An Akron diamond grader decided to make more time for her infant son while striking out with her husband to renovate and operate a local laundromat.
Loretta Clayton, in a partnership with her husband, Terrence, owns Clayton’s Laundry at 1196 Tallmadge Road in Cuyahoga Falls, just north of the "Barney’s Busy Corners" intersection where six roads converge at the east end of Howe Avenue. The business will mark its first year in February.
Loretta explained how she went from a world of shiny gems to one of simpler — though more fulfilling — purpose.
“Before this business, I worked at Signet Jewelers for 14 years," she said, explaining she had worked there since graduating from Firestone High School in Akron.
In her former career, she was a certified gemologist/diamontologist and graded diamonds after attending school over two years at the Gemological Institute of America in New York City.
"I got let go due to COVID and that prompted me to start my own business, to form my own path,” Loretta said.
The couple, both in their 30s, have been married 10 years and have a 2-year-old son.
She and Terrence, who went to Central Hower High School, met while working together at a McDonald's. He works full-time as home improvement contractor and helps at the laundry during the cold-weather off-season.
He said Loretta performs the bulk of the work, but he assists with cleaning and picking up orders. He also did some of the remodeling.
"It was a pretty big transformation," he said. "We went in there, and it was a real dump. We purchased equipment and redid everything."
“When I got laid off, I really just had to think for myself,” Loretta said. “What can I do to invest in my future and my family? When I did work at the large corporation, work-life balance was a major issue, so I wanted to make sure that I invested in something where I would have time for my son and my family.”
The business is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. She fills “wash-and-fold” orders from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“The laundromat portion, I don’t have to be there for it to run and continue to operate. I am there when I have wash-and-fold orders,” she said. “I just pop in and out whenever I’m able to.
“The laundromat industry really seemed to make sense for me. You know how much clean clothes really means to everyone’s social life,” she added.
A family member tipped her off that the business was for sale and the deal closed soon after. Then she found a "laundromat mentor" who owns a company that sells washers and dryers.
"He gave me a lot of quotes and prices and he kind of stuck with me," she said. "Even though I did not buy a lot of my equipment from him, he stuck by my side and gave me information about the industry.
"He taught me everything I know about the industry and helped me with different projections according to the area that I'm in and really pushed me to move forward because it is such a great area for a laundromat."
Help for entrepreneurs
The couple had savings, but Loretta said she also took a business class through the Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron, which helped her get a $2,000 grant. The couple got another $5,000 grant from the city of Cuyahoga Falls.
Loretta estimated it took about $50,000 to replace old machines and renovate their space, a former laundromat under lease from the building's owner.
“We did have money saved up already that we were able to purchase our equipment with and get the space remodeled,” she said.
Loretta said the Bounce Hub class "really helped me from start to finish on how to formulate my business plan to make it make sense and to make it profitable."
“I’m still with the Bounce Hub and they still help me continually to operate and make sure my business is running,” she said.
Jeanine Black, Bounce Hub’s chief marketing officer, said the $2,000 “micro grant” was funded through the Huntington Akron Foundation for entrepreneurs who have completed the 15-week program. The business accelerator class is meant to help existing and emerging entrepreneurs learn the nuances of business ownership.
Applications to attend the next course, which starts in February, are being accepted at bouncehub.org/mortar. The program is open to any entrepreneur or small business owner, while focusing on minorities and women.
Cuyahoga Falls information officer Kelli Crawford-Smith said the city’s grant was through a Community Development Block Grant program designed to assist businesses with working capital during the pandemic. More than 100 businesses throughout the city received these grants.
Family in business
The laundromat is not Loretta's first business venture; her online uniform company, Essential Direct, also took a hit due to the pandemic.
"I was selling school uniforms, that's when COVID started and the kids weren't going to school, so I had to think of a new game plan," she said. "I sold school uniforms, nursing uniforms, restaurant uniforms – any type of uniforms you can imagine, I was selling online. I had to think of a new game plan ... It's been put on pause."
Her new business, also clothing based, features single, double and triple load washing machines that are both coin and smart-phone operated. The laundry offers free WiFi, televisions and vending machines.
Terrance said he is also looking to move out on his own, having taken the first steps to get his own company, Clayton's Carriers, off the ground.
Terrance said he recently signed an agreement to serve a medical business and has plans for future expansion.
The car wash next to the laundromat happens to be owned by Loretta's father, Levester Johnson, who operates a used car business and leased the car wash after Clayton's Laundromat opened.
"He is a great inspiration for he," she said. "He inspired me all the way through. He inspired me to be my own boss and make my own path."
Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.
At a glance
Business: Clayton's Laundry
Address: 1196 Tallmadge Road, Cuyahoga Falls
Owners: Loretta and Terrence Clayton
About the series
The Beacon Journal is profiling Black-owned businesses in Summit County. The Beacon Journal will continue to highlight minority-owned businesses as part of its ongoing regular coverage.
Have a suggestion for a business to feature? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Clayton's Laundry in Cuyahoga Falls to mark first year in business