Dry cleaning is former exec’s second act
Mark and Laura Messersmith of Glenview have owned Skyline Cleaners in Libertyville for more than six years. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 11, 2013 2:20AM
LIBERTYVILLE — When steel company executive Mark Messersmith found himself without a job in 2005, he decided it was the perfect time to indulge a longtime ambition and start his own business.
With the help of his wife Laura, who also came from a corporate background, Messersmith opened Skyline Dry Cleaner in October 2006.
Why dry cleaning? Messersmith said sometime in 2000, his family discovered a family-owned cleaning business in Glenview, where they live. They liked the low prices, and Messersmith also remembered seeing how quickly they grew.
“I kind of put in the back of my mind,” Messersmith said.
When the time came to do some research, he turned to the team of two brothers who ran it for advice. As it turned out, they also came from backgrounds that had nothing to do with dry cleaning. One was a film editor, and the other an accountant.
“To this day I still call them sometimes,” Messersmith said. “It’s a nice relationship.”
As husband and wife recall it, the early years were rough, with Mark working 12-hour days, seven days a week for the first three years Skyline was open. Today, Mark is still behind the counter every day, but he’s not alone. Skyline employs about 18 people; half of them working full-time. The couple’s 18-year-old son William also pitches in on weekends, and, over the years, many Libertyville High School students have worked there.
Laura said that managing the staff is definitely one of Mark’s strengths.
“He keeps the mood light,” she said. “He has a great sense of humor.”
Both acknlowledged that running a service business isn’t all fun and games.
“There aren’t a lot of ways to be different in dry cleaning,” Mark said, noting that their low prices aren’t any sort of trick.
“We don’t take any shortcuts,” he said, gesturing to their space, which exceeds 4,000 square feet. “We just have the capacity to do more and store more.”
Meanwhile, Laura thought back to the day they opened.
“We had one customer, our banker,” she said. “I remember we were spreading the clothes out on the racks, trying to make it look like there were more of them.”
Today there are thousands of customers, and Laura said she is grateful for every single one.
“These are real people that we care for, that trust us,” she said.
The stresses of running a business aside, Mark said he has been pleasantly surprised by the close relationships he’s formed with patrons.
Laura, for her part, said she has enjoyed working on the business with her husband.
“We share everything,” she said. “Before doing this, we didn’t know too much about each other’s jobs. This has brought us closer.”
There is also satisfaction in seeing the fruits of your labors, seeing things work and seeing growth.
To those contemplating a move into self-employment, the couple offers practical, no nonsense advice.
“Make sure you have plenty of capital,” Mark cautioned. “We didn’t make any money for a while.”
“Find something that’s going to last,” Laura added. “Go [into a community] where a business is needed.”