A broken washer landed Carla Shepherd in the laundry business.
Last month Shephard and her husband, John, marked their fourth anniversary as owners of Hutchinson’s Giant Laundry, 420 N. Adams.
They were also recognized last week as the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Month.
“Our washing machine had quit at home,” Carla Shepherd said. “John told me it needed to be cleaned out, but it was too hard for me to pull it out and get behind it, and he kept putting it off.”
Thus, she started using Giant Laundry services.
“One day a woman asked me if I was interested in buying it,” Shepherd recalled. “I just laughed.”
She told her husband about it and, after a couple of hours of contemplation, he told her to get more information.
John, who’s been a truck driver and oilfield mechanic all his life, can perform 95 percent of the maintenance and repair on machines at the business. Carla staffs the facility parts of most days and manages other staffing and the bookkeeping. They employ five people part-time.
“A little over a year ago, I purchased a laundry in Wichita,” Shepherd said. “I didn’t buy the building, but the contents, which we moved into a warehouse and used to update our laundry here with large capacity machines. We have several more than we had before. We also put in several double-decker dryers. We had three sets; now we have eight.”
‘Homelike Feel with Downtown Appeal’
The facility now has 28 top-loading washers, 11 large capacity machines, nine single dryers and the eight double stacks.
Every regular-sized top loading machine at the laundry is now less than three years old, she said.
“We’ve done a lot of changes here,” Shepherd said. “We put a new roof on and we updated the lighting. When we bought it, half the machines and half the lights didn’t work. Now, knock on wood, they’re all working. As lights go out, we replace them with new ballasts and more energy efficient bulbs.”
The laundromat offers drop-off cleaning service, as well as ironing.
“Our slogan is ‘Homelike Feel with Downtown Appeal,’” she said. “We try and be a family-based place. We always have an attendant on duty. You don’t put change in the machines. My people are the change machines.”
“We want people to feel it’s a safe, comfortable place,” she said. “When we first came, the laundromat was listed on Facebook for having the dirtiest bathroom around. We’ve changed that. It’s very clean in here and smells fresh. The place is loaded with plants.”
Raised in Little River, Carla met John in his native Wyoming. The oilfield brought him, and her back, to the region in the 1970s, she said.
Shepherd, 59, has had a variety of careers, several of which overlapped, including working as an LPN in home health, as a dispatcher for a trucking company and on a machine at Lowen Corporation.
She also started a cattle trailer clean-out business, which John, 64, continues to operate.
“Raised on a farm, I worked cattle and worked in the fields,” she said.
She’s lived in Colorado and Canada, working there raising horses and driving an oilfield truck.
“I’ve always been outdoors, pretty much, until about 2002, when I went to work in the factory at Lowens.”
Wanting to be a “Bingo lady” at a nursing home, she said, she then pursued her CNA. Once exposed to that, she continued her education and became an LPN.
“It was one of those ‘When God closes a door he opens a window,” she said. “I started school and became an LPN at age 51.”
One of the most significant services they provide is Laundry Love on the first Tuesday of each month. From 6 to 9 p.m. that day, homeless or low-income families can wash five loads of laundry for free. They usually also offer donated food, clothing and personal hygiene kits.
“Sometimes there’s diapers and formula,” she said. “It just depends on what the community brings to us.”
They’ve sponsored the event since the year they opened, when a couple of ladies from First Church of the Nazarene approached her with the idea, Shepherd said.
“We’re here every day,” Shepherd said. “We try to help people out. If anyone has any questions or if they find something wrong, let me know, and I’ll be on it.”