Michael and Sherri Hayes have been cleaning the Flathead Valley laundry for over two decades.
As owners of Imperial Dry Cleaners and Laundromat, they serve customers who wish to have their T-shirts washed in laundromats, but they also accommodate special requests, such as washing $8,000 suits separately from other clothing. For them, it’s all about serving their customers.
“We treat people well — that’s what it’s all about,” Michael said. “And we have the best clients. We consider everyone a VIP.”
When the couple bought Kalispell 22 years ago, neither of them knew how to run it. Once upon a time, they also owned 3 convenience stores, but now only have Michael’s at US 93 and Meridian Road.
“We bought the dry cleaner because we’ve been a customer for many years and thought we should buy it,” he said simply.
Using their backgrounds in the hospitality industry, they both put in the effort to learn and run the business. They say customers for laundry pads often come every week, and some visit the store more than once a day, so they know the importance of treating customers well.
The couple met while both worked at the former Outlaw Inn. Shirley grew up in Kalispell, where Michael is originally from Butte, where he also runs a hotel.
“We understand the hospitality industry and it’s moving well,” he said. “That’s why we’re successful.”
Mainly in the dry cleaning business, Shirley has been hands-on since the beginning. When the employee in charge of the dry-cleaning business left, she learned how to operate a dry-cleaning machine on the spot. They work in every business, with the help of their employees and family members, and even repair washers and dryers themselves when needed.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” she said of the start. “It was tough from day one – I was very reliant on other staff and wondered what we had done to get ourselves into trouble.”
Today, the business routinely sees 1,000 laundry items a day and hundreds of pounds of laundry to wash and fold—all done by hand. The business also includes locations in Evergreen and Bigfork.
They both appreciate the hard work of the now 25 employees, including some who have been with them for over 10 years. They said it was a rewarding experience to train employees and watch them grow to move on to other jobs.
These employees are also at the center of their attention as they turn to an eco-friendly dry cleaning process that uses organic and biodegradable solvents while working to conserve water, electricity and natural gas. Not to mention their six children and six grandchildren, who, as Michael puts it, “all our kids drink the same water.”
Over the years, despite the long days and tears in the process, Sherri said that in addition to running the business, the daily task of cleaning clothing has also been fulfilling.
“It was a challenge,” she said of trying to remove the stain. “You can use a lot of different chemicals, but you can’t mix them. So you have to figure out what’s going to work and feel good when you get it out.”
“We’ve mastered our craft,” Michael noted with satisfaction.
Sometimes they help people after a tragedy – cleaning up multiple items damaged in a fire or flood.
“It can be heartbreaking,” Michael said. “You’re trying to clean up the stuffed toy because moms want to give it back to their little ones.”
While it’s not always easy, Sherri likes the socialization of business, including connecting with customers. They say it’s not uncommon for regulars to bring snacks to employees.
“We’ve had some of the same clients from day one,” she said. “A 102-year-old woman who lives in Foy’s Lake often comes to do laundry because she is concerned about using a washing machine at home because it might affect the lake water.”
Laundry services for blankets and sleeping bags that don’t fit home machines are a common part of their service. About a third of customers own washers and dryers but are waiting to have their home machines serviced, they said.
Some of the more interesting items to wash in the door are Civil War uniforms, a smoky bear costume, and a couple of Santa suits.
They steam iron a lot of wedding dresses and work hard to clean the dirt from the dresses after the ceremony – one of the most challenging cleaning garments, they say, noting that the dresses aren’t necessarily made the way they were designed Handed down, but has sentimental value to the bride.
“We bought a dress at a wedding in Glacier Park and the lace and pearls were covered in mud,” recalls Michael. “We did our best to clean it up.”
Part of their business has grown as Flathead Valley has become a destination wedding venue.
Shirley said: “We were hit hard by the summer wedding.”
The couple recently sold their dry cleaning and laundromat business, and while they’re still helping with the transition to new owners, they’ve begun to reflect on what the business means.
“Kalispel has been good to us,” Michael said.
Feature Editor Heidi Desch can be reached at 758-4421 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.