Keeping it in the family

First Posted: 7/18/2009

When Vickie Routh started working at her and her husbands business in the 1980s, it gave her an opportunity to help him out and spend time with her children.
More than two decades later, she is still able to do just that.
The Rouths have carried on the tradition of maintaining a family-owned business at the Hutchens Cleaners on Spring Street since her husband, Roger Routh, bought the cleaners in 1984.
Hutchens Cleaners was started in 1939 by Zeno Hutchens.
After 70 years, the cleaners is still a staple business in the Mount Airy area, whose manager, Aaron Routh, son of Vickie Routh, takes pride in.
The cleaners has been here 70 years, he said. And were always looking for ways to prolong its existence.
One way hes done so is through implementing a new computerized system at the cleaners that applies a bar code to each clothing item to help keep track of it along with the customers information. The system also automatically notifies customers via email when their orders are ready.
Routh said only a half a dozen places in North Carolina use the system.
Upgrading the cleaners technology is a way to help the business remain progressive and maintain his integrity about caring for peoples property, he said.
I have a greater accountability, he said. When you are dealing with someones personal property, its a lot different than something that can be replaced. If someone takes his car to be fixed and something gets messed up, like a tire, the dealership can fix it or purchase a replacement. I cant do that with a one-of-a-kind blouse someone loves.
Routh started helping his father with the business when he was a teenager, and although he earned a degree in accounting from Surry Community College, he knew he wanted to come back and be a part of his parents business. Hes been a part of it since 1998.
I always intended to come back, he said, adding that his wife encouraged him as well while he was traveling as a salesman.
Rouths mother said running a family business has it perks, but it also comes with its challenges.
Its interesting to see my family every day at work, she said. Aaron and I are close, and I get to see him enjoy his job.
While shes enjoyed the time shes spent with both her husband and her son at Hutchens Cleaners, she said if her son decided to do something different, she would be happy.
Lifes too short, if you find something else to do, then do it, she said, smiling.
Thats the great thing about him, she said, pointing to Rouths father. Hes OK with whatever Aaron decides.
But Routh, a father of two, shows no sign of uprooting anytime soon.
The customers definitely make it worthwhile. Its a pleasure to serve all the customers, and this was a wonderful place to grow up, its all I know, he said. This is a small community, and I pay close attention to what I do. I take it personally, Im the person that feels the worst about it when something happens.
Similar to his mother, he said having a family-operated business is great, but his two sons dont have to follow in his footsteps.
Im not going to push it on them, he said.
His mother agreed.
When my grandkids come up in 15 years, who knows? There may be disposable clothing by then, she said, laughing. Of course, that wont be very green.
Rouths father, Roger, said, for anybody thinking of going into business with their family, its rewarding, but its hard work.
Not everybody can do it, he said. To those who do, he simply said, Good luck.
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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