Building a quality business
Greg Johnson uses his dry-cleaning business to stay involved in the community
Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 4:31 p.m.
After he had worked at TV20 for nearly 12 years, Greg Johnson figured that owning a business would be a good way to keep him in the community he had grown to enjoy.
Occupation: President, Quality Cleaners
Pets: Two cats, Gizmo and Sapho
Dream partner for lunch: Abraham Lincoln
Favorite book: "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt
Favorite TV shows: "Modern Family" and "Seinfeld"
Playing in his car: The Gainesville Orchestra
Favorite listening: Smooth jazz and top hits
Hobbies: Travel, biking and gardening
Thirty years later, he is pretty well-ingrained in Gainesville as the president of a dry cleaning company with eight locations, an active board member of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and president of the board for the Gainesville Orchestra.
Johnson — who came to Gainesville from Indiana — was working as assistant general manager at TV20 when his brother-in-law at the time, Rick Turner, found out that dry cleaning was a stable business.
They bought a turnkey operation from a franchise company that set them up with a location, equipment and training. They opened the first location of Quality Cleaners in the Marketplace Shopping Center now anchored by Fresh Market.
"The main thing that interested me was that I had been a dry cleaning customer and I was not impressed with what I saw," Johnson said. "The places I went were not clean, were not well-organized. That intrigued me that there had to be a better way to handle the dry cleaning business."
Quality Cleaners was a family operation before it grew enough after a couple years to hire employees. Johnson's stepfather, Jack Milner, handled dry cleaning and spot cleaning, while Johnson and his late mother, Evelyn Milner, did the pressing and worked at the counter.
The business now has eight locations throughout Alachua County with about 35 employees. The main plant is on Northeast 23rd Avenue with vans running to the drop-off locations every couple of hours. Turner remains a silent partner.
Johnson said business dropped with the recession, not in the number of customers, but in the number of pieces of clothing they had laundered, as they washed what they could at home.
"We're seeing people finally start to relax and start bringing back clothes that they were probably doing at home before," he said. "It boils down to their level of comfort with the economy and how much time they want to spend" on washing their clothes.
The business added shoe repairs and polishing within the past year to increase services.
Johnson said his experience dealing with city inspectors to renovate the building for Quality Cleaners' main plant in 1996 led him to get involved in trying to improve the relationship between city government and the business community.
He said that relationship has come a long way — making collaborations such as Innovation Gainesville possible — but he is still pushing for inspectors to be graded on customer service.
Johnson started the Chamber's Buy Local campaign when he was chairman of its small business council to encourage people to shop at local stores instead of online to preserve jobs and businesses.
"Whether you buy from a locally owned business or a business that's a chain, the fact of the matter is some of that money stays here, whether it be taxes or salaries or whatever. If you buy something online, nothing stays in our community."
Five years ago, he was asked by conductor Evans Haile to join the board of the Gainesville Orchestra to bring some business expertise to the board, and now he serves as its president.
He sees his role as continuing the Innovation Gainesville goals of collaboration by getting more business people involved in the arts.
"Now it's time for the business community to get involved in the arts because the arts are important to the quality of life for the city, and when it comes to economic development, the companies that come here always list the quality of life of Gainesville," he said.