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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lancaster, N.Y., Couple Takes Odor Out of Well-Used Hockey Gear.

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Last month, the Blanchards opened Clean Gear, built around a specially designed washer-dryer that protects sports equipment from damage. They bought the patented machine from British Columbia-based Esporta Wash Systems, which gave the Blanchards exclusive operator rights from Western New York to Syracuse.

With thousands of young people and adults in the area playing hockey, potential customers abound. Still, the Blanchards find the service they're providing is a new concept to many people.

"Hockey equipment, in the past, never got cleaned," Kevin Blanchard said.

The entrepreneurs have taken a couple of steps to make their business visible: a high-traffic location and a direct approach to promoting it.

The Blanchards set up shop in the Amherst Pepsi Center, the region's largest rink complex. "If you play hockey, you come through the Pepsi Center one way or another," Kevin Blanchard said.

They're also not shy about handing out fliers to people at other rinks, and have sent letters to athletic directors of schools and colleges.

Their goal is to sign up as many organizations as possible. "The walk-ins are nice, but having the teams under contract is my bread and butter," Kevin Blanchard said.

The machine that Clean Gear uses doesn't have the agitation of a typical washer that can crumple the equipment's padding. It also uses special soaps that sanitize the equipment without breaking down the gear's foam and glues.

Kevin Blanchard had been working with a property management group for the past five years. Diane continues to work for M&T Bank and helps with Clean Gear evenings and on weekends.

Before starting their new venture, they developed a business plan with the help of Lynn Oswald at the Small Business Development Center at Niagara County Community College.

"I really thought it was great," Oswald said of the Blanchards' business concept. "They have a lot of energy and a lot of great ideas."

Kevin also talked with several of his friends who own their own businesses, to get a sense of what to expect. A bit of advice he likes to repeat: Every entrepreneur goes through growing pains, but the people who survive them are the ones who succeed.

"This was a big risk for both of us," Diane Blanchard said. But the couple hope it's a business they can someday pass on to their children.

The Blanchards say they're prepared for the ups and downs, and took care to involve their kids in their decision to enter the business.

In fact, it was a family discussion that led to the name. "Clean Gear" is deliberately broad, since the business plans to clean equipment for other sports, such as football, lacrosse and soccer. The Blanchards are also pitching their service to the construction industry, police and utility workers.

Kevin Blanchard already has his mind on expanding Clean Gear's geographic reach. He's set up a "depot" in Jamestown to pick up and clean equipment for people in that area. Longer-range, he wants to add machines at locations in Rochester and Syracuse.

Clean Gear buys its supplies from Esporta, but unlike in a franchise agreement, it doesn't pay any fees or a percentage of its sales to Esporta.

Esporta has also signed up the world's most famous hockey dad, Walter Gretzky, as a celebrity endorser. The Blanchards want to bring him to town for an appearance.

Esporta has more than 30 operators in North America, said Howard Sures, Esporta's vice president of sales and marketing. It's been targeting some of the continent's biggest hockey markets, moving from the West Coast to the East Coast.

"This is a 25-year-business," Sures said. "It's not going to be here today, gone tomorrow."

Before Clean Gear came along, Diane Blanchard said she and her husband would joke that, with their kids' busy schedules, hockey was their life.

"Now, it really is," she said.

To see more of The Buffalo News, N.Y., or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.buffalonews.com.

(c) 2002, The Buffalo News, N.Y. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

TICKER SYMBOL(S): PEP, MTB

Source Citation
"Lancaster, N.Y., Couple Takes Odor Out of Well-Used Hockey Gear." Buffalo News [Buffalo, NY] 25 Mar. 2002. General OneFile. Web. 15 Nov. 2009. .


Gale Document Number:CJ120499589

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