As PlanetLaundry Editor Bob Nieman asked (and answered) in this column last month, “Has 2020 sucked? Yes, without a doubt.” I think we can all echo that sentiment.

However, the stage is set to put 2020 behind us!

As your CLA Chairman for 2020, I stated last March that this was going to be a “Decade of Transformation” for our industry. Who knew that 2020 would end up being a year of shutdowns and cancellations?

For the laundromat industry, it began with the cancellation of in-person CLA Connect LIVE meetings, which were just beginning to gain momentum. This was followed by cancellations of local distributor events. And, when we were forced to suspend a number of highly anticipated LaundryCares Free Laundry Days, I knew we were in for a troubling year.

Next came the postponement of the CLA’s crown jewel event, the Excellence in Laundry Conference. And, of course, this was followed by the relatively recent rescheduling of the Clean Show until 2022.

So much for rolling out that “Decade of Transformation.” Yeah, Bob, 2020 indeed sucked!

But, when the shutdowns hit last March, what were we to do? Sit idly by and twiddle our thumbs, wallowing in self-pity?

Hell no! The CLA team – led by Brian Wallace and with the support of the association’s Board of Directors – created and implemented an action plan to attack the situation head-on. And, in the last several months, your trade association has accomplished quite a lot – even while, for the most part, working remotely.

Here are just a few highlights:

• Laundromats were quickly deemed “essential,” thanks to aggressive lobbying efforts. This was a huge undertaking, and your industry leaders came through with the financial support to make it happen.

• The association immediately began holding regular virtual chat sessions and educational webinars to help connect its members – including a number of fun events, such as afternoon “happy hours,” morning “coffee klatches” and a holiday gala.

• The CLA introduced new products and services for its members, including health insurance options, in-store television programming, digital marketing and more.

PlanetLaundry was out front with timely information to help us all navigate these uncharted waters. The magazine and its website continue to promote laundromat best practices, and store owners are listening. Simply put, our industry is better because of it.

• The LaundryCares Foundation hosted a three-day, virtual LaundryCares Literacy Summit that attracted nearly 900 laundry owners, librarians, educators and philanthropists. The Foundation – with its Free Laundry Day events and the anticipated growth of Family Read, Play & Learn Centers in laundries everywhere – will only continue to enhance the image of laundromats across the U.S. Laundry and literacy form a great partnership.

Throughout the year, I was amazed by the resilience of our members. They worked passionately not only to stay open, but also to be better at the business of laundry. I sensed that many owners started to connect more with their customers, creating even better store experiences.

As we begin Year No. 2 of this decade, let me say unequivocally that I cannot wait to get back on the road again and to meet with laundry enthusiasts like you – whether it’s at a distributor show, a CLA Connect LIVE meeting, Excellence in Laundry, the Clean Show or just a simple meeting at your laundromat. Hey, you never know where I may show up!

Personally, I believe our industry has not only survived 2020, but that, collectively, we have emerged stronger than before! OK, something happened in 2020 that caused a slight delay in the “Decade of Transformation.” But we’re back on schedule.

As Zig Ziglar said, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.” So let’s go, and let’s grow!

Lastly, join me in welcoming multi-store operator Daryl Johnson as your CLA Chairman for 2021. Daryl is a former CLA Member of the Year and the consummate laundry owner. Along with his wife and business partner Lisa, Daryl’s knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm will guide us through. The CLA is in great hands!

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