Meet DLI Chair Jess Culpepper, CED, CPD, CPW, Culpepper Cleaners and the DLI Executive Committee
The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute’s Board of Directors recognizes valued contributions and inducts new volunteer leadership each year. New Directors are sworn in as their predecessors move to an executive position or become DLI Senators, an exclusive title for previous members of the Board. This year DLI welcomes a host of new faces to its governing body.
DLI asked this year’s group of DLI Executive Committee Members a few questions to help members of the Institute and industry get a better sense of who they are and what they strive to achieve.
JESS CULPEPPER, CED, CPD, CPW, Culpepper Cleaners, San Antonio, TX
Why did you volunteer to serve on DLI’s Board of Directors? To attempt and do what I can to help DLI and other drycleaners. I consider my family fortunate that the drycleaning industry has provided us and our employees a means to earn a living since 1911.
How has DLI membership impacted your business? We have been members of DLI for decades, all the way back to when it was NID. We have gained knowledge and and added to our abilities through our membership.
What complications or supportive developments do you foresee for 2022? Moving forward I see a shortage in the labor force so by becoming more efficient wherever possible will help mitigate that problem. On demand and online shopping will continue to grow which equates to more of the retail dry cleaning business becoming pick-up and delivery, which we need to embrace as an opportunity.
What is your favorite part of being in this business? I enjoy the work because of the satisfaction I get from doing a job well and working at improving everyday.
What might most people in the industry not know about you? I enjoy spending time with my family and am a weekend rancher. I enjoy being a steward of our property and spending time in the outdoors.
Bobby Patel, Kona Cleaners, Costa Mesa, CA
Why did you volunteer to serve on DLI’s Board of Directors? I volunteer to serve the drycleaning industry that has provided a living for me and my family.
How has DLI membership impacted your business? I joined DLI 20 years ago. DLI helps me keep up with the current industry trends and has made me a more professional drycleaner.
What complications or supportive developments do you foresee for 2022? We will continue to see closures from the impacts related to Covid. The drycleaners business that survive will do well.
What is your favorite part of being in this business? The daily challenge of bettering my business for me and my Team.
What might most people in the industry not know about you? I enjoy volunteering, hiking, and spending time with my family. Also, being an introvert, I thoroughly enjoy a little time to myself.
Jeff Schwegmann II, CGCP, Sunshine Cleaners, Cold Spring, KY
Why did you volunteer to serve on DLI’s Board of Directors? Several years ago I attended a MWDLA meeting in French Lick Indiana. It was my first drycleaning conference. I met Jan Barlow, who gave the keynote speech. She encouraged me to attend the board meeting. I was hesitant because I was not a board member. I followed her there with some encouragement. Eventually I was appointed to the the MWDLA board, became President, then joined DLI's board. But it really is the people. DLI has all the educational tools you could ever need but the guidance from the fellow members and DLI staff is invaluable.
How has DLI membership impacted your business? DLI's leadership during the pandemic shows the quality of the institution and its people. We learned so many things from DLI and its members. The information we learned from DLI was used to help with our decision making. We survived and are now growing as a result.
What complications or supportive developments do you foresee for 2022? The employment market is tough and will be for a long time. Members need to take advantage of the training tools DLI offers. Members need to look at all the benefits their membership provides and use the tools as part of their training programs.
What is your favorite part of being in this business? I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, to build and manage my own thing. I didn't plan on entering the family business but I am glad I did. 20-years in and I look forward to the challenge every day.
What might most people in the industry not know about you? My favorite activity is sarcasm. My favorite hobby is aggressive sitting. I enjoy watching other people walk on the beach. I enjoy golfing and my favorite part of golfing is riding in the cart. I don't like cats. Dogs are tolerable. My kids are loud. My wife is wonderful.
TREASURER & DISTRICT 1 DIRECTOR
Kathy Benzinger, Benzinger's Dry Cleaning, Hamburg, NY
Why did you volunteer to serve on DLI’s Board of Directors? At FallFest, I was introduced to one of my great mentors, John Dallas, and had the privilege of meeting Peter Blake, as well. At the time, they were looking for a District Committee Member (DCM) and asked me if I would be interested. As a DCM, I attended all DLI board meetings. When John Dallas later left DLI’s Board, I was more than happy to take on a larger role. Every member of the board is passionate about the industry and helping others. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of them and to contribute to DLI’s efforts.
How has DLI membership impacted your business? My father was a member of IFI when I worked at his cleaners after graduating from high school. He was always reading the information we received at the cleaners. He was a firm believer in garment analysis and felt strongly that this great organization was instrumental in him becoming a successful operator. In 1998 I ventured on my own with the help of a partner who I was confident would not let me fail. That partner was DLI, and many of the members have become lifelong mentors and friends. My business would not be where it is today without the support I have received and continue to receive from DLI.
What complications or supportive developments do you foresee for 2022? COVID has undoubtedly had the largest impact and will likely continue to in some way, shape, or form into 2022. If it weren't for DLI and the months of Zoom calls, I'm not sure any of us would be making it through this pandemic. As difficult as it has been, it taught me to be a better operator in so many ways. I learned to adapt more quickly to ever-changing demands and to be one step ahead of customer needs.
I believe we will continue to see significant changes but we should not be fearful of them. With all change comes growth, much of which will benefit our members and the industry. In the past, our industry has been slow to change. To remain strong, we will need to move quickly. DLI can lead the way by continuing to provide and improve online learning opportunities such as educational courses, webinars, and YouTube training videos and by modeling the shift away from fearful statements, such as “piece counts are shrinking.” Positive thinking leads to a brighter future.
Finding new paths will require us to think differently. DLI can play a role by helping generate and create new ideas that lead to growth. In the next decade it is predicted that services geared towards saving people time will see the greatest growth. Our industry is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of this prediction. We are in the business of saving people time - one of the most valuable commodities in today’s world. We are so much more than just drycleaners! We are business owners and leaders discovering new ways of meeting the needs of today’s consumers.
What is your favorite part of being in this business? I love the daily challenges of being a business owner in the drycleaning industry. I genuinely enjoy making people happy, both customers and employees. I thrive on watching my employees develop and become confident leaders in the company. I enjoy teaching skills others will use whether they stay in my organization or move on to other opportunities. My employees are my family and I take immense pride in watching them succeed.
I have always loved fashion and enjoy making my customers both feel and look good about themselves. I know what a confidence boost it is to put on something professionally cleaned and pressed, and I continue to spread this message to our customers. I also know that time is precious and that there is more to life than laundry. I love helping my customers take back a little bit of that precious time. I could go on and on about what I love about the industry, but you get the message.
What might most people in the industry not know about you? I was a Buffalo Bills Cheerleader during the Joe Ferguson Era, and I am an avid competitive tennis player.
Respectfully Yours DLI’s Executive Committee is the highest level of leadership at the Institute. These dedicated leaders direct what the Institute stands for and the actions it takes. They are all DLI members who volunteered to share the most precious gift with the industry that supports us all: their time.