Ishmael Wilson, known to some as Pastor Wilson, is on a mission to “clean clothes and souls” with his black-owned, eco-friendly dry cleaning business, Fresh. This family-owned chain, which now touts 4 locations (and growing), serves as an example that hard-work, determination, and maybe even divine intervention, can all be crucial parts to building a legacy that you’re proud of.
Wilson didn’t know that this was the direction his entrepreneurial journey would take, at first. After working for 18 years at the Library of Congress, he turned to his faith to inspire him. His prayers answered and the way ahead seeming clear, he launched his first dry cleaning location.
Why dry cleaning? Wilson says, “I got started in the dry cleaning industry because as an entrepreneur, I was looking for a ‘recession proof’ business. As a man of faith, I prayed and asked God for direction. After I received clear direction the first location was opened. I often tell people I clean ‘souls and clothes’. I later found out that my grandparents owned and operated a dry cleaners in the 1960’s. So I guess in a way, I am picking up where they left off. I’m sure my success in this industry is living out my grandparents dream.”
Growing up, Wilson watched his single mother work incredibly long hours just to support him and his sister. As he got older, he watched as she was unfairly forced into retirement. It was then and there that he decided he wanted to have a career that he had complete control of, where no one could force him out or discount his years of hard work.
Describing Fresh as “an eco-friendly dry cleaning chain”, Wilson is proud to provide services not only to customers who frequent their pick-up locations, but also to hotels and other local organizations.
Having expanded to multiple locations, the success of Fresh can be partially attributed to Wilson’s brilliant idea to create a business that could endure, no matter the circumstances of the outside world.
“I wanted to be able to have an income generating and profitable stream that had the bandwidth to last through tough times. It was also important to me that the industry I selected was not trendy, but had longevity. Dry Cleaners, when given the right tools and support, have the ability to be around for generations to come.”
While believing in your goals and having the proper mindset is critical to starting a business, Wilson knows that it’s also important to really have all the facts before setting out. His advice for anyone looking to follow their entrepreneurial dreams is this:
“I would first suggest that anyone who wants to start a business begin the process with research. Researching various industries will give you an indication of what is a good fit for you and what aligns with your overall vision. You should also research your competition so that you have insight on the market. I would also advise one to identify their financial need and capacity. This will drive your budget, projections, and start-up funds that are needed. Lastly, I would say that a business plan is needed. This will ultimately be your blueprint and will provide direction.”
Sometimes, though, challenges come up that you may not have expected. Like so many other businesses, Fresh was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When the country was shut down the 3rd week of March 2020 and we went from making close to thousands of dollars a week to a few hundred it was gut wrenching. The thought of losing my business…my legacy was heartbreaking. But once I got over the shock of what was happening in the country, let alone my business, I quickly went into survival mode. How do I survive? What do I need to do? What do I need to change immediately? The working class in America is now home. What do I need to do in order to still service them? We quickly moved our business from the counter to the door of the customer. We offered FREE pickup and delivery services and added a sanitizer all laundry that killed covid on the surface. That along with our already established cleaning protocols became a sure win,” says Wilson.
This attention to customer care and service hasn’t died down since then, and is still how Fresh sets itself apart from its competitors. Focusing on quality over quantity, Wilson believes his business is able to deliver a better service than those who might sacrifice quality for volume.
“Our initial goal is satisfying one customer, so they will tell their sphere of influence about our services and we duplicate the same for the next. That coupled with expert stain removal, quality care, and outstanding customer service, I believe is a sure win in this industry. We don’t want to be known as a cleaners who can simply clean your clothes. We want to be known as a dry cleaners who cares about your experience and will do our best to make sure that every experience is one that you will want to repeat over and over again.”
For the coming year, Wilson has big plans for Fresh, including two new locations, eco-friendly detergent and cleaning solutions, soy candles, and franchising.