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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2007

No matter a company's size, challenges can loom large

In this era of multibillion-dollar takeovers and astronomical chief executive pay - sometimes topping $50 million a year - it's easy to forget that most companies are very small.

Take, for example, Champion Cleaning & Tuxedo Rentals, a 56-year-old business on South Avenue that takes has just $130,000 in revenue in a good year. And, no, there are no missing zeroes. That's a hundred grand and change.

But Lynette and Chuck Kahle run a small business that provides an income for several family members and two part-time employees. And, in the process, they deal with the same problems as do the gigantic corporations, such as cost control, changing demographics, management succession, security, and profitability.

"We made a profit of $54 last year," said Mrs. Kahle, without even having to call up a spread sheet on a computer or look at a balance sheet.

Chuck and Lynette Kahle say they had a profi t of $54 last year at their South Toledo business founded 56 years ago. Chuck and Lynette Kahle say they had a profi t of $54 last year at their South Toledo business founded 56 years ago.
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"We had a loss the year before that. It's pretty tight, and we've been through some tough years here: 9/11 really put us down. But I think it's on the mend."

The Kahles have been running the business for more than a decade, taking over from her parents, Donald and Barbara Luettke, who founded Champion in 1951 at the corner of South Avenue and Champion Street, a block from the current location.

They've thought about succession but have concluded it won't work.

Her husband pointed out that their son Dylan, who works at the firm's suburban drop-off and pick-up point in Whitehouse, is a student at Owens Community College pursuing a career in criminal justice.

Chuck and Lynette Kahle say they had a profit of $54 last year at their South Toledo business founded 56 years ago. Chuck and Lynette Kahle say they had a profit of $54 last year at their South Toledo business founded 56 years ago.
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"We have talked about selling the business," said Mrs. Kahle.

"We will probably eventually sell, [maybe] to someone who wants us to work it."

Mrs. Kahle's mother still works part-time, handling alterations and sewing. "She's a whiz at that," said Mrs. Kahle.

Everybody gets paid except the owner. "I haven't had a paycheck in over 15 years," Mrs. Kahle lamented. "It's a labor of love."

Even though many of Champion's hundreds of customers moved away from the South Toledo neighborhood, some remain loyal and either visit the shop or are part of the truck-delivery route.

The Kahles say the biggest change in the last couple of decades is that there are far fewer suits and ties and lots more casual clothing.

"The washing machine runs as much as the dry-cleaning machine," said Mrs. Kahle.

Champion's security staff is largely volunteer: Fee, a charcoal lab-beagle mix of a mutt. But actually, Mr. Kahle noted, "he's a meeter and greeter" more than a guard.

Since the 1960s, Champion has offered tuxedo rentals and now has an inventory of about 100 and an arrangement with Tuxedo Junction to rent ones with trendy colors or unusual sizes.

"It's too expensive to stock every size," said Mr. Kahle.

The tux end of the business is steady year-round for weddings but peaks in late spring for prom season. One week this year, the Kahles had orders for tuxedos for 10 proms, including 32 tuxedos to be picked up in one day. "That was pretty tough," said Mrs. Kahle.

And then there was the case of the tux that almost didn't come back. It was rented but not returned for weeks. Mrs. Kahle tracked down the renter, who, when he discovered he would be charged late fees, refused to return it.

"I looked him up on the Internet and found out he is a felon," said Mrs. Kahle. The Kahles, who had filed criminal charges against the renter, called his parole officer and worked out a deal: He would return it if they dropped charges.

Whew! That's a lot of work General Electric probably wouldn't have to do.

A small business is a constant education, and the Kahles learned from the episode. "Don't rent to criminals," Mrs. Kahle advised.

Homer Brickey is The Blade's senior business writer.

Contact him at:

homerbrickey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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