Owner of Tiger Cleaners says success is in customer service

Thursday, September 20, 2007 | 2:44 p.m. CDT; updated 6:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — The following is an interview with Steve Pohl, the owner of Tiger Cleaners. The interview was conducted through e-mail.

Business Profile

About the business: Tiger Cleaners, 126 S Eighth St. What it is: Full service dry cleaning, laundry and alterations Locations: 5 locations, plus home and office pick up and delivery Number of employees: 20 Sales last year: $865,000 Years of operation: 13½ years Owner Steve Pohl’s first job: business banking Pohl’s education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, 1988, MU

Q. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your business life?

A. The amount of hours I spend per week dealing with staffing issues. Turnover is extremely costly and time consuming.

Q. What keeps you up at night?

A. Less things than 13½ years ago when I first started. It depends on the day or week: staffing, customer issues, production or equipment issues. It depends on what the biggest problem I am facing at the time.

Q. What makes you stop what you’re doing and say, “What am I doing here?”

A. Days or weeks when Murphy’s Law rules a job sounds pretty good. But 95 percent of the time I am glad I went into business for myself.

Q. What did you learn from the best boss you ever had? Or the worst?

A. Learned the same thing from the saying “practice what you preach.” Customer service, quality and attitude start from the top down.

Q. What Columbia business do you most admire?

A. I don’t really have a business mentor. I admire anyone that has taken a good idea, product or service and built a successful business from the ground up.

Q. How do you motivate or pump up the people you work with?

A. I try to stay positive in attitude and demeanor. I try to listen when they tell me there are road blocks to preventing them from doing their jobs as effectively as possible and try to implement systems to alleviate those road blocks. I try to let them know as often as possible that they are appreciated.

Q. Describe the ideal employee in five words or less.

A. Positive attitude with good effort.

Q. What do you try to read in a day?

A. Not a lot of free reading time. I read the sports page and the front page of the paper most days. I usually read or book or two on vacation, mostly fiction.

Q. What parts of your ordinary life have you had to give up for this job?

A. Seeing my children in the morning. I leave for work before 6 a.m., so the only morning I see them is Sunday.

Q. How many hours do you work during an average week?

A. Whatever it takes. If things are perfect, I may only work 40 hours in a week, but that’s rare. If (there are) lots of issues, it may be 80 or more. I really don’t have an average week, and I love that part of it.

Q. If you didn’t own your business, what would you really love to be doing?

A. If I could magically be whatever I wanted, a top-50 PGA tour member sounds pretty good. In the real world, I would like to see how I would do as a stock broker.

Q. What’s the motto you live by as a business owner?

A. I don’t really have a motto. I would say the closest thing is try to get better every day.

Q. How did you get started in the business?

A. I had spent six years working in banking and had the entrepreneurial itch. A dry cleaners came (up) for sale that I felt had some good potential and so I bought it.

Q. Who’s your greatest inspiration?

A. No specific inspiration. I had and have a lot of admiration for the independent business people I dealt with while in banking.

Q. Where do you see your business in five years?

A. I definitely see opportunity in the market for our business to grow over the next five years. I could see us opening at least one or two more stores in the next five years and, perhaps, building a new processing plant.

Q. How is running a business different from what you thought it would be?

A. It (has) been so long ago, I really don’t know what I imagined it would be like. What I do each day has evolved as the business has grown and should continue to evolve as the business evolves.

Q. Would you rather be the Donald Trump or Google guys in your field? Why?

A. Thirty-something billionaire on the cutting edge of technology living in California or the sixty- or seventy-something billionaire with bad hair living in New York? Is this a trick question? Seriously, the Google guys. I am committed to spending on technology that improves our productivity and quality.

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