Hard Bodies, Soft Fabrics: Laundry Guru Greg Trabert Says Yes, You Can Have It All
It all started 30 years ago, says Greg Trabert, the chain's 36-year-old CEO. His mother, Lois, "used to hate how much time she had to waste down at a dirty, uncomfortable laundromat," he recalls. Every week she would "come home grumbling, wondering why she couldn't at least bicycle through the spin cycle. The idea for Clean & Lean really took root then and there."
For years Lois Trabert promoted her idea at family gatherings, but Greg, busy with a lucrative home-building business, wasn't interested, until a knee injury that wouldn't heal finally convinced him in 1987 that he "couldn't take the strain of the building game anymore." Hanging around health clubs to strengthen his leg, he remembered his mother's dream. A family council was called, and all eight of the Traberts decided to invest in Clean & Lean.
The first facility opened, at a cost of $160,000, two years ago in a shopping mall near San Diego. "We did a lot of homework first," Trabert says. "What kind of washing machines were best? What exercise schedule would allow time for clients to switch the wet wash into the dryer?" Now the place is hopping (and churning) from 6:30 A.M. until 10 P.M. every day, with half of the clients coming for both a workout and a wash, and the other half divided evenly between the laundromat and the gym. Greg's wife Dee, 34, and daughters Kristin, 6, and Jennifer, 4, help out in the gift shop, which sells athletic gear and vitamins.
The Traberts have received franchising inquiries from Europe, Japan and Australia as well as all 50 states, but they are proceeding with caution. New franchises, at $185,000 apiece, will be targeted to college areas.
There's just one fly in the liniment: Lois Trabert's idea is so simple and unpatentable that it could easily be co-opted. Other chains have already tried serving up beer or fast food with their laundry machines. Only Clean & Lean, though, runs a full cycle—the customers who leave with clean laundry have already sweated up next week's wash.