about George and Louise, an affluent and upwardly mobile African American couple who had “made it” by owning and operating a chain of dry cleaners. Louis says, “I loved ‘The Jeffersons’ growing up, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how important that show and other shows like that were. It showed me that being a Black business owner was in the realm of possibilities for me and my family. This opportunity was a blessing. The business was already established and the owner was ready to retire. I was a dry cleaning customer and with my people skills, I always ask questions and talked to her. She told me that she was tired and I told her that I was looking for a sound business to buy and here I am.”
But who gives up a steady nine-to-five job to become George Jefferson, especially in these very unstable days and times? And why? “I am a faithful man,” Louis explains. “I decided to step out on faith and take control of my own future. Working for someone else puts your destiny in someone else’s hands. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this and be really good at it. Show my sons and other minority young people that with hard work, commitment and faith, anything is possible. Building generational wealth and opportunities are my driving forces.” What was the biggest challenge? “Not having a steady paycheck. That can be really scary. Laying the foundation and planting the seeds in your business and not knowing how fast they’re going to grow.”
Fortunately, Louis seemed to be preparing for entrepreneurship all his life. He was raised by a family full of educators, studied finance at Tuskegee University, and was an admissions representative for All State Careers. “My passion has always been helping people, it comes from my upbringing…I gave people an opportunity to learn a trade or skill to help them have the ability to make a living and support their families, even if college wasn’t for them…it sharpened my people and customer service skills. I learned to be a great listener and became an excellent problem solver.”
They say working for yourself is the hardest work you can ever do. But Louis admits to being surprised at how much he enjoys his new work life. “It doesn’t feel like work to me at all. I work an average of 11-12 hours a day but it doesn’t feel like “work”. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges. “The previous owner did not do any advertising or marketing. I use social media like Facebook and Twitter and now Instagram to run specials and get the word out. We are working on signage and façade improvements as well. We have installed free wi-fi for all of our customers to enjoy. Little things like that have been making a difference. We still have a long way to go.” He’s also used the customer service skills learned in his previous professional life. “I have asked my customers what they want, what I can do to make their experience better. Offer specials, coupons, a referral program and a clean friendly environment. He also is looking to start “revamping the inside of my business. I want my customers to feel extremely comfortable while there. I want to make as enjoyable as possible.” He has also learned about one of the most valuable marketing tools in existence – “the power of marketing and word of mouth. Some of my best new customers came to me because of another customer.”
Louis continues to work hard and look toward the future success of his business. “I am focused on putting the strategies in place to ensure that the business is self-sufficient and thriving this year. I can see the progress of things that I put in place in month one and two right now. The business is growing because of social media, brand marketing strategies and word of mouth throughout the Patterson Park community.” What are his final words of advice to anyone pursuing any kind of business endeavor? “Do research and when you think that you have done enough, do a little more. And build a great professional supporting cast. Surround yourself with positive people…and avoid the haters.”
Visit Patterson Park Laundry and Dry Cleaners , located at 2805 East Fayette Street in Baltimore, hours 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. If you mention this article in Speakerbox Magazine, get 15 percent off your dry cleaning services!