The funniest thing about Katie Hampton and husband JT Hampton taking over ownership of Anchorage’s One Hour Fireweed Dry Cleaning may be the way the plan fell into place. Because running her family’s 45-year-old business after parents Julie and Randy Earp retire was never part of her plan.
“The most important thing to me now is keeping it in the family,” Katie said. “For the longest time, running and working at the cleaners was the last thing I wanted to do. I started working around here when I was 9.
“Today, taking over for my parents means so much. This is our company, our family. I can’t imagine anyone else running things.”
After those formative years learning the business from her parents, Katie left for college at Colorado State University and met JT at freshman orientation. JT studied business and talked about postcollege aspirations.
“He wanted to have his own business, and I said ‘I think I have one,’” Katie said. “We didn’t have to start our own.”
The couple returned to Anchorage in 2010 after graduating together.
Family-owned and operated since 1967, Fireweed Cleaners prides itself in providing top quality dry cleaning and laundry services. The main store is currently in its third location on Fireweed Lane in midtown Anchorage. The Earps, who began operating the business in 1993, opened a second store in South Anchorage in 2000.
The family business employs about 20 people – not including Katie, JT, Julie and Randy – and is well known and respected for taking care of the needs of its customers and community. Fireweed won the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce’s Gold Pan Award in 2008 in part because of the family’s commitment to the annual Coats for Kids Drive, which collects, cleans and distributes coats to needy children prior to the start of the school year.
“Being heavily involved in the community is and will forever be important to us,” Julie said.
First National Bank Alaska shares the sentiment. Fireweed Cleaners and the bank have worked together for years, whether it’s been for savings and checking accounts, mortgage or equipment loans.
“I probably opened my first account at the Eastchester Branch in the late 1960s or early 1970s as a teenager,” Randy said. “The bank has always been there for us.”
Ownership and day-to-day operations of the business is transitioning to Katie and JT from Julie and Randy. Not too long ago, Julie and Randy were traveling and payroll checks needed signatures. Katie and JT didn’t have signing privileges, but soon will. First National Eastchester Branch Manager Josh Lowman quickly stepped in with a remedy.
“The way Josh took care of us made us feel like a big company when you realize we’re just a small business,” Julie said. “We’re just so comfortable with First National. The service the bank has provided us has always been really awesome.”
Fireweed Cleaners and First National share similar approaches to customer service, and have showcased an unwavering ability to monitor their respective industries and introduce new products and services.
The bank is proud of its enhanced suite of online banking features like Business Essential and electronic statements. Online banking offers convenience, efficiency and is environmentally friendly for business and consumer customers alike.
Fireweed kept up with the technological times when it introduced barcode labeling a little more than a year ago.
Barcode labeling works like this. When clothes are cleaned every order is identified and each garment receives a tiny barcode heat sealed somewhere it won’t be noticed. The barcode is scanned into a computer system and creates a life-of-garment history.
“At first, we didn’t know what to make of the barcodes,” JT said. “We knew this was where the industry was going, so we hashed everything out and learned all we could. We thought about every scenario, got all our questions answered and this last year has run smoothly.”
Everyone agrees the barcode labeling has increased efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction and reduced costs. Randy said it’s hard to pinpoint how much money has been saved by not attaching a small paper ticket to each garment at each cleaning, but it’s considerable.
Other environmentally-friendly services provided by Fireweed are email reminders sent when orders are ready for pick up and the recycling of hangars.
“Our customers seem to love all this,” Julie said.
Julie and Randy plan to soon semi-retire and spend more time at their second home in Arizona.
“We can slowly get out and Katie and JT can slowly learn everything about the business,” Randy said. “It works out well for everyone.”
But Katie and JT are expecting their first child, potentially the family’s fourth generation to someday get involved with the company. This means Julie and Randy certainly won’t be strangers – not if they’re grandparents.
“We won’t want to be too far gone,” Julie said. “We’re too tight knit a family.
“The fact we’re handing the company over to two capable young people is rewarding to us. They have that same pride we do.”
Katie and JT welcome the responsibility, especially once they receive check-signing authority from their parents.
“Oh yeah,” Katie said. “I really need to start working on my signature.”
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