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A case study about businesses that prioritize emergent properties
And get a 30% reduction in operation costs.
We’ve been talking a lot about emergent transition systems lately. And totems. A bit of a mix isn’t it? But I think you’re starting to see the threads now.


I also realize that this Emergent Transition situation can seem daunting. That the idea of moving to a system that is outside of this system when we aren’t sure what that new one looks like is a bit of a mind fuck. So we aim for a transition in the middle to make it more practical.

And even then you’re thinking this sounds too complicated.

Well I had the pleasure of meeting a man who, without being told how it works, naturally inclined himself and his family owned business towards these ideas. They did it because they wanted to contribute to a better environment, a better world, and a better profit margin. Yes, you CAN get all three!

I want to share with you what they’re up to, so we’re going to dive into what Dennis, his wife Jessica, and their son Tyelor, owners of Cathy’s Cleaners, are doing in Bend, Oregon. I hope this helps you feel a little closer to doing some things in your business…

Cathy’s Cleaners is not your typical dry cleaner.

I didn’t know this until I asked, quite randomly, how it all worked. You see, dry cleaning is chemical cleaning. Which is to say that garments made of synthetics that do WEIRD things in hot water can be cleaned using chemicals.

Nasty chemicals.

And to make matters worse, apparently these chemicals are so concerning that they’re regulated by the DEQ. For my non-american readers, that’s the department of Environmental Quality. Which sounds like a proactive environmentally aware sort of agency (maybe it is a bit), but essentially the DEQ is tasked with regulating all of the extremely toxic shit we use in daily life.


Dennis told me that their particular business was paying around $3,000 a MONTH in DEQ fees and permits. Let that sink in. Just to USE these chemicals the family is paying $36,000 a year. So they set out to remove this cost and those nasty chemicals all at once.

Round One:

With a lot of research, some experimentation, and some faithful clients, they managed to switch it up. Cathy’s Cleaners now uses standard clothing detergents and regular hot water. By modifying the processes and tweaking the cycles that the clothing goes through, they’ve managed to figure out how to safely wash anything labeled “dry clean only” without any of that poison!

On top of that, Dennis also devised a way to take advantage of resources that most dry cleaners didn’t even know they had. Some steps in the process involve heat and steam, which is usually vented out of the building. Instead, they redirect that heat and steam into closed drying-rooms. The heat is not only reused but they’re also able to clean even more types of garments that the process-changes might have limited!

  • Lower Pollution
  • Decrease Business Costs
  • Closing Loops in Systems
  • Symetrical Relationship with Environment
  • (Win-Win: Business and Global and Client)


Round Two:

With that out of the way and a massive cost to the business removed, they set out to step it up again. Realizing that the typical dry cleaners was wasting a lot of money on materials that may not even be necessary.

Check it out: The typical dry cleaning service includes paper-sheets to protect the clothing from moisture and plastic bags to keep it clean on the way home to your closet. But ultimately these materials get tossed, and the amount of accidents they actually save your freshly cleaned garments from is minimal.

The family decided this was a waste of useful operations budget and an obvious source of trash pollution. First they got rid of the paper, which was marginally effective and mostly just tradition. That not only saved money but saved the staff time; increasing efficiency.

Next they ditched the plastic. This one is a huge money saver but at first it made Dennis a little nervous because clients were so used to this feature. But as it turns out, the clients followed his lead, and he found that most of them didn’t actually WANT the plastic bags.

  • Decrease Consumption/Depletion
  • Win-Win: Business and Client and GLOBAL


Round Three:

Alright, what else can we tackle?

The team looked at hangers next. Obviously they were buying a ton… Clients have a pile in their closet. There’s got to be a Win-Win here… insert Cathy’s Cleaner hanger buy back program. These things come in boxes when you buy them, so it was a simply solution. Any time a client brings in a full hanger box with their next drop off, they get a $5 credit!

They reduced costs by buying less, their clients get a thank you for reusing, and the business now builds relationships with their community.

But lets take it a step further.

Dennis realized that they had a HUGE opportunity to not only save their employees’ time, but make a pretty big impact on the environment and REALLY take care of the clients.

On an average day about 80 clients stop by to pick up or drop off. They’re driving their cars to get there and adding yet another stop in their bust day.

Meanwhile, the team is moving cleaned garments from the back room to the front lobby racks, which requires labeling and placing them in alphabetical order. These racks can only be rotated so quickly before they start throwing clothes everywhere, so this process adds a considerable time.

They decided to do something crazy. Free pick-up and Delivery.

Sounds insane right?

But look: Now the employees are just sending clothes with the name-tags they already had directly into a van. No fussing with the front-lobby rack. That saves enough time to at least break even on the gas costs. But now his clients aren’t driving, so THEY save time. And they’re not on the road as long so less pollution is created.

And seriously, who doesn’t love free delivery service?

This was a huge step. It doesn’t really make Cathy’s Cleaners any money. If anything it costs a bit. But after all of the savings created, taking a bit back on their shoulders to help the environment and get a lot of very loyal customers?

Worth it.

  • Deny False Scarcity
  • Symmetrical Ethics
  • Win-Win: Business and Client and GLOBAL


Round Four:

And just in case you thought this was some sort of proprietary system that Cathy’s Cleaners hides from the world?

Dennis is working on a book to explain and teach EXACTLY how they do business and operates the facility. Cathy’s Cleaners was voted second most environmentally friendly business in Oregon last year. Right behind a solar company of course! And cleaners all around the state are starting to notice and trying to copy. Dennis figures it’s time for this change to happen, and what better way than to actually tell them how to do it.

Competition is a non issue because they’ve got plenty of loyal customers and they’re ready to innovate even more areas of the business. Meanwhile, they could contribute to saving the environment from millions of gallons of toxic chemicals AND save other small businesses thousands a month in fees.

  • Anti-Rivalrous
  • Symmetrical Ethics
  • Race-To-The-Top
  • Win-Win: Business and “competition businesses”

And the result?

  • Reduction of Business Costs
  • Reduction of Complications
  • Increase of Complexity (and thus anti-fragility)
  • Increase of Profit
  • Increased Customer awareness
  • Increased Customer satisfaction
  • Recognition for Environmental Awareness

Now you might be thinking that it sounds like a lot of work. All of those changes, breaking industry standards, explaining it to customers… but look: the family started with the big issue because it saves them $36,000 or more a year and cuts a massive amount of pollution from their business. But they also did little changes along the way.

You can start wherever you want.
Just one step that’s easy and fun.

And then see if you aren’t excited to take more steps?
You can find out a bit more about what’s up at Cathy’s Cleaners at their site. I’ll keep you informed if they do anything else epic with their Emergent Transition Efforts!

Cathy’s Cleaners in Bend, Oregon.

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