Growth through the ashes of disaster: Business succeeds in Shawnee
There is something awe-inspiring about “triumph over tragedy” successes. We all love a gripping story, with spellbinding turns and twists. Give me a plot that starts well, almost ends in disaster and suddenly triumphs overall. This sounds like a fairy tale, and we all know that fairy tales aren’t real. Or are they? Native business owners Dwight and Darcee Yancey with Shawnee Cleaners & Linen have such a story. A tale so dark and soot-filled that it seemed for a moment they might not recover — a tale that grows through the ashes of disaster into a remarkable business success.
It all began over 30 years ago in the quaint little city of Shawnee, Oklahoma, with the purchase of three laundromats. Dwight previously worked in the soft drink profession when the opportunity came to purchase a dry cleaner/laundromat business. He jumped at the chance, changed careers and started his life as an entrepreneur. Things went pretty well until about 10 years ago when his business caught fire, destroying his hard work and shutting down his laundromat.
He found himself on a Sunday afternoon contemplating what to do when he called the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation and requested for a special meeting that very day. When asked by our staff, “Why on a Sunday?” Dwight replied, “Well if you turn me down on a Sunday, I don’t feel as bad as if you turned me down on Monday.”
He explained all the things that were happening at the time with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation expanding its hotel and other enterprises and the need for his services in that process. One thing led to another, and soon he found himself in a meeting with lenders and those in positions to help him rebuild his business.
Dwight purchased a former nursery and remodeled it to fit the needs of a dry cleaner and linen plant. As Dwight told his story, he talked of his children who help in the day-to-day operations, how he depends on his employees and how important his business is to him.
“It’s family-owned,” he said. “We’ve been doing it a long time. We started with three employees across the street. We’re now up to 18. It’s good for the community. It’s something it needs. I like it, and with the help of the Citizen Potawatomi CDC, we’ve expanded pretty handily in the last four to five years. And it makes the process so much easier to expand because (the CPCDC) listen to some crazy ideas, which sometimes work out.”
It took around six to eight months for Shawnee Cleaners & Linen to reopen their doors after the disastrous event. Throughout the last few years, things have begun looking up for the Yancey family, and in December of 2019, they opened two new locations, expanding to three across two cities.
Since starting over, Shawnee Cleaners & Linen has reestablished its place in the community in a big way.
“Seeing those faces come again and again, it makes you feel good — you feel like you’re part of them,” Dwight said. “I’m proud to be in this community. We’re trying to keep everybody here locally instead of going to Oklahoma City. We have a nice facility, centrally located, and we’ve updated equipment over the last five or six years. I’d put our plant with any plant in Oklahoma City. We do a great job, and we have a very experienced staff.”
The CPCDC has been honored to be a part of the success story.
“With the CPCDC, they listen to you and make sense out of my wild ideas, and they don’t mind if things don’t make sense,” he said. “They’ll listen to some wild ideas as long as it makes sense in the long term. A regular bank, they would probably throw you out. So (the CPCDC) are willing to sit down and listen and guide you through the procedure and get it to make sense, where the numbers all make sense. … They make the procedure really easy.”
As the interview came to a close, we asked how things might have been different without the CPCDC to help out. Dwight said, “I don’t think I’d ever left that building over there because banks just will not take the chance on a startup business. … I just don’t think it ever would’ve happened because it was not a cookie-cutter deal to hand to a bank and going, ‘Sure, it’s a gold mine.’ It was really an unusual procedure. This was a nursery, so we had to basically gut the building and made it a cleaners. So other than that, it took a long time. You had to think outside the box to make this a cleaners.”
Shawnee Cleaners & Linen are located at: 1049 Vision Blvd. and 704 E Independence Street; and Tecumseh Cleaners, 701 N. Broadway.
The Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation finances tribal enterprises and Native American-owned businesses across Oklahoma and the U.S. To find out more, visit cpcdc.org.