2021 July 30, Friday
The first time I met Andrew Schank I told him he reminded me of my grandfather. Andrew’s voice revived memories of my Baptist-deacon Grandpa Kelley. Since Andrew is – what many would call – a “fundamental” Bible-believing Christian, the comparison was appropriate. Like my grandfather, Andrew speaks quietly, methodically, where each word seems thoughtful and important.
Also, like my grandfather, first comes his faith – Andrew’s the pastor of Great Commission Baptist Church – owns a Blair, Nebraska business (The Washtub) that helps people, and is a member of Blair’s city council. In all he does publicly, he serves others.
The time Andrew spent with me about his Blair, Nebraska laundromat, The Washtub, is chronicled in words below. But, to get the true measure of both Andrew and The Washtub, you need to visit him in person – as I had the honor to do today.
…there’s more than one reason why people go to a river. They went down there to wash their clothes.
(1) BLAIR TODAY: Andrew, most people in Blair know you as a fundamentalist Bible-based preacher. What got you interested in a laundromat?
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: I needed a way to help support my family. And, also I looked at the business, the laundromat itself, which at that time was Schuster’s washtub, as an investment, you know, for retirement or something like that. Something that I could have that would yield some kind of revenue to help me down the road. And, I looked at it as a ministry opportunity because, at a laundromat – and as we would add the dry cleaning and the other services in – every walk of life comes through that door. I’ve had CEOs of companies in here. I’ve had homeless people come through. So there’s a broad demographic that comes through here, which gives me kind of a unique opportunity to meet people where they’re at.
(2) BLAIR TODAY: I knew there had to be a Christian faith aspect to this. I’m curious, what does the Bible say about a preacher with a business outside the church?
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: The apostle Paul was a tent-maker by trade. When you study the New Testament through the book of Acts and then through his epistles, his practice was that when he would go to a city it was to be in the marketplace. Now, the marketplace scenario of the New Testament era, which is still practiced today in many countries around the world, is a little different than our culture. For example, we go to a grocery store, buy groceries for a week or two, but, in that time everybody went to the marketplace every day.
Well, Paul would work in the marketplace with his tent trade and then he would go on to the synagogue on Saturday. His philosophy was, “to the Jew first, and also the Greek.” He would go in and try to present Christ as Messiah in the synagogue on Saturdays. But then, during the week, his trade was in the marketplace. He met people where they were at.
When he went to the city of Phillipi as he would do those things, which is kinda neat and kind of parallels this ministry here, or this business, he heard there was a prayer meeting down at the river. They went down to the river to meet those people; Lydia was there and then some other folk would end up being a part of that first church at Philippi. But, there’s more than one reason why people go to a river. They went down there to wash their clothes.
So, the modern day equivalent to going down to the river in Paul’s day is the modern-day laundromat. I did not realize the significance of that, and it was kind of funny when I bought the business; our church was going through the study of Philippians at the time. I didn’t put the two together until a few months after I bought the laundromat, but it was really unique. It’s amazing.
So, there’s nothing wrong with having a business and being a pastor. Some people have the idea that preachers don’t work or they’re lazy. But, I don’t think anybody could ever say I was lazy.
(3) BLAIR TODAY: How did you get to Blair? If anyone talks with you they’ll recognize your accent is from the south, and I don’t mean Bellevue.
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: We came to Blair in 2007 for the first time to survey this town, as well as numerous towns in Western Iowa, and here in the central or Eastern central part in Nebraska to see about starting an independent Baptist church. And so we, my wife and family and I, we came out, in August of 2007, and we prayed about it.
We’d already been praying. We’d done some research. And, we felt like that Blair was the place to be.
There were two really important issues that drove it home to me, the first one was as clear as the fact I know I’m sitting in this chair right now talking to you. I know I’m in this chair and I knew that Blair was a place that ought to be. I came to that conclusion, but one of the other driving forces outside of prayer was when we came through to survey the town.
When I came back through Blair on the way back to Bellevue where we were staying, I came through about the time the public school had let out. And, you know, when you go up by Burger King, there were just droves of young people walking home from school. And, where I grew up, we used a lot of school buses and I weren’t used to seeing just a lot of young people walking home. God began to speak to my heart. “Somebody needs to reach these young people which would be the next generation of people in Blair.” And, while I know there are other ministries in town I knew that try to reach young people, God burdened my heart to reach the younger people here in Blair.
And so, after we got that settled, we spent, two and a half years in prayer and raising financial support to move out here. I drove almost a hundred thousand miles, and met with 297 different independent Baptist churches. And, in about 325 different meetings in that time, we raised about 65% of the recommended support by our mission board that was needed to come out here and try to start an independent Baptist church.
When we came here from North Carolina, and drove into town in October of 2010, literally we represented probably 50 different churches. Maybe a little bit more. I can’t remember exactly how many it was at the time, but literally thousands of people we represented.
So, it wasn’t just my family that showed up that day. In essence, there was a whole grove of people that were behind it to try to minister, to reach people for Christ.
(4) BLAIR TODAY: All of that took a great deal of time, energy, and money. I know a couple of years ago you began to put money in the laundromat. Then, COVID happened. Every business-owner I know struggled the last year and a half or so. What was it like for The Washtub in this very difficult environment?
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: Well, I would be a liar if I said I didn’t second-guess myself. Who would’ve thought something like COVID would ever have the impact that it did.
At first, when COVID hit, we didn’t have much of an issue. We started seeing our contractors from out of town dwindle, then it started hitting our walk-in traffic. I think it was late March or April of 2020, I realized in three days, “I’m going to have to shut my doors temporarily at the very least.”
Then, someone anonymously heard a live stream on one of our church services that things were getting tight. And, someone sent me a thousand dollars to help bump things up That was not solicited online or anything like that. God just touched that person’s heart. They sent us ten $100 bills in the mail.
Then, there was a little bit of that stimulus through one of the programs with the SBA. We got a little bit of money that was granted to us because of COVID and that shored things up for a good part of the summer later last year. God began to bless one of the revenue streams of the business, which was the flat-rate service that we offer. And, that began to come back and that brought more cash-flow in. We saw some more contractors, and little by little more foot traffic came back. We got a good deal on a van at Woodhouse, July 31st of last year.
Then, that second resurgence of COVID hit that caught us by surprise. We thought we had enough put back to make it through the hard time that we knew would probably come just because of the time of year–we always try to keep some put back: revenues go down, because of the cyclical nature of our revenue streams.
Well, we exhausted that and I had two different friends here in town give me a little bit of money to help me get over the hump. And then, it got really bad February of this year.
I mean, everything just kept piling on top of that. COVID, and all the different ramifications that people don’t really see. Sometimes they see a business and think, “You gotta be making money – you’re doing this, you’re doing that.” But, really, they don’t understand all of the stuff behind the scenes. And, in February of this year, I came really close to putting my business up for sale. That was the…that was the second time. It really was tough because we had, I mean, we had revenue coming in, we had plenty of business, but we just did not have the reserves that we needed.
We hung on and were able to benefit one more time from the SBA, which helped us get things caught up. I am, to this day, still paying off major debt from last year and it’ll take me another year and a half to pay off those debts because of COVID. But our business has grown tremendously. As far as the “flat-rate” service we offer, even our drop-offs are coming back with the new contracts – with all the business going on in town, the construction and different things. And, our foot traffic has come back up. We have still yet to see numerous customers that were regulars before COVID. There are many customers we’ve not seen since, and I’m not sure what the reasoning is for that; but we’ve had a lot of new customers that come in and new regulars that have kind of taken their place.
But it’s…it’s been rocky. Prior to COVID we had our struggles, but things were really going well. In fact, right before COVID hit, we were on the cusp of really making some headway. 2020 would have been probably our biggest year ever if COVID hadn’t hit and we could’ve got some debt paid down and I’d be in a much different position capital-wise to make more investment in the business and other things.
(5) BLAIR TODAY: One investment you made, with clear dividends, is with Peggy Ogle. When you started the Washtub, it was just you answering the phone, always there, and now there’s someone else there and her name is Peggy. What is Peggy’s impact on your business through this last year or so?
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: It’s kind of unique. I’ve had different folks help us, probably within about six months after I bought the business. I had some people kind of helping out every now and then, and then I had some part-time help, too.
There was a young, single mother who helped me regular for a good while. And, then, Donna Leonard, who passed away from cancer. She was going to be my manager when she retired from Pizza Hut.
So I’m back to square one again.
And, I tried to do something on Facebook, to see if there was anybody who’d like to help out with the business. I think literally within five or 10 minutes of putting a post on Facebook, Peggy Ogle called me and came in for an interview that day.
I gave her the keys to the machines and got her started and said, “take off with it.” And we haven’t looked back since. Frankly, and I know this is being said publicly, but, there is no way the laundromat would be as successful it has, if Peggy Ogle did not come on board. She has been the backbone of the day-to-day business of this place, of increasing our customer base, increasing the quality control of our services, managing new customers, scheduling the pickup and deliveries, managing our supplies, the inventories and things… She keeps the place clean. She manages some other part-time employees we have. (We have a total, now, of three part-time employees.)
There’s no way… No way at all, we would be where we’re at today had it not been for Peggy.
(6) BLAIR TODAY: Is the Washtub a “family business” or an “Andrew business?”
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: It’s more of an Andrew business than anything. My kids are at an age where they have different interests. Pretty much, all of my children have helped to some degree or another in the business, either on a project or two, or have been regular helpers, you know, doing janitorial duties or helping with various parts of our business. So, over the years they’ve helped out, but they all have different interests. So it’s not really what you would call a family business. My wife just kind of lets me have free reign of everything and, again, it’s more of an Andrew thing than anything else.
(7) BLAIR TODAY: Okay. So for those who don’t know, can you give a rundown of your services and what you believe your strongest product is?
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: Well, we are the only place in Blair and in Washington County where you can come and wash your clothes at a very reasonable, affordable price with our self-service laundromat. We know that, but we don’t take advantage of that. We just try to provide a good stable place for people to come to.
We offer several services. We facilitate dry cleaning. We don’t do dry cleaning on site, but we facilitate it. We partnered with Quality Cleaners – Brad Young is the owner of that business. And, Brad does a great job and more and more people are learning that we do facilitate the dry cleaning here in town. One of the first services we really started to promote is, “Crazy Comforters,” where you can bring in any size machine-washable comforter and you pay one price and it’s $14. That’s cheaper than anywhere around. Most businesses charge by the size of the comforter. We don’t, and it doesn’t matter what size it is, the price is still only $14, every day. Now that’s only for machine-wash only, not dry-cleaned. We have to send that out. So, that’s a different price and it’s more expensive.
We do sleeping bags, and it doesn’t matter what size sleeping bag it is, it’ll cost you only $10. That’s something people in town really have come to appreciate.
One of the big staples I inherited from Mrs. Schuster was the “wash and fold” service. She did that for many, many years, actually, I guess, since she and Harvey started the business back in the nineties. That’s something we provide and more and more people in the community, not just contractors or folks from out of town, but a lot of folks and actually businesses in town utilize.
But, the big flagship thing that we have really seen God use to grow the business is our flat-rate, residential-laundry service. And, we’re not just a “laundry room”. We are a laundry SERVICE. And, our flat-rate is just a tremendous offer. We base it on your family size, with just one low rate every month. So, if you’re single or a couple or a family of three and four or a family of five and six – different prices, based on your family size. You just pay one price once a month and it’s very affordable. No one who really sat down and ran the numbers, thinks “it’s a bad price,” in any level of their subscription. And, there’s no contracts with the flat-rate. You just try it out for a month and we go from there. Numerous people over the last couple of years have said they are so grateful for the service.
We have two moms that battled postpartum, and they said we were their saving grace by them utilizing the laundry service. We’ve got some folks that, because their lives are hectic, trying to hold down a job, and follow the kids through all the ball games, and… how culture has changed over the years – we partner with that family to help them take care of their laundry needs so they can focus on their family.
And, then some people that use the flat-rate are people that are elderly. In fact, we’ve got quite a few elderly in town. Some are in retirement homes and things like that around town and apartment complexes, and, we just take care of that service for them. They just don’t have the budget to get out safely to take care of their laundry needs, and we help them with that. They’re still independent, but we take that stress off of them and they love us.
We’ve got folks that use our flat-rate when their washing machine or dryer has broken down. With all the issues related to COVID, it’s hard to get parts for washers now, and it’s hard to get parts for dryers now. And, so to get a new machine or to get the one you want or get the part repaired or whatever takes a while. So people in the meantime have opted to use our service so they don’t get behind on their laundry. They can maintain that. And, they just go with a flat-rate because it’s so affordable for them.
It’s really neat, and been our “race horse in the barn.”
(8) BLAIR TODAY: Is there anything you’d like to say about the Washtub, your experience in Blair or anything you want folks to know that I didn’t ask?
ANDREW SCHANK, OWNER OF THE WASHTUB: Well, I love Blair. It’s a favorite spot of mine. I’ve lived in different states over the years in different places. But, I love Blair. And, I love the laundry business. I love meeting people, our delivery routes…
We go all over the Omaha area, we go into Iowa, we go all over Washington county and so on. And, we have customers everywhere… And, just getting out, meeting people. It’s just a lot of fun and you get to meet people where they’re at.
I feel privileged to have a business. You know, when people use your business and they keep coming back, we must be doing something right. You can get complaints and people get cross with you and that sort of thing, but when people keep coming back, you must be doing something right.Andrew Schank, The Washtub, Blair, Nebraska
You can find Andrew Schank and The Washtub at 932 Grant Street. Their phone number is (402) 426-5600. The Washtub is on Facebook, too.