Dirty clothes become golden opportunity for local businessman

5/19/2018, 4 p.m.
For many, washing clothes is a chore. But what many people may view as drudgery is Devon Chester’s doorway to ...
Devon Chester says his leap of faith into a new laundry business was scary, but has had numerous rewards, including giving back to the community. Ronald E. Carrington/Richmond Free Press

By Ronald E. Carrington

For many, washing clothes is a chore. But what many people may view as drudgery is Devon Chester’s doorway to opportunity.

The 41-year-old Midwest transplant has struck up a lucrative business doing laundry in Richmond.

Brook’s Stitch & Fold, his company started in 2016, now has two locations — at 711 N. Sheppard St. in the Museum District and at 3 E. Roberts St. in Barton Heights. The boutique service, as it is called, offers washing, drying and neatly folding laundry, dry cleaning, alterations and, for those who opt to do their own, self-service washers and dryers.

In Mr. Chester’s hometown in Michigan, wash and fold laundry services — where customers drop off their dirty clothes and return the next day to pick them up fresh and ready — are pretty common.

But in Richmond, that niche wasn’t being filled, he said. “I saw an opportunity to capitalize on that niche of the market.”

Mr. Chester was working at the time as a government contractor, overseeing federal construction contracts. He also was buying and rehabbing rental properties in his hometown of Lansing, Mich.

He was getting the itch to leave his job and go out on his own, he said. He researched business opportunities on the internet and found a laundromat in Richmond for sale. He reached out to the owner. A 5-minute conversation turned into “like we had known each other for years,” Mr. Chester recalled. “The owner was trying to get out from under this business. He wanted to divest and it seemed to be a good opportunity for what I wanted to do.”

But the leap of faith had risks.

“It was scary. You talk about walking away from the security of a six-figure job and walking out on your own,” said Mr. Chester, a husband and father of three. “Everything stops with you, especially when you have a family depending on you. But if it is something that you are passionate about and you really want to do, take that leap of faith and go for it,” he said.

So far, things have been going well with his business. In addition to walk-in customers, Mr. Chester serves corporate and government clients with alterations and cleaning. He also has a contract to provide bed linens and towels for Virginia Commonwealth University for summer student orientation.

“We are collecting the items at 10 a.m. one day, washing through the night and delivering the items by 10 a.m. the following day,” Mr. Chester said. “For a contract like that, we bring in an additional five-person, dedicated staff to handle that in addition to the three people running the Sheppard Street facility.”

The summer orientation contract opened the door to the VCU Police Department contract, for which Mr. Chester submitted a bid.

“VCU knew what we were capable of and the quality of work we do,” he said.

The company also does dry cleaning, alterations and laundry for JROTC programs in Richmond and Washington.

“Basically, we go to the schools, collect all the uniforms and we bring them back here and process them” to see if they are to be dry cleaned, altered or washed and folded. Once the needed work is done, “we return everything to the schools,” he said.

Mr. Chester said he finds success not in dollars and cents, but in servicing the community.

“I understand that you have to make money in order to sustain operations. But for me, it’s about kingdom building and building community,” he said. “I’m not going to be an establishment that comes in, provides a service and takes from the community and not give back to the people who support my business.”

During his two years in business, Mr. Chester has sponsored back-to-school backpack drives, Christmas giveaways and a gift card giveaway through a local church to help people in financial distress.

“It’s just a way to show our appreciation for their support for us.

“I love Richmond,” he said. “I’m rooted. I am here to stay.”