There are certain badges of honor you wear in the dry cleaning business.
Like the time Keith Klabunde took a challenge from Milwaukee Magazine, which tasked all metro-area dry cleaners to launder a single cloth napkin.
"They put everything on it. I mean everything: ketchup, mustard, ink. And I was able to remove everything but the ink. There was just so much. Not every stain can come out," said Klabunde, owner of Keith's Cleaners, 7027 W. North Ave.
"I was the only one who could get the napkin that was never going to get clean almost completely clean."
Experience has a little something to do with his expertise.
"After 25 years, you get pretty good at removing stains," Klabunde said.
But his real point of pride comes from the customers.
"I love the people," he said. "Clothing is really personal, and people get really attached to their clothes. And when you're talking to somebody about their clothing, you become very close to them."
Those people were a big part of the reason that, after 25 years as manager of the Martinizing franchise that used to occupy his shop, Klabunde decided to buy the family-owned business and make his own mark on dry cleaning.
Over the decades, he's grown from a former restaurant manager with no dry cleaning experience into a master dry cleaner, who carefully guards his craft.
"Nobody does any of the cleaning but me, because I'm that concerned about the quality of the work," said Klabunde, who isn't shy about telling customers about his back-to-back years scoring 100 percent on the Martinizing franchise test.
The franchise days are over; Klabunde gave up brand affiliation to save about $15,000 in franchise fees when he took over the business in January.
But the business name is really the only thing that's changed for Klabunde.
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JUST THE FACTS
BUSINESS: Keith's Cleaners
ADDRESS: 7027 W. North Ave.
PHONE: (414) 774-2050
OWNER: Keith Klabunde
INCORPORATED: before 1971
TYPE OF BUSINESS: dry cleaner
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