Doing the dirty work

Fargo-based Brenan's Laundry and Drycleaning is pressing its flesh in the local laundry market. The 3-year-old business operates four retail drycleaning stores in Fargo and a retail store in Wahpeton, N.D., said Bill Brenan, president and managin...

Darcy Nelson and Bill Brenan
Darcy Nelson, left, retail division manager, and Bill Brenan, president and managing partner, stand in front of the company's $400,000 laundry press at Brenan's Drycleaning and Laundry.

Fargo-based Brenan's Laundry and Drycleaning is pressing its flesh in the local laundry market.

The 3-year-old business operates four retail drycleaning stores in Fargo and a retail store in Wahpeton, N.D., said Bill Brenan, president and managing partner.

Its 13,000-square-foot production plant at 921 4th Ave. N. in Fargo includes a commercial cleaning division that serves area hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, colleges and other customers within a 60-mile radius of Fargo-Moorhead, he said.

Brenan and other business partners acquired the assets of Downtown Cleaning and Laundry in April 2007.

"We had to decide whether to keep it as a going enterprise or do something else," he said. "If we were going to keep it as a going enterprise, we had to become a player in the market."


About the same time, Leef Cleaners, with three retail stores and a laundry in Fargo, decided to sell its assets, Brenan said.

"We acquired all of their retail outlets and as much commercial as we could absorb at the time," he said.

"It made us a market-share player on the retail side almost overnight, and it more than doubled our business on the commercial side," he said.

A busy place

From 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, Monday through Friday, computerized commercial washing machines woosh and whirl, dryers spin, and huge irons press tons of laundry at Brenan's production plant. The plant is open from 6 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Saturdays.

The site, on the northeast corner of 10th Street and Fourth Avenue North, was previously home to three restaurants and a meat supply company.

Fargo Meat Supply operated there until 1977, when Casa de Sole Mexican Restaurant opened. It later became Hunan Chinese Restaurant and in 1988, The Pearl Chinese Restaurant.

"All we do here is turn product," said Brenan, as delivery vehicles begin arriving.


"This is one of our 26-foot trucks that just came back in from Breckenridge (Minn.)," he said.

Delivery trucks leave for Wahpeton-Breckenridge at 6 a.m. daily and three times a week serve the Detroit Lakes, Minn., area.

Inside the plant's front door, workers process drycleaning orders that, when completed, are trucked to the company's retail stores, business delivery sites and customers' homes.

The commercial division of Brenan's takes up much of the plant.

"We do 1,100 to 1,200 pounds an hour," said Brenan, walking past freshly filled laundry carts.

"This is our big iron," says Brenan, as a bedsheet passes across two 32-inch steam-fed rollers.

Sheets exit the opposite end pressed and automatically folded. Previously, everything was hand-folded, he said.

"All we do is load them into the carts," Brenan said, "so you only need two people to do several thousand pounds of sheets."


About 87 percent of Brenan's production is done by equipment.

Prior to automation, Brenan's Cleaners employed about 70 people compared to 40 now, he said.

"I wasn't looking to cut jobs. I was looking to make it more efficient," Brenan said.

Shirts, shirts, shirts

Two employees press and hang shirts near the back of the production plant.

"We usually do 500 to 600 shirts a day (2,200 to 4,000 per week)," said Darcy Nelson, who manages the retail division.

Her department includes the shirt laundry and drycleaning staff.

Drycleaning, because of the different types of fabric involved, is more time- consuming, Nelson said.


She has been working in the drycleaning business for 18 years, previously with Camelot Cleaners.

In addition to walk-in traffic at its retail stores, Brenan's offers pickup and delivery service to homes and businesses, Nelson said.

Several Fargo-Moorhead businesses provide an in-house location for employees to drop off and pick up laundry and drycleaning, she said.

"It's kind of a nice service to provide your employees," Brenan said.

"This is our busy season," which extends from March through May, Nelson said.

Business usually slows down during summer and picks up again when school starts, she said.

Brenan said he is looking to open other retail locations and add more commercial clients.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502


Darcy Nelson and Bill Brenan
Hilary Smith operates the "double buck" shirt press last week at the production facility of Brenan's Drycleaning and Laundry. The machine rotates to steam-press shirts on the backside while she removes and loads shirts on the front. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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