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2020 Panel of Experts Ready to Share Views, Experience (Part 1)

Our new panelists introduce themselves and their operations, share their accomplishments, and discuss the challenges of their industry segments

Long-Term Care Laundry: Brian Polatsek, EcoBrite Linen, Skokie, Ill.

After a varied career, including MEP engineering and energy procurement consulting, I founded EcoBrite Linen to service the healthcare market. 

We started with a focus on the long-term care industry, and currently service the acute care, as well as the post-acute care/nursing home industry. We are currently the second largest healthcare laundry in Chicagoland, and we are growing rapidly.

One of the key attractions for me to enter this industry was the opportunity to achieve process improvement, automation and energy efficiency that has not yet been realized.  

What I found out shortly after starting is that our industry has a camaraderie, cohesiveness and an openness to sharing of ideas that is really refreshing. There are some amazing people that I had the opportunity to get to know who are willing spend time working together as a group for the greater good. 

I am a data junkie, and I am a big believer in the value of RFID technology.

The laundry industry, along with the healthcare industry, faces new challenges across many fronts, both on the revenue and cost sides. Getting in front of them and bringing awareness to challenges, threats and opportunities is something American Laundry News does exceptionally well.

I feel that as a newcomer with my diverse background I can provide a fresh and different perspective. I am honored that I was asked to join this panel and sit among the experts, and hope I can add some value and pay forward the advice, support and encouragement that I receive from this industry’s experts. 

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Alexis Miller Lettis, Regent Apparel, South San Francisco, Calif.

I  am thrilled and honored to contribute to the American Laundry News 2020 Panel of Experts. I’ve had the privilege of growing up in the industry and am a long-term fan of this publication.  

I am part of the fourth generation of family leadership of Regent Apparel, a uniform manufacturer supplying the textile rental industry since 1921.  

Shortly after immigrating to San Francisco from Europe, my great grandfather started the business by supplying his brother’s linen supply company with waiter and busboy coats. We have expanded our operations significantly over the past century and now service industrial laundries throughout the country with our extensive line of hospitality and industrial uniforms, along with a robust custom garment program. 

My experience in the industry dates back to summer breaks spent turning chef hats and packaging our products. 

I joined the business full time nearly 10 years ago and currently serve as general counsel and director of sustainability. Throughout my career at Regent, I have also held roles in operations, business development and marketing. 

I am fortunate to have had opportunities to visit many of our customer’s plants and have developed a deep understanding of the commitment and hard work required to successfully operate a commercial laundry.  

Regent has been at the forefront of sustainability in the uniform industry, and last year we implemented the first phase of our uniform take-back and recycling program. We also continue to explore new technologies and innovations that can be incorporated into our supply chain to improve the sustainability profile of our products and remain cost effective.  

Our sustainability initiatives have been both rewarding and challenging, as there is currently limited infrastructure for end-of-life product management.  

Another challenge we continue to encounter—and overcome—is sourcing U.S.-made raw materials for our products. The combination of foreign competition and domestic policies has unfortunately led to a more limited U.S. textile industry.  

Regent takes pride in working closely with our suppliers to support this industry here and will continue to do so in the years to come.  

Equipment Manufacturing: Bob Fesmire, Ellis Corp., Itasca, Ill

I am the president and COO of Ellis Corp., a fifth-generation family business that has been making equipment for the laundry industry since the early 1920s. Ellis manufactures washer-extractors, dryers, tunnel washers, automation equipment such as shuttles, conveyors, many different types of wastewater treatment and water recycling systems. 

Ellis also owns Ludell Manufacturing, which I also oversee. Ludell manufactures water and heat recovery systems, including heat reclaimers, direct contact water heaters and a variety of other heat transfer equipment. We have two factories, one near Chicago and one in Milwaukee.

I received a bachelor of communications from Boston University and an MBA from Loyola University Chicago.

I have been in the laundry business since I was 15, when my first job was a janitor and parts cleaner at the Ellis factory. Over the years, I worked my way up on the sales and operations side to my present position.

I also spent several years at Ecolab both as a corporate accounts sales person and in other capacities.

I have been involved in designing, manufacturing and selling of many different types of laundry machinery over the years and have been fortunate to visit many different plants in the United States, Canada and abroad. I am a strong proponent of values-based management, Lean manufacturing and process-driven success.

In 2019, we successfully launched several products, including our Nautilus ceramic recycling system and Ellis’s new Uptime Machine Management Control System for all of our products.

Our greatest challenge as a business right now is finding talent. It is an entirely different situation in the low-unemployment era. 

One of the greatest challenges we as an industry are faced with is a huge amount of tribal knowledge leaving (retiring). This is in management, as well as what touches us the most as manufacturers: engineering and maintenance talent.

I am very thankful and honored to be chosen to be a contributor to the American Laundry News Panel of Experts. I embrace the challenge of providing beneficial content to the ALN readers! 

Consulting Services: David Bernstein, Propeller Solutions Group, Park City, Utah

As president and chief propellerhead of Propeller Solutions Group, I am honored to have been chosen as a panelist for the 2020 American Laundry News Panel of Experts. This will be my second time contributing to this column, and I am looking forward to another year of stimulating questions and the interchange of ideas with all of you.

Propeller Solutions Group is a premier provider of engineering, training and consulting services for the laundry industry. We help clients increase revenue, maximize throughput and improve efficiencies by developing the most cost-effective solutions to common and not-so-common operational, sales, service and IT issues. 

We came up with the name for our company not only because we like to say that we help our clients reach new heights, but also because of our reputation for taking an analytical, data-driven and some might say, nerdy, approach to solutions. That should also help explain the propeller beanie in our company logo.

All of us came to this industry via different paths, and my path started at the front door of the house in which I grew up. That’s because my father and grandfather both manufactured and sold laundry machinery, which meant that many of my summers and school holidays were spent working at Consolidated Laundry Machinery (CLM), visiting laundries, participating in industry events and getting to know several generations of industry operators and vendors. 

My professional career in the industry began nearly 30 years ago when I joined Consolidated Laundry Machinery, first doing the company’s marketing, then as vice president, and eventually as president. During my tenure there I was involved in all aspects of the company’s operation, including manufacturing, R&D, sales and more, and I also helped our customers specify machinery, layout their new and upgraded facilities, and make improvements to their plants and their operations. 

Following my tenure at CLM, I continued my work in the industry as a director of the Uniform and Textile Services Association, chief operating officer of F-MATIC, senior vice president of Turn-Key Industrial Engineering, and most recently as president of Lapauw USA. 

My experience and specialties include plant operations, production management, process improvement, sales and marketing, customer service, equipment specification, plant layout, technology, and route sales enhancement. 

I am Lean Six Sigma certified, and I apply the concepts of Lean in all aspects of my professional life, especially in helping find ways to improve my clients’ operations, throughput, revenue and profits. 

Throughout my career it has been important to me to give back to this industry that has taken care of my family for several generations. I am a current member of the board of directors of the Association for Linen Management (ALM), and I am a past board member of TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services, and the Western Textile Services Association. 

I instruct each year at ALM’s Laundry and Linen College and at TRSA’s Production Management Institute (PMI) and Executive Management Institute (EMI). I am a proud member of the UTSA Plant Operations Hall of Fame, and I have earned multiple TRSA Volunteer Leadership Awards through my work on the Education Committee and as chair of the Production Summit Task Force.

I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, San Diego, and I live in Park City, Utah, where my wife and I enjoy skiing and cycling, as well as hiking with our yellow Labrador retriever.

Propeller Solutions Group opened its doors in 2019, and our first year has been a busy one. Starting a new business and finding capable talent to support it is always challenging, but even more so in this booming economy. 

I am honored to be working with the team that is being assembled and am blessed to be working with amazing clients for whom we have already done various projects that include facility planning, process improvement, RFP development and more.

I am looking forward to helping ALN’s readers address challenges that are facing the industry in general as well as particular market segments. There are a number of challenges facing our industry, not the least of which is the need to attract, train and retain talented associates in all aspects of operations, but most significantly in the areas of engineering and maintenance. 

Beyond that particular field, we are also challenged by the rise in minimum wage across the United States, which is driving operators to reduce headcount through a variety of means, including automation, robotics and process improvement. 

I look forward to helping address these and other issues with you, ALN’s readers, in the year to come. In the meantime, I hope 2020 is a year filled with happiness, health, prosperity and good times with friends and family. 

Check back tomorrow to meet our experts in commercial laundry, equipment supply/distribution, chemicals supply, textiles and hotel/motel/resort laundry.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].