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Industry icon Sid Tuchman passes at 92

An entrepreneur, an entertainer, a teacher, a speaker and a motivator are a few of the words that describe Sid Tuchman, an industry icon who passed away last month at the age of 92.

Throughout most of those years he was involved with the drycleaning industry in some form or fashion. He was born into it, in fact, the son of Polish immigrants whose father, Samuel, was a master tailor who started Tuchman Cleaners in Indianapolis, IN, in 1940 as a way to diversify his tailoring business. At that time it was a four-person business with Samuel assisted by his son, Fred, who ran a route from the press shop, a presser and a counter person. The incoming clothing was sent out to a wholesaler to be cleaned, spotted and returned. The wholesaler used a flammable solvent that required an expensive building in which the cleaning machines and flammable solvents were housed. The cleaned and spotted work was returned to the shop owner for finishing and pressing. Early in 1941, Sam and Fred bought a new cleaning technology that used carbon tetrachloride. Being non-flammable it could be used in a non-fireproof building such as a store room in a strip shopping center. This led to Fred becoming the part-time cleaner, spotter and route man.That didn’t last long with Pearl Harbor and World War II intervening and Fred entering the Army. Enter younger brother, Sid, who had to wrap up high school quickly and, at the age of 16 began his storied career in the drycleaning business.He was the cleaner and manager for Tuchman Cleaners where he learned that carbon tet, as it was called, not only cleaned clothes, but it also removed his fingerprints.Years later he told a story about his missing fingerprints. “My son and I were going through the express lane in the airport one day and they zipped him on through but they wouldn't let me pass right away. They said, ‘Sir, you have no fingerprints.’ That's right, the carbon tet took them away. So I said to my wife, ‘Hey, we can make some money on this. Let’s go rob a bank or two.’”

“I have worked very, very hard in this industry,” he joked. “In fact, I’ve worked my fingers to the bone. I’m telling you, I’ve worked these fingers — on both hands — to the bone.”The lack of fingerprints didn’t stop him from leaving his mark all over the industry.In 1943, he followed his brother into military service where he was assigned to the signal corps as a cryptologist, translating and breaking secret codes.

After the war, Sid and Fred returned to build Tuchman Cleaners. Sid started building routes, Fred cleaned and spotted the clothes, and Sam, their father, did the major tailoring and sewing. Although the business was growing, it was not growing profitably. Sid took accounting courses at night to understand modern accounting methods. He used that knowledge to develop a unique Profit and Loan statement for Tuchman Cleaners and it served as the basis for his national management cost and management group. Tuchman Cleaners grew into one of the larger cleaning organizations in America with 35 operating plants and stores, an industrial uniform plant, and a suede and leather service covering five states. Tuchman’s introduced a bridal preservation service and made available a deluxe French Room Service for special garments and furs.

But Tuchman was perhaps best known for his iron-clad guarantees to customers: For drycleaning, it was, Your garments are guaranteed to be ready to wear and ready when promised. We keep our promise or you keep your money.And for shirts, Tuchman guaranteed, Five Shirts laundered free if we neglect to replace any broken or missing buttons. This dedication to customers service led to the company being named the Best Dry Cleaner in Indianapolis for 15 straight years.

When the advent of polyester clothing set much of the industry back on its heels in the late 1960s, Sid seized the moment to diversify and further grow his company. He looked to uniform rental and with Bill Pulley, owner of a 115-store chain in Ohio, Larry Senn and Jim Delaney, both drycleaning consultants, founded Apparelmaster, a firm that taught dry cleaners how to enter the uniform rental business.

Apparelmaster grew to over 300 licenses throughout the world and turned many drycleaners from polyester bankruptcy to financial success.

Sid was always interested in art, so he hooked up with the Indianapolis Art League and mounted a massive art show with dozens of artists displaying hundreds of their paintings. The paintings were hung on the lines from inspection, through the press stations, drycleaning lines, through the shirt pressing area, through the fur vault, the bridal/preservation area as well as outside surrounding the building. The Art League raised over $35,000 that was used to help build a new art center in Indianapolis. Every time Tuchman’s opened a new store, an original mural covering the entire area from the front window to the counter and from floor to ceiling decorated the store or plant. The subject of the mural was an important Indianapolis activity: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Symphony Orchestra, Civic Theater, Ballet Company, Junior Achievement, Salvation Army, and Campfire Girls. Each month Tuchman’s would print the wrapper for each individual folded shirt (shirts on hangers was a rarity in those days) for a different civic project. They then received a membership list from that organization, (Girl Scouts, for example) and send out letters calling attention to the shirt wrapper advertising their event and inviting them into the store to see their mural.

Sid always loved helping, mentoring and finding ways to have an impact on others’ lives. He helped his employees in various ways, whether putting their children through college or assisting with house down payments, or supporting them in times of need, and made it a point to know all of the families of his employees and even called all their children by name. In the community, Tuchman Cleaners originated the Coats for Kids program that is now a national phenomenon. At that time, people brought children’s coats to any Tuchman Cleaners branch where they were cleaned and then distributed to children in need.

In 1982, Sid sold the business to the Johnson Group, then the largest drycleaning company in the world with 682 package plants in the United Kingdom. Part of the deal was to sign a five-year management contract. Reporting to someone with higher authority in the business was something new for Sid, but he said he learned many sophisticated management techniques from the acquiring company as well as having a seat on the board. Every line on the Profit and Line and Balance Sheet would be scrupulously examined. Budgets, objectives, and accomplishments were carefully monitored. After five years he was offered another five-year contract, but he decided to just renew year by year. In 1988 he retired to see if he could do something other than “press shirts for a living.” Thus began his second career in the industry, this time as a consultant. He started Tuchman Training Systems to bring best practices via management training seminars to drycleaners and other business people throughout the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom. He produced two CDs and workbook sets entitled How To Attract and Hold Customers and Clients and Sid Tuchman’s Professional Selling Power. His favorite catch-phrase was “nothing happens in business until someone sells something!” Sid gave several management seminars at the IFI (now the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute). Seated in the audience for one of the sessions was Lang Houston, former president of the IFI and owner of Crest Cleaners, Bruce Squires, owner of a chain of One Hour Martinizing plants, and Ed Ellis, principal stockholder of Nesbitt Cleaners. They urged Sid to organize a management group. From that idea grew Tuchman’s national management and cost group.

The group continues to make a difference today under the name Tuchman Advisory Group with his daughter, Ellen Tuchman Rothmann, serving as president.

In 2011, he received the highest honor given by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute —The Diamond Achievement Award. At the event, Sid said that receiving the award was “the proudest moment of my business life.” In presenting the award, Charlie Smith, then president of DLI, said that Tuchman’s “devotion towards our industry spans decades and he has been committed to improving the lives of everyone around him. Few people have made such significant contributions to the industry.”

“Sid’s numerous contributions to the industry have helped so many cleaners improve their businesses,” Mary Scalco, DLI’s CEO said at the time. “It is well-known that uniform rental helped save the industry during the ‘polyester recession’ of the 1960s and 1970s. Sid played an instrumental role in helping cleaners get over that slump and many others since then.” On receiving the award, he emphasized one of his core business beliefs in answering the question, “What is the purpose of a business?” Most people would say, "That’s pretty simple. It’s to make a profit. It’s to make money’,” he said “Wrong. The purpose of a business is to get and keep a customer, pure and simple. If you can’t get and keep a customer, you haven’t got a business. And, to the degree that you do this successfully, your cash registers will be overflowing. Of course, that’s not so easy to do.” Tuchman’s philosophy that he tried to impart to other business leaders was that successful companies maintain a competitive edge based on the leader of the company who is capable of developing the following characteristics:

• An outstanding vision and a pulsating will to succeed.

• Developing an outstanding customer satisfaction program, not just lip service but a real program.

• Knowing how to target, attract and hold heavy user customers.

Over the years he volunteered his time and monetarily supported many organizations. He was president of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation and vice-president of the Better Business Bureau and the Jewish Community Federation of Indianapolis.He served on many boards including the YMCA, Girl Scouts of America, Salvation Army, the Johnson Group Inc., Jewish Vocational Services of San Francisco, the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University, and many others.

Since 1988, Tuchman and Charlene, his wife of 61 years whom he met on a blind date, split their time between Indianapolis and San Francisco, where they maintained homes. The couple received the Spirit of Life Award, presented to them by the City of Hope, and they launched the Sid and Charlene Campership Fund through the San Francisco Jewish Community Foundation.

In addition to Charlene, he is survived by Mitch Tuchman and his wife, Daren, and their children Jack, Leo, and Lucy of Menlo Park, CA; Ellen Tuchman Rothmann and her husband, John, and their children Samuel and Joel of San Francisco, CA; and Kathy Tuchman Glass and her husband, Mike, and their children Marshall and Kimmie of Woodside, CA. A memorial service was held in San Francisco and the family is holding another service in Indianapolis sometime this summer that will be open to all. The family requests that memorial donations be made to: the “Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation Foundation” 6501 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46260, which Sid began in 1976 during his tenure as president.

Originally published in National Clothesline, February 2017 issue.

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