Saluting Just a Few of the Many Military Veterans Who Continue to Serve… Now as Part of the Laundry Industry

On the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or truce, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany, ending the First World War. Commemorated as Armistice Day, November 11 was declared a legal U.S. holiday in 1938. Then, following World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became known as Veterans Day – a day dedicated to all American veterans.

This month, as we observe this important holiday and thank all of those who have served and sacrificed to protect our freedoms, we want to recognize the many veterans whose post-military paths have led them to the laundromat industry. Below is just a handful of the military veterans whose past armed forces training and experiences continue to benefit us all.

Eric Meyers
Stay & Play Laundromat, Inc.
Westfield, Mass.

Military branch: U.S. Air Force, USAF Air National Guard

Years of service: 1985-2011

Career path while in the military: In addition to earning degrees in aircraft maintenance technology and industrial engineering, I logged more than 2,200 hours of time in the A-10 fighter jet, with more than 1,100 sorties. I also have 75 hours of combat time in the A-10 and was awarded the USAF Air Medal for sustained aerial combat over Iraq. In addition, I was awarded two Aerial Achievement Medals for Sustained Meritorious Achievement while participating in aerial flight during combat operations over Iraq.

Rank upon discharge: Lieutenant Colonel

Years in the laundry industry: 13 years

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? While still in the Air National Guard, I began flying for AMR Corp., which is the parent corporation for American and American Eagle Airlines. I soon realized I had very little control over my life, especially after all of the airline bankruptcies.

I started looking for investment strategies and spending a lot of time improving my financial literacy. I needed to make changes in how I thought and invested for my family. I came across the classic book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” by Robert Kiyosaki. The rest was history.

My wife, Julianna, and I started acquiring commercial retail properties and developing them into state-of-the-art laundromat facilities. They have incredible cash flow predictability and a low labor component. Hence, they have proven to be a very strong investment for us. I’m also a sales consultant for Yankee Equipment Systems.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? As a senior officer and fighter pilot, I’ve had years of some of best leadership training and mentoring one could ever hope to have. Over the years of facing so many various challenges throughout my military career, I learned quickly how to compartmentalize, control my emotions and make a decision.

When I was being mentored as a young officer, I was taught that true leaders earn respect, never demand it – they inspire people to do things they never thought were possible. In essence, the mantra I’ve lived by my entire adult life is that winners never quit, and quitters never win. And, if the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.

Steven Gagnier, Product Designer
Whirlpool Corp.
Benton Harbor, Mich.

Military branches: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy Reserve

Years of service: Army, 1983-1992; Navy Reserve, 2001-2004

Career path while in the military: Combat engineer – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Navy Construction Battalion, Sea Bees

Rank upon discharge: U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class

Years in the laundry industry: 16 years – 10 years on the residential side and six years in the commercial segment

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? I was working as a CNC machinist, while attending college for computer-aided drafting and design. Then, a friend suggested I apply for an entry-level drafting position at Whirlpool.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? I enjoyed the camaraderie with the people I served with. I don’t decide who I’m going to work with, so it’s important to me to work well with others.

Carlton Phillips
Swissh & Go Laundry
National City, Calif.

Military branch: U.S. Navy

Years of service: 1986-2012

Career path while in the military: Aviation electrician, working on various types of Seahawk helicopters, as well as the P-3 Orion and the Boeing C-40 Clipper

Rank upon discharge: E8, Aviation Electrician’s Mate, Senior Chief

Years in the laundry industry: Two years

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? A local businessman in our neighborhood owns three different businesses, and I told myself I could do that same. My dream was to own apartments, a sports complex and a laundromat.

After joining the Chief’s Mess in the Navy, it taught me how to become a leader and gave me the confidence to believe in my ability to accomplish anything.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? Leadership. I’ve led young sailors on ship deployments and in combat. While in Iraq as the air ambulance detachment, we were 100 percent mission complete.

Also, I learned to never say “I can’t” or “I don’t know.” As a senior enlisted member, sailors would come to me with questions, and I needed to answer them or find those answers. As a member of the Chief’s Mess, I was held to a higher standard of accomplishment, and these higher standards transferred with me into retirement.

I run my laundry business with a military mentality. Don’t be late. If you see something wrong, fix it now – not later. Look good and be good. Respect is earned.

What programs or resources for veterans would you recommend? I took advantage of the VA home loan program, when I was purchasing my apartment buildings.

Brad Nunez, Service Technician
Western State Design
Hayward, Calif.

Military branch: U.S. Navy

Years of service: 2009-2018

Career path while in the military: Navigation electronics technician for submarines

Rank upon discharge: E5, or Petty Officer Second Class

Years in the laundry industry: One year

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? Transitioning out of the military was scary. The idea of losing the safety net that you made your life for so long and then doing something different is terrifying. When transitioning out, I was fortunate to have been in contact with a company called Orion Talent, which arranged a few days in Portland, Oregon, for veterans to meet with prospecting companies.

During this time, the companies had the opportunity to present themselves and what they offer. This is where I first met Todd Hyrn of Western State Design. WSD offered me the ability to troubleshoot electronics, be self-reliant and enjoy varying day-to-day tasks. And, fortunately, I’ve been in the laundry business now since April 2019.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? In the Navy, I performed either corrective or preventative maintenance on electronic or mechanical equipment used for detection, tracking, recognition, navigation and various systems throughout the submarine. Working with equipment that is energized by multiple sources, we were quickly trained in tagging out, schematic reading and troubleshooting.

Shane Deyo
Splish Splash Laundry
Marietta, Ga.

Military branch: U.S. Army

Years of service: 2005-2009

Career path while in the military: Combat paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Division.

Rank upon discharge: I completed two tours of combat in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2008, and was discharged with a Purple Heart as an E5 Sergeant.

Years in the laundry industry: The ink was dry on the purchase of Splish Splash Laundry on January 3, 2020. Heck of a time to go into business, wouldn’t you say?

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? My wife, Sylvia, and I have always wanted to own a business. And my sister, Cortnee, and I are very adventurous. So, we all decided to go for it. The rest is history.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? I learned to suffer. I learned to never quit. No matter what challenges we face at Splish (our customers gave us that nickname), we never ever quit! Failure is just not an option within our family.

Craig Kirchner, President
Dexter Laundry
Fairfield, Iowa

Military branch: U.S. Army

Years of service: 1979-1981

Career path while in the military: Once basic training and job training were completed at Fort Gordon, Georgia, I was assigned to Pirmasens, Germany, as a telecommunications specialist.

Rank upon discharge: E4 Specialist

Years in the laundry industry: I was in the home appliance/retail laundry business for 17 years prior to the commercial laundry business, which I’ve been involved with for 18 years.

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? I started in the industry as a service trainer, teaching technicians on the mechanical and electrical aspects of products, as well as how to diagnose problems. I started in the Midwest, and the company gave me the opportunity to relocate to numerous places around the country. I enjoyed being able to help people solve problems. After learning the business from the service side, I moved into sales and finally into management. This is a unique industry in which I have the opportunity to work with true entrepreneurs.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? I was able to learn discipline, self-confidence, organization, structure, cutting-edge technology (for its time) and respect for others.

Shannon Rose, Technical Service Manager
Girbau North America
Oshkosh, Wis.

Military branch: U.S. Air Force

Years of service: 2000-2004

Career path while in the military: Aircraft electrical and environmental systems technician. I troubleshot and repaired the electrical and environmental systems on the F-15 C/D and C-17.

Rank upon discharge: Senior Airman

Years in the laundry industry: Two years

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? I liked the opportunity to have both a leadership role and be able to work with my hands on the equipment as well. I had no idea what went into laundry previous to working for Girbau North America. It is definitely a very interesting industry.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? Prior to enlisting in the Air Force, I had no electrical knowledge whatsoever. My in-class technical training lasted for about four months, and it was on-the-job training after that.

The Air Force also taught me how to work with a sense of urgency to complete the mission. Repairing fighter jets is a fast-paced environment, because of the mission you carry out. Providing accurate information and helping people get their laundry equipment up and running as soon as possible is similar to working the flight line.

What programs or resources for veterans would you recommend? I would suggest veterans become members of the various organizations available to all of us, such as their local American Legion and VFW. There are many business leaders within these organizations who can create opportunities for you through networking. Also, be sure to reach out to your local Veteran Service Officer to see what programs are available to you. Specifically, I used the GI Bill to help pay for college.

Lee Norman
Wash Away
Sharpsburg, Ga.

Military branch: U.S. Army

Years of service: 1955-1958, plus five years in the reserves

Career path while in the military: Combat engineer and truck/tank mechanic

Rank upon discharge: E3 Specialist

Years in the laundry industry: Six years

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? After my military stint, I earned a couple of college degrees and worked in corporate America for two major corporations in management and industrial sales. Then, a mid-life crisis hit, and I left the corporate atmosphere to become an entrepreneur.

Over the years, I’ve owned or been a partner in dozens of different businesses. Each one was a learning experience.

Then, after a failed retirement – I soon became bored stiff and was going nuts! – I knew I had to get back into small business. I wanted a cash business and decided on a laundromat for a number of reasons.

I closed on my first store about five years ago and purchased a second laundry three years ago. And both are performing well.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? I was trained as a mechanic and to understand electricity. So those mechanical and electrical aspects are embedded in my DNA. Understanding how washers and dryers work makes repair and maintenance easier – whether I do the work myself or hire a contractor.

Cary Lipman
CL Consulting Services
Woodstock, Ga.

Military branch: U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Division

Years of service: 1963-1966

Career path while in the military: I went through basic and advanced infantry training and paratrooper jump school. Also, I had taught myself to type, which landed me a job as a legal clerk and later a legal specialist, processing court-martial cases and Article 15 minor offenses.

Rank upon discharge: Specialist 4th Class

Years in the laundry industry: 36 years – 33 years as a store owner, and the last three years as an industry consultant

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? At the time, cold, hard cash was the inspiration. Plain and simple.

I entered the laundromat business in December 1984, while working as a sales manager for a large insurance firm. I built my first store in Bloomfield, New Jersey. I thought I could do both, but my store quickly became extremely busy. So, I left the insurance company and opened two more laundromats within two years.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? Besides typing and writing reports, I remember being aware of the fact that I would always approach business issues and decisions as though my life depended on it. In a combat-ready division, you learn that, in battle, even the smallest mistake can get you killed. However, in business, some people just thought I was a pain in the ass.

Mark Hale, Service Technician
Western State Design
Hayward, Calif.

Military branch: U.S. Navy (USS Ronald Reagan)

Years of service: 2000-2004

Career path while in the military: Electrician’s Mate Third Class in the Electrical Division Hotel Services Shop

Rank upon discharge: E4, or Petty Officer Third Class

Years in the laundry industry: One year

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? After my time in the military, I tried my hand at a few different careers. I’ve been in the manufacturing, construction, semiconductor, and space and defense industries. The laundry industry is a good field to get into – it offers job security, an always-changing work environment, challenging issues with the equipment, customer interactions and appreciation for services rendered. There also are opportunities to perform installs – where new equipment is brought in and tested, allowing me to see a laundromat being created and to be part of it.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? In the military, I was trained to be an electrician, troubleshooting and repairing electrical equipment. The Hotel Services Shop where I worked featured all of the items one would find in a hotel – kitchen equipment, water heaters, waste management and laundry equipment. I was able to work on a wide variety of equipment, some basic and others automated and complex. The military also taught me about responsibility, how to work as a team, and that we are all different and everyone is unique. I learned how to work with all types of personalities.

Paul Roach, Lead Engineer
Whirlpool Corp.
Benton Harbor, Mich.

Military branch: U.S. Navy

Years of service: 1985-1991

Career path while in the military: Data systems technician

Rank upon discharge: E5

Years in the laundry industry: 12 years

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? My service inspired me to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Upon receiving my degree in 1995, I went to work for a local wiring and connector company that manufactured products for the aerospace and defense industries. After four years there, the business was bought out and moved to another state, so I moved to the auto industry and was employed there until 2008, which turned out to be a bad year for the automotive industry. I had a young family at the time and decided to look for other opportunities. I noticed that the appliance industry was hiring.

The appliance industry seemed to be an industry that would be able to weather fluctuations in the economy better than other industries. The appliance industry corporations typically have multiple products in their portfolio and are not subject to a downturn in one specific appliance type.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? The military taught me a lot of hands-on skills. It’s the very definition of “on-the-job training.” You’re taught how to perform specific tasks and later expected to know how to perform those tasks on your own. Everyone in your group is expected to contribute and held accountable. Some specific lessons I have learned and used throughout my personal and working career are troubleshooting electronic components and software issues, working on mechanical and electromechanical equipment, and preventive and corrective maintenance. However, one of the best skills was how to work with people from all walks of life and how to listen to others.

What programs or resources for veterans would you recommend? I would recommend that every service member check with their local Veterans Affairs office to ensure they’re taking advantage of all the benefits available. Personally, I’ve used the GI Bill for college and the VA home loan program.

Chance Stone
Tropical Laundry
Holly Hill, Fla.

Military branch: U.S. Army

Years of service: 1988-1991

Career path while in the military: Combat arms/artillery, including serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

Rank upon discharge: E4 Specialist

Years in the laundry industry: 10 years

After your service, what inspired you to get into the laundry business? My wife, Janine, and I were raising a young family and struggling with being apart from them. We both worked corporate jobs and were being pulled in different directions. So, I started thinking about what we could do together as a family, and that’s when I stumbled across the laundromat industry. We were driving around looking at businesses that we could see ourselves being a part of. I started studying the laundromat business model. My research showed that the laundry business could provide my family with the time together we desired, while supplementing one of our incomes.

What skills did you learn in the military that helped prepare you for success in the business world, as well as in life? One of my most profound takeaways from the military was the notion of esprit de corps. It’s a feeling of pride and loyalty to those around you in efforts to achieve a common goal. Of course, there were many other skills learned in the military that helped shape my sense of entrepreneurship. These include teamwork and completing the mission at all cost, as well as never quitting or thinking that a goal is unattainable. In addition, the military helped me become accountable in managing the relationships in my life – including devotion to my marriage, my children, my career and, of course, our laundromat.

I’m so thankful that my grandparents steered me toward military service. Without that experience, I would have stumbled through the younger years of my life and, therefore, lacked the confidence in myself to achieve great things.

[Editor’s Note: If you’re a military veteran who’s currently in the laundromat industry, we would love to hear from you and to share your story in a future issue of PlanetLaundry magazine or on PlanetLaundry.com. Also, please let us know if you would be interested in future networking opportunities exclusively for those in the laundromat business who have served in the military. To respond, simply email Editor Bob Nieman at bob@planetlaundry.com.]

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