Martin Franchises, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Martin Franchises, Inc.

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Company Perspectives

Martinizing pioneered one hour, on-premise cleaning, providing franchisees with the most efficient cleaning procedures available. Martinizing is the most recognized name in drycleaning. When you own our franchise, you benefit from that name recognition, which helps build your business. Martinizing has been and continues to be the leading dry cleaning franchise in the industry. We've built a track record of helping our franchisees grow their businesses.

History of Martin Franchises, Inc.

Martin Franchises, Inc., is the company behind the One-Hour Martinizing chain of dry cleaners. The Martinizing process, named after chemist Henry Martin, was safe enough to allow dry cleaning facilities to be built within city limits. Martinizing became a household name in the 1950s and 1960s as advertising promised garments "As fresh as a flower, in one hour." Martin Franchises, Inc. licenses the well-known Martinizing name to local business operators and provides training and other support. While it focuses on relationships with multiple-store chains, it also supplies a number of individual facilities. There are more than 600 franchised Martinizing locations worldwide; nearly two-thirds are located in the United States.

Safer Dry Cleaning Process Discovered in 1949

A random discovery in 1848 had launched the dry cleaning industry. The owner of a textile dying operation spilled paraffin lamp oil onto fabric, and noticed that it dissolved a greasy stain. Though effective, this procedure naturally carried with it a risk of fire, requiring dry cleaning plants to be located far from city centers.

The story of Martin Franchises, Inc. begins in the late 1940s, when chemist Henry Martin of Buffalo, New York's Martin Equipment Co. discovered a new process for cleaning clothes. The new process used solvents that were less dangerous than previous dry cleaning processes, allowing Martin to locate small cleaning plants within city limits, beginning with one in New York in 1949. Previously, the dry cleaning industry had collected garments for cleaning at "dry stores," while the volatile cleaning chemicals were held at sites in the countryside.

By cleaning clothes on the spot, the chain was able to offer one-hour service when its competitors had a turnaround of as much as ten days. After being dry cleaned at a Martinizing shop, garments were odorless, sanitary, mothproofed, cleaner, and stayed pressed longer, according to company advertising of the day. The stores typically also offered a traditional laundry service, washing and drying shirts in three hours.

Martin's business was soon acquired by the American Laundry Machinery Company of Cincinnati, where it was called the Martin Equipment Division or Martin Equipment Sales. The unit's manager was William R. Wallens, who was referred to as the inventor of the Martinizing process by the New York Times in a 1963 story on a separate water filtration process he had developed.

In the 1960s, the chain grew to a peak of more than 1,000 sites in Europe and America. "Fresh as a flower in just one hour" was its pitch. Store signage read, "One Hour 'Martinizing': The Most in Dry Cleaning." The chain was advertising for franchisees as well as clients. In 1963 ads for Cincinnati's Perdrix Machinery Sales Co. offered prospective business owners a profitable opportunity "to satisfy the good appearance needs of every family in your community."

The chain was among a number of enterprises, led by the likes of McDonald's and Howard Johnson's, that expanded rapidly through franchising. At the beginning of the 1970s, there were perhaps 3,000 One-Hour Martinizing stores in the United States, according to a New York Times story on the strip mall phenomenon. The total number of laundry, cleaning, rental, and valet service establishments was in excess of 110,000, according to the Monthly Labor Review.

However, the chain suffered from the introduction of polyester and permanent press fabrics in the 1970s. Many consumers cut back on personal services such as dry cleaning during the economic downturn. The company saw its network scaled back by half, a loss of hundreds of franchises during the decade.

New Owner in 1978

George Strike acquired the company in 1978. American Laundry had reportedly been preparing to shut down Martin before Strike offered to buy it. A native of Salt Lake City, Strike had become president of American Laundry in 1962. His Harvard-educated son, Anthony, had worked at a consulting firm and had become an executive at Ohio's Hess and Eisenhardt, a specialized vehicle manufacturer, before joining his father in Martin Franchises. The father and son team would lead Martin Franchises beyond the end of the 20th century.

The Strikes had community ties to both Utah and Ohio. The elder Strike also bought a share in the Cincinnati Reds baseball team in 1981. Other key executives would come from the Beehive State, such as director of franchise development Frank Knowles, who had worked for Utah's Spudnuts doughnut chain before joining Martin Franchises in 2002.

New Franchise Structure in 1987

Under the Strikes, the company changed from being a licenser to a full-fledged franchiser. Martin instituted a more comprehensive support package for its franchisees in 1987. Afterwards, its franchisees would pay a four percent royalty, plus an initial startup fee. The company developed a three-week initial training program.

The dry cleaning industry was booming in a decade identified with nattily dressed corporate types. Industry-wide sales rose nearly 25 percent to $4 billion in 1987 according to International Fabricare Institute figures cited in The Business Journal Serving Greater Tampa Bay. An increasing number of two-paycheck families was one factor, said an IFI spokesperson. Martinizing had no shortage of competition; there were more than 24,000 dry cleaning stores in the United States in the early 1990s.

50th Anniversary in 1999

Martin signed up with local laundry chain New Tanabe to open a series of franchises in Japan beginning in 1991. The company announced ambitious goals of 1,000 stores and annual sales of Y50 billion there within three years. There were 156,000 cleaning establishments in the country; most of the dry cleaners did not process clothes on site.

The company used the "master franchiser" concept--recruiting a local partner to help attract other franchisees--in other areas as well, such as Latin America. Japanese gas retailer Mobile Sekiyu KK began experimenting with putting Martinizing shops in its convenience stores in the late-1990s.

The company was also pushing into exotic locales as far away as Ecuador, Qatar, and Indonesia. By the time of Martin's 50th anniversary in 1999, there were 800 Martinizing locations in 17 countries around the world. Within the United States, the Denver, Indianapolis, and Louisville markets were booming, an official told the Greater Cincinnati Business Review in 1995.

The franchise fee then ranged from $30,000 to start a brand new store to $10,000 for opening a second one. Martin also received a royalty based on sales for newer stores, and a flat fee (adjusted for inflation) from older ones. Total start-up costs were roughly $200,000 to $300,000, plus another $50,000 or so for traditional laundry equipment, noted Entrepreneur magazine.

Some of the Martinizing franchises began using less toxic alternatives to the industry-standard perchloroethylene (perc) solvent, which was suspected of health and environmental risks and banned in Canada, Brazil, and Sweden. Downsides to the new eco-friendly processes such as Green Earth's were that they tended not to clean as thoroughly and took longer. Though some of the necessary equipment was more expensive (an expense offset by lower disposal and cleanup fees down the road), the new methods were embraced by operators in environmentally conscious areas such as Malibu, California and Tampa, Florida. (Another process using liquid carbon dioxide was being championed by upcoming rival Hangers Cleaners Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina.)

New HQ, New Focus for Future

In 2003, the company leased 11,000 square feet of nondescript office and warehouse space near Cincinnati for use as its new headquarters, where only about 16 people worked. Martin was restructuring its marketing and real estate departments to prepare for an aggressive new growth program.

In 2004, Martin had 619 locations operated by 214 franchisees; about two-thirds of these stores were in the United States. About 80 percent had signed up before the company's licensing structure was changed in 1987. Throughout its history, Martinizing had been the leading brand in the dry cleaning business. Though there were then 30,000 dry cleaning stores in business in the United States, most were mom and pop shops. Its greatest competition, an official told Small Business Opportunities, was strong regional chains, though there were also a couple of emerging national chains, such as Zoots Corporation and DryClean U.S.A. Inc.

The company was looking to double its traditional growth rate by adding up to 40 stores a year, its franchise chief said in The Enquirer of Cincinnati. Though the company continued to work with single-unit owners, Martin was principally interested in entrepreneurs who wanted to start chains of five to ten stores within designated territories in booming markets such as central Florida, southern California, Nashville, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh. According to Small Business Opportunities, Martin hired the demographic research firm Claritas to help identify target markets. The company also began working with franchise consultants; a spokesperson told Franchising World that these were accounting for 55 percent of its new franchises.

Despite the new focus on recruiting multiple unit owners, Martin still preferred to franchise hands-on operators rather than absentee owners. In prior years, typical Martinizing franchisees had come from blue collar backgrounds, said Small Business Opportunities. The newer crop of owners included a number of downsized executives with substantial assets. The company was thus poised for continued growth; as a company official noted, its dry cleaning services were as in demand as ever since busy families had less time to clean and press clothes.

Principal Competitors

Comet Cleaners; Dry Clean U.S.A., Inc.; Hangers Cleaners Inc. (MiCELL Technologies Inc.).


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