A Smart Idea

D. J. Waldow, B-School Cleaners

"How many undergraduates get the opportunity to run their own small business while earning a degree from one of the nation's leading business schools?" asks D. J. Waldow, 21, who has been running a dry-cleaning service out of the student lounge of the University of Michigan Business School since January 1997. Waldow is assisted in his efforts by business partner Matt Campbell, a fellow University of Michigan undergraduate.

The beauty of Waldow and Campbell's dry-cleaning business is its simplicity. Students, faculty and staff drop off items they want cleaned during specified hours, and they pick them up during those same hours a few days later. Waldow and Campbell, however, do not need to own or use any expensive equipment because they don't do any of the actual dry cleaning themselves. Instead, they've subcontracted with a local dry-cleaning establishment that picks up, cleans and returns all of the items directly to their business space in the business school's student lounge. "Aside from promoting the business," Waldow says, "all we really have to do is sit there, collect money, and fill out invoices."

The pair got the idea for the dry-cleaning service as members of the business school's entrepreneur club. The virtues of the concept had been touted by the club's master's-level students for several years, yet nobody had actually acted on it. When the idea resurfaced during a meeting in the fall of 1996, Waldow says he couldn't let the opportunity pass him by.

"I'd be lying if I said I'd always dreamed of being a dry cleaner, but I have always wanted to start my own business," Waldow explains. "This was an ideal chance to get hands-on experience as an entrepreneur to complement my classroom learning. Matt and I are doing everything ourselves, from generating customers to keeping the books. So far, it's been a tremendous opportunity to learn the ins and outs of running our own business and satisfying customers' needs."

Waldow trusts that the business will thrive in coming months and that its customer base will grow. "We've been using these first few weeks since opening our doors to try out new ideas and find out what works. Right now, we're focusing on new ways to get the word out about our business to other students on campus. Our next big target is the law school next door. Law students are always wearing dressy clothes, and we're close enough to serve all of their dry-cleaning needs."

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This article was originally published in the June 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Smart Idea.

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