By Marcia Pledger, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio – These days former Cleveland Browns receiver Joe Jurevicius spends most of his time trying to make plays of a different sort, working to build an inner-city laundry business and a dry-cleaning service with a much further reach.
For the last three years the former NFL Super Bowl champ – while playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – has been running a company he built from the ground up, Spins Laundromats. In May, he moved into the laundry industry’s newest online laundry delivery trend as a franchise owner of WashClub Cleveland. The business offers pick-up and delivery laundry service in 24-hours and drycleaning in 48-hours.
Just five years ago he never imagined he would become an entrepreneur.
“I think it’s easier to work for someone than it is to own a business. You just don’t have the same stresses,” said the Chardon-area native. “When there’s issues I get the phone calls.”
Similar to a lot of professional athletes who didn’t consider life after football until he was forced to leave the sport with an injury, Jurevicius initially considered options that included working as a sports broadcaster. But he didn’t want to spend so much time away from his wife and two small kids. He even took on a seasonal job for a couple of years, guiding gaming hunts in the fall on a ranch, owned by another former football player.
The NFL Players Association uses 3.5 years as a guideline for the average career, with estimates that for players who become starters in the league, careers tend to last about eight years.
Upon leaving pro football, Jurevicius was clueless about his next career step, but he was certain that he came from a working-class family and he wanted to be a productive citizen and positive role model. Even though he’s had about 15 surgeries throughout his career on several parts of his body, he knew he didn’t want to be among former pro athletes who lost all of their money way too soon.
Jurevicius, 41, played for the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks before signing with his hometown team as a free agent in 2006. But he played only the first two years of his four-year contract because of a staph infection. He caught more than 90 passes during those two seasons, but a knee injury, the infection, and several surgeries ended his career. He sued the Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Clinic, reaching an undisclosed settlement in 2010.
After telling people in his inside circle that he was open to trying something entirely new, he was introduced to an out-of-state successful business owner in the laundry industry. Before he knew it, he found himself studying as much as he could about the field.
“I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what that was. It seemed like it started to give me some purpose studying the laundromat business,” he said. “It took a couple of years to get the first one up and running. I was learning about real estate, dealing with attorneys, operating agreements and negotiating leases. I was completely out of my realm.”
He built the first location on 69th and Lorain three years ago. He bought an existing location on 79th and Euclid Avenue next. The third location, which opened in August, was initially a shell in Collinwood, at 149th and St. Clair.
“I definitely feel smarter now than I did five years ago. There are no stupid questions. I try to read as much as I can, and I try to learn as much as I can from other business owners in all sorts of fields,” he said. “I’m just not afraid to ask questions. I like to sometimes just sit back and watch and take mental notes from people in coffee shops all the way down to steel yards. I figure there’s something I will be able to use.
“I’ve always said I was fortunate to be able to play football for such a long time,” said Jurevicius, who was a football standout at Lake Catholic High School and played for Penn State in college. “But I’m happy to be learning more about this industry every day.
Have guts…Despite challenges you’re bound to face, I’d encourage people to reinvent themselves.”
“My places have to look good. I want high-efficiency machines. And the business has to operate well because people are spending their money. It’s not just for the customer, it’s for me too. I want a little bit of self pride when I walk into a store and say I own it. If a customer likes it, I’m doing half my job.”
How does your previous experience in the NFL help with your new role in the laundry business?
It has everything to do with work ethic. In the NFL, I faced challenges with people who were just better athletes and had been around the game longer or had more knowledge. But the only way to get to that level is to learn from the best and work a little harder. The work ethic I learned from what I inherited from my family and being in sports encouraged me to never be afraid. If you’re not willing to take a risk, then there’s not going to be a reward.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
It’s probably not business advice. But my father has always said that blood is always thicker than water. It’s not to say that I don’t have my staple of friends, but you seem to find out that life goes on, and everybody goes into different directions. And maybe when you can’t provide tickets anymore you lose some friends.
What are the top three apps you use the most?
I use Scoutlook for hunting. I hunt as much as I can. I use Soundhound for searching and playing music. If you love music, it’s the real deal. And I like Dipsy Diver for fishing.
Do you have a mentor or mentors?
For this part of my life, no question it’s Bob Schwartz. The guy owns 26 laundry locations and he’s a very successful businessman. Just like a good coach in football, it was really important for me to have someone to learn from. He answers my emails, picks up my phone calls and we meet a couple of times a year. I continue to learn from him because we talk three or four times a week. He’s become the head coach of my second career.
What are you looking forward to in the next five years with your business?
I want to grow my neighborhood laundry business and WashClub, the laundry and dry cleaning pick-up service. If I can be successful at that, the more I can do for the city of Cleveland. The city has always supported me. I look forward to one day being able to put a park in an area that desperately needs one. I’ve always said I was fortunate to be able to play football for such a long time
Can you offer one piece of advice for someone looking to reinvent?
Have the guts. It takes a lot of guts to get out there and do something that you’re not comfortable with once you’ve been in a certain genre of work for a long time. When you’re looking to do something on the opposite end of the spectrum, it takes guts. If you’ve got a little bit of knowledge and the guts to go for it, despite challenges you’re bound to face, I would encourage people to reinvent themselves.