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Published by Spirit of Small Business awards in Pacific Coast Business Times.

Entrepreneur wouldn't leave the family business hanging

By Chris Officer

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from UCLA, earning her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, and then traveling the world as an international businesswoman, the last thing Sasha Ablitt expected was to go back to work for her family business.

But on the other hand, who could blame her, considering dry cleaning is in her family's DNA. Ablitt comes from a family that has more than 100 years in the laundry service. Her grandfather and grandmother, Neil and Alberta Ablitt, met each other while working at a laundromat owned by Alberta's father. 

The two married and eventually moved to Santa Barbara to open their own dry cleaning service in 1949. Torn on whether to purchase St. Paul Dry Cleaners or Enterprise Laundry Co., Neil opted for the dry cleaners, since the in-home washer and dryer industry was starting to become prominent during that time.

The Ablitts eventually sold the business in the late 60s, before Sash'as father purchased the dry cleaners back in 1984 and reimagined it as Ablitt's Fine Cleaners & Launderers. 

Sasha Ablitt, owner of Ablitt's Fine Cleaners & Launderers, took over the family dry cleaning business in 2003 after her father was planning on retiring from the industry.

Sasha Ablitt, owner of Ablitt's Fine Cleaners & Launderers, took over the family dry cleaning business in 2003 after her father was planning on retiring from the industry.

Sasha said she was busy traveling the world before eventually coming back home to the family business in 2003. At the time, she was expecting a baby and wanted to be grounded and close to family. She caught wind about her father retiring from the business and wanted to take over the reins. Although Sasha admits she was stepping into uncharted territory.

"I never had to be anybody's boss," she said. "I came here and had to be everything."

Now 14 years later, Sasha Ablitt is owner and operator of hat she claims is the largest dry cleaning service in Santa Barbara County.

Ablitt's operates out of its original 14,000-square-foot building that was built in 1934 specifically as a dry cleaner. It has about 12,000 customers in its database and took in about $3 million in revenue in 2016.

Ablitt's hangs its hat on its pickup and delivery dry cleaning service. At no extra cost, one of Ablitt's concierges will pick up and drop off your dry cleaning. Sasha says her vans have about 80 delivery stops a day, and it makes up around 60 to 70 percent of her business. She also adds that Ablitt's delivery-based service is not only beneficial for customer's convenience, it does its small part saving on gas emissions.

"It's best for our customers, and best for the environment, too," Sasha said.

Ablitt's alsois extremely green-friendly with its dry cleaning methods. As perchloroethylene, or perc, an environmentally harmful solvent being phased out, Sasha said she uses a green earth, plant-based solvent at her business.

 Ablitt has also stepped up her business technology-wise, implementing several 21st-century tricks to improve customer service. She started an automated email system that electronically checks bills and balances and sends out alerts when customer's clothes are ready. Ablitt even heat-seals a small, barely noticeable barcode on garments to keep track of items and the history of its cleaning service. "We don't lose anything," Sasha said. 

With 40 employees, Sasha says the business' success lies within its staff, five of which have been with the company for more than 20 years. Their loyalty is a testament to Sasha's commitment to her employees. 

She said employees are the heart of her small business, and regularly rewards them with employee luncheons the last Thursday of each month. She even hires an outsourced massage therapist every week to give employees massages at work. 

But more importantly, Sasha said, is that she's constantly challenging her employees on top of new and evolving things with training. The over-the-counter customer service employees learn some of the same tricks the back-of-the-house employees learn and vice-versa. And Sasha says keeping her employees engaged is what separates Ablitt's Fine Cleaners & Launderers from its competition.

"Dry cleaning is all the same in the eyes of the customers. What sets us apart is our employees," Sasha said. "I think that's why my employees love it here so much. They are always learning."

Call Ablitt's Fine Cleaners and Launderers at (805) 963-6677, email at sales@ablitts.com, or visit their website: https://ablitts.com/.

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