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Thursday, May 10, 2012

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: John-Claude Hallak of Hallak the Couture Cleaner Our Coverage Sponsored by Austrian Luxury Brand GEIGER

John-Claude Hallak

Austrian Luxury Brand GEIGER is excited to introduce it's newest collection to the US market. Fall 2012 features fun colors and styles that can take you from the office to a dinner engagement or from the grocery store to the kids soccer game. Geiger has tapped all its resources to find out what today's woman wants to see in our Collection. With the input of the Geiger children and feedback from around the world the new “Geiger” look has arrived. This 107-year-old family owned business is stronger than ever with it's new twist on an old favorite: the Tyrolean jacket. Today's version features body hugging lightweight boiled wool that wraps around your body and accents all the positives while concealing the negatives. New buttons, contrast trims and accents make each style a one of a kind item that is sure to get you noticed. Geiger didn't forget our classic customer either. You can still find all those basic items necessary to build an outstanding wardrobe. Some good old favorites in new colors and a few updated versions of a classic cut. We also remembered the sport conscious individual! Each new collection features a Sport section of casual and fun pieces for the woman on the go. Whatever your lifestyle and wherever you live, there's something for everyone in GEIGER's new Collections. Click on the link to visit our website and find a store near you.  Peachy sends her Geiger to Hallak to keep it in tip-top shape!


John-Claude Hallak, 55, came into the family business in 1982, when asked by his brother, Joseph, Jr., and his father, founder Joseph Hallak, Sr. to join them and help develop and implement plans for expansion. Their mom, Marie-Louise, expressed concern that this could lead to problems down the road between the brothers, as she had seen this happen all too often in other family businesses. But Hallak Cleaners did, indeed, survive and thrive into its second-generation of family ownership. And John-Claude and his brother have overseen the company’s growth with a tireless eye for detail and a true dedication to a culture of service.

A native of New Jersey, John-Claude holds bachelors and masters degrees in economics from Rutgers University. Within a year of his coming on board, the family had opened a new 5,500-square foot production facility (now, 12,000-square feet in size) in Hackensack, New Jersey. This was a far cry from the cramped quarters the company had occupied on Second Avenue.

Today, he is involved in every aspect of the business, from direct interaction with Hallak Cleaners’ discriminating clientele to mapping future growth directives for the firm. He has a special affinity for computer programming and new technologies and has developed and implemented a number of groundbreaking proprietary tracking systems in an effort to perfect Hallak’s already rigorous and exacting cleaning processes.

John-Claude is passionate about preserving the heritage created by his father, Joseph Hallak, Sr., whose attention to detail and dedication to customer service built Hallak Cleaners from a small-yet-exclusive storefront operation to one of the country’s leading couture cleaners. The company has developed relationships with virtually every fashion name in the industry form Akris to Zegna.

Along with his brother, John-Claude is a founding member of Leading Cleaners Internationale, with membership from the United States, Canada and Australia. He is also a member of the International Drycleaners Congress and the National Cleaners Association. He currently serves on the boards of The Association of Wedding Gown Specialists as well as the Northeast Fabricare Association. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and twin sons.  We are thrilled to present John-Claude Hallak as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed John-Claude for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is your first cleaning memory?
John-Claude Hallak: 
I was seven years old, and my dad was leaving to go the dry cleaning shop on a Saturday morning. He told me that if I came to work and helped him he would pay me one dollar – if I stayed home and helped mom, he would pay me two dollars. I chose the half-pay just to be at the cleaners and be around all of the activity that took place. That should have been the first sign that I was destined to end up in this business!

How has your family been able to run a successful business and also be a happy family?

The three keys to running a family business in harmony are: 1. Having close ties BEFORE being in business – a business is not likely to be the glue that binds a previously dysfunctional family. 2. Clear and separate areas of responsibility 3. Mutual respect for each others talents and strengths – coupled with a constructive and respectful way of dealing with each others shortcomings.

Has Hallak Cleaners always been in the same spot in Manhattan and what is its history here in Manhattan?

No. Hallak Cleaners first opened on the opposite side of Second Avenue (1239 2nd Ave to be precise) in 1966. We relocated to a “drop store” directly across the street to 1232 Second Avenue in 1988 when our landlord decided not to renew our lease (or anyone else in the building) and use the space for their own purposes. By then our 5500 sq ft facility in Bergen County, New Jersey had been operating for nearly 5 years allowing for a seamless transition. By 1994 we had moved out of our 5500 sq ft facility into a brand new 12,000 sq ft building housing a state-of-the-art drycleaning & laundry plant - and we have just purchased an additional 10,000 square feet of space last May to accommodate our newly expanded area rug and oriental rug cleaning services as well as our B2B linen and uniform service.

What are the most difficult aspects of cleaning?

Staying on top of the incredibly wide range of fabrics and fashions. We regularly visit retailers to see what will be coming to us for care down the road. We subscribe to all of the major fashion publications from W to WWD, so we remain abreast of what the fashion world is thinking and doing. Garments having limited serviceability (or are flat out unserviceable) present serious challenges to a drycleaner - especially when those limitations are not apparent or predictable. Rarely does a client believe that the fallibility of a fashion deity is anywhere near as great as the fallibility of a mere drycleaner. Another challenge is keeping up with all of the new technologies which have been introduced in recent years – and trying to determine the best fit for your operation. 

What should most people know about cleaning that most do not know?
The labels of “Green” and “Organic” drycleaning are used in an incredibly misleading and self-serving manner by many cleaners. In truth, “Greenness” has far more to do with the way a company operates than with its chosen chemistry.

How have you been able to grow your business successfully and what are your future goals?

Our family has always remained focused on the basics of luxury service. Spare no expense in delivering the very finest service, and you will be able to build those costs into your price if you remain true to your mission. In addition to remaining focused on being the very best resource for specialty and couture dry cleaning, we are looking to use the latest advances in computer technology to improve our already cutting-edge tracking and productivity tools.We are also very excited about our new company which is serving the business community with linen and uniform services - airlines, restaurants, spas, medical offices, country clubs etc.

What should all fashion houses know about Hallak cleaners?

We offer a range of free in-house seminars for their sales staff and/or designers. Everything from “Drycleaning 101” to “The Care and Feeding of Ornamentation and Trimmings”. IN addition, Hallak’s “Safe Cleaning Guarantee” puts an end to the finger-pointing and evasiveness that is all too common in the drycleaning industry. This policy is covered in greater detail on our website. Our “National Service Center” division can serve as the cleaning and repair center for all of a brand’s retail boutiques nationwide. We are already the official national repair provider for several major fashion houses. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?

Clearly, that would by my father, Joseph Hallak, Sr. He was truly legendary in the industry as one who abhorred mediocrity and spent his professional life trying to elevate the entire industry to a higher level of pride and professionalism. His passing in 1992 left a very large pair of shoes for my brother and I to fill.

What are you proudest of and why?

I am proudest in the belief that our father would be proud of what we have accomplished – and the manner in which it has been accomplished. 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?

To bring together an assembly of dry cleaners, designers and retailers - and facilitate a brainstorming session that explores ways to improve the manner in which we serve our mutual customers.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?

Certified Couture Cleaner

Certified Environmental Cleaner

Grand Prize in National Plant Design Competition 2011 – American Drycleaner Magazine

Environmental Awareness Award – by NJSBCAP ) New Jersey Small Business Compliance Advisory Panel)

Environmental Stewardship Award – by NJDEP (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection)

Outstanding Innovater – MFM (Methods for Management - presented at a national conference in Arizona)

To name a few …

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?

The West Village, because that’s where you’ll find “The Village Vanguard” arguably the greatest jazz club in the world.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?

Tender Buttons on 62nd Street - can't tell you how often they have been a lifesaver for me!

What is your favorite drink?

Vodka Martini straight up with blue-cheese stuffed olives.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?

Minutes after the hostess had revealed that the tablecloth on the table was an antique lace handed down from her grandmother, one of the guests knocked over a glass of red wine – in an effort to be helpful, I was trying to lift the cloth off the table to prevent any further spread of the wine stain. In the process I held the cloth over a candle at which point it caught fire resulting in a 3 inch diameter burn hole. A happy ending was provided by my amazing seamstress who perfectly re-tatted the damaged area.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?

That’s a toughie – but I would have to say Ecco on Chamber and West Broadway – because that’s where my wife (of 26 years) and I had our first Valentines dinner together, where I proposed, and where we celebrated that proposal with all four of our parents.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?

A Writers Life, by Gay Talese – while he covers several themes in that book, a significant portion is devoted to a wonderfully detailed history of the east sixties, especially the neighborhood where Hallak Cleaners was born. Who can forget Bravo Gianni!

Who would you like to be for a day and why?

Neil Armstrong on July 21st, 1969 … do I really have to say why!?

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?

The Met Life building ... talk about high visibility naming rights! 

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?

Skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park as a child.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?

Take the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?

Benjamin Franklin – post 1776. I am fascinated by the Revolutionary War era of American History. Dr. Franklin was in the thick of it – and had the sense of humor to make the dinner as entertaining as it would be fascinating.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?

I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the Bill Evans trio perform at the Vanguard in 1980 prior to his death.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?

Having a US Veterans Hospital near my home, I had the honor of serving as a volunteer in the nursing home division of the facility. I was assigned 3 patients who had no one paying visits, and would just spend time chatting with those that could speak, reading to those that could not - or just sitting there quietly and letting them know somebody cared. The toughest part was learning (every few months) that one of them had passed and that I was being assigned a new patient.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?

Underrated: Pediatric cancer medical professionals

Overrated: “It” girls

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?

I'd say "Feeling and Looking Your Best". It's important for us to stay on top of the fashion trends and how we handle those garments ... and what additional services to offer our customers and boutiques.

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?

Not yet … but it appears that it is inevitable!

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?

I still love vinyl LP’s (my collection includes about 4000) - in fact I have gotten my teenage son hooked on vinyl! 

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? (this is also seen by my assistant – who is far less distracted than I ) or if one is feeling more adventurous.

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