Taking Cleaners To Customers Helps 40-year Business Thrive

Innovative Fabricare By Fran Keeps Operation All In The Family

March 25, 1991|By William C. Ward | William C. Ward,Staff writer

Rube Goldberg would have been proud.

The late satirist surely hadthis sort of thing in mind when he fashioned his complicated drawings of over-elaborate mechanizations. A skirt on a hanger wends its waythrough the 4,000 square feet of Fabricare by Fran's main plant in Severna Park. Traveling along on a cork-screwing conveyor, it comes torest along with other garments after sliding down an inclined iron rail.

The line of single-file garments gives an impression of confusionto the untrained eye, but while Goldberg's machines were the epitomeof wasteful motion, the complex system at the laundry and dry-cleaning shop presents a picture of efficiency.

Amid this display, a woman directs a worker on the details of cleaning a specific garment, taking time to inspect the piece carefully.

Barbara R. Harvey, 42, the owner and operator of Fabricare by Fran, does a little bit of everything in the plant, from inspection to stain removal, something she's been doing since she was a child.

"I've never had a (job) interview with anyone, and neither have the boys," she says, referring to her sons John and Christopher, who both work in the shop.

The business was established as Fran's Cleaning Centers in 1951 by Harvey's parents, Fran and Theo Sadler. Harvey took over the family business in 1987 when her mother, Theo, retired. Since 1983, the family has been headquartered at the Festival at Severna Park shopping center and operates three other county locations.

The establishment's name was changed several years ago to reflect a more upbeat image and acknowledge that all of the store's employees graduate from the International Fabricare Institute in Silver Spring.

The name also reflects a business philosophy Harvey says she has held since she began in the business -- always give the customer something extra.

One recent innovation has been to offer free pickup and delivery service for customers where they work throughout the business' service area, Severna Parkto Glen Burnie.

"Basically it was a whim one day about three years ago," Harvey says, shrugging her shoulders.

Since then, the service has become a big money-maker for the shop, bringing in approximately 500 garments weekly.

Using two delivery trucks, the drivers gofrom office building to office building, making rounds twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays.

"It took off very nicely," says John Harvey, vice president and manager of the company. The 24-year-old mechanical engineer is in charge of repairs and maintenance for the myriad of machines in the shop.

"The longest breakdown we have is usuallyan hour," he says.

Almost everything at Fabricare by Fran is donein-house, keeping the number of employees manageable and overhead low. The four shops employ 25 to 30 employees, with 15 working at the main plant.

Nineteen-year-old Christopher is in charge of computer operations for the store, programming the ticketing system and keeping maintenance of the IBM-compatible hardware up to date.

"When a customer comes in, they give their last name and phone number, and we punch it into the computer," he says.

"They're in and out in 30 seconds," Christopher says, describing a typical transaction.

In its40th year of business, the company never takes customers for granted. Barbara conducts tours of her facility for school groups, and offers special deals to keep customers interested and visibility high.

"Our best advertising is word of mouth and mailings," she explains.

Barbara is intent on expanding the office pickup service and opening a store in Annapolis; eventually expanding operations toward Columbia.

"We're planning on expanding (the service) tenfold," says John. "We haven't even touched the tip of the iceberg yet."

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