Todd Laabs' Journey to Starting and Scaling a Franchise Business
Todd Laabs decided in 2014 to leave his job at Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Tide Cleaners. After several rewarding years working for P&G in California and Ohio, Laabs and his wife were longing to return to their roots in the Midwest, where they could focus on their family and pursue their dreams of business ownership.
Laabs, who grew up on a farm in a small town in Iowa, credits his business sense to his childhood experiences, his father’s inventive spirit, and the lessons learned working in the corporate structure. After leaving P&G, the entrepreneur explored his options and dabbled in various business ventures. He eventually found himself drawn to franchising.
Much to his surprise, Todd’s search for the best possible opportunity brought him right back to his P&G family. With 12 Tide Cleaners locations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market and plans for continued expansion, Todd says his bet on the Tide brand allows him to grow the thriving business he dreamed of building for his family.
Todd discusses his journey into franchising and why Tide Cleaners became the clear path to success.
Why did you decide to leave corporate America to start a business?
I got to a point in my career where my colleagues and I were all working for that next big promotion. I knew I didn’t aspire to earn one of those C-suite jobs. I wanted to do something more focused on my family. I wanted to grow something with my family in mind — and eventually pass it down to my kids.
But I also wanted something where I would be able to place a bet on myself and see those returns more directly. In corporate America, it’s not always easy to see an immediate return on your efforts. Small business comes with risks, for sure, but it also provides an incredible upside on one’s personal investment/sweat equity.
In corporate America, the running joke is that you can make a lot of money, but you live to your means. And while that’s a great lifestyle, it doesn’t really leave you a lot at the end. On the other hand, owning or running a small business gives you the potential to build up an asset, and you’re able to keep that in the family. I get sentimental about it. That’s probably what led me down this road more than anything — the opportunity to build something that I own, the ability to chart my own path, and, hopefully, the chance to leave my kids something they’re proud of, too.
What do you think inspired your entrepreneurial spirit?
I grew up on a farm in a small town in Iowa. Both my mother and father owned small businesses and invested locally in the community. My father always had some new thing he was working on. He worked primarily in agriculture, but he was always coming up with new projects, and even patented a product he then designed a company around. We were an entrepreneurial family. From the very beginning, I was geared a little less toward corporate America and a little more toward the free-spirited mindset that higher risk yields higher reward.
I also credit much of my business training to P&G. I built a really strong foundation of marketing, business management, people management, and advertising strategy working for such a great company.
Why did you decide to buy a franchise instead of starting an independent business?
Franchising was appealing to me because I wanted to get into the industry that had the most opportunity but may not be something that I had experience in. With a franchise, if you pick the right one, you get a playbook that makes it very clear what you need to do to be successful. You have a support system with the franchisor, but also many other successful franchises and small business owners to learn from and that help you build a strong foundation quickly and sets you up for success.
Once you decided on franchising, what led you to the laundry services and dry-cleaning industry?
I think when people first look at franchising, they think of restaurants. I’ve dabbled in that industry, and I know it’s demanding. It requires your presence on nights and weekends. You have to LOVE it for it to be a good fit. The other issue for me is that restaurants tend to be trendy and have to be reinvented every few years. They start off hot and then tail off.
I’m an optimizer at heart. When I get into something, I perfect that skill and make it better and better until there’s something meaningful there. I didn’t want something trendy. I wanted something reliable and long-lasting. Knowing that I wanted to build a generational business for my family, Tide Cleaners became the clear choice.
What made Tide Cleaners the standout opportunity?
Tide Cleaners was appealing to me for a few reasons.
First, the Tide brand is one of the top brand marks in the world.
Second, having worked for P&G, I had a little bit of a peek behind the curtain. I knew the rationale behind why P&G wanted to get into the service sector and into franchising. We know a growing number of busy families want to outsource household chores. That trend is likely to continue. So who better than the most recognized name in laundry to provide that service? I felt really good about P&G’s investment in Tide Cleaners. I understood their rationale and the purpose of the brand they were building.
Third, I recognized that, for the most part, there are no national players in dry cleaning. If you ask people, “What dry cleaner do you know of?” It’s all regional. It’s local. It’s small, family-run businesses. Those are fantastic. At the same time, there’s opportunity for consolidation and for someone with a meaningful brand presence to innovate. There’s opportunity to do something new in this industry and transform it, and I want to be part of that transformation.
When you bought into the Tide Cleaners franchise, what was more difficult than perhaps you expected?
Site selection and real estate. That was surprising to me. I knew that the operations would be a learning curve, and they were. But that can be accounted for by hiring great people and the support from the Tide Cleaners franchise. The real estate side was surprisingly challenging because there are a lot of criteria.
The good news for new franchisees is that the Tide Cleaners concept has evolved. When I started in 2014, there was one model. It was the plant store that required a 3,000-square foot endcap with a drive-thru. There are options now that make site selection more flexible.
You have experienced considerable growth as a Tide Cleaners franchise owner. Tell us about your experience so far.
I initially signed up for two stores in the Minneapolis market. My thought was to get in there and establish a strong foundation. With success will come additional funding and additional opportunities. I opened the first store in 2016 and the second one a little over a year later. At that time, there was an opportunity to acquire a competitive dry cleaner close to us, so I bought two additional locations. So, by the middle of 2019, I was at four locations. Since then, we’ve expanded to 12 locations, four of which we opened during the pandemic.
Do you aspire to continue growing and adding new locations?
Yes. My three- to five-year goal is to take on the greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul market. It’s a pretty contained market, but it’s also a big one with about three million people. What I’ve found with dry cleaning is, like most things, there’s a huge scale benefit as you expand your operations, expand your customer base, and grow brand awareness. We’re just getting to the point where we’re seeing benefits of advertising scale in our market, and that will only get better.
It’s a snowball effect. Once you get some good advertising and public relations and build brand recognition, more opportunities come to you. You can expand faster. Landlords see that. We’ve got people calling us now — landlords calling us with open space, and they want Tide Cleaners to move in.