CORTLAND, N.Y. — In the early 1900s, Harry L. Ames began working in the laundry industry in Upstate New York.
In 1919, he joined Associated Laundries of CNY as a manager in a Syracuse plant. Moving quickly, in 1921, he purchased his own laundry in Ithaca.
Later, Ames purchased the Cortland Steam Laundry and moved operations to Cortland.
Today, the fourth generation of the Ames family, Johanna, owns and operates what is now known as Ames Linen Service, which is celebrating 100 years of laundry and linen service providing textile services in the hospitality, food and beverage, healthcare and industrial markets.
“I describe us as a mid-sized, mixed plant operator in our region,” shares Johanna. “We are Hygienically Clean Healthcare certified and we also enjoy significant relationships in the food and beverage and hospitality space.
“While our plant may be more challenging to operate because it is mixed, our diversification of revenue has served us well over many, many years.”
Johanna joined the company in 2001 and purchased it in 2007.
“Since that time, we have more than doubled in size through organic growth and acquisitions and proudly maintain our accredited status,” she says.
CENTURY FAMILY AFFAIR
Johanna’s grandfather, Henry Ames’ son, joined the company in 1936 when Henry fell ill. He added dry-cleaning and coin-operated Laundromats to the service offerings and largely continued to operate the business as a family laundry service.
“My father joined the company in 1964 and worked diligently to convert the company to a textile rental operation and expanded services into the healthcare sector,” she says. “His leadership drove efficiency, quality and profitability that fostered significant growth and success.”
The next generation of leaders of Ames Linen Service is in the fifth and seventh grades.
“We will have to wait and see,” Johanna quips.
Not many businesses make it 100 years, let alone with a single family at the helm, but Ames has, and Johanna attributes this longevity to five key points:
- A loyal customer base that values us as partners.
- An amazingly talented and dedicated group of employees
- Continually asking ourselves, “How can we do better?”
- Addressing every opportunity in an ethical and disciplined manner with a keen eye for detail.
- A lot of hard work (and sweat) over four generations.
Some of that hard work goes into benefitting the industry as a whole.
“I serve on the TRSA Board of Directors and value the support and advocacy that the organization has brought to my company over at least two generations,” shares Johanna.
“I was proud to be the Inaugural Chair of the Women in Textiles Committee, which has now become the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and enjoys new leadership.”
Today, Ames Linen Service operates a 45,000-square-foot plant five days a week, processing between 10 and 11 million pounds of goods annually for customers throughout the Syracuse, Binghamton, Ithaca and Utica regions. And that footprint continues to expand.
The company uses the latest technology and equipment to ensure customers’ products are processed to achieve the highest quality possible.
The machinery and workflow is designed to handle a variety of linens from the markets the company serves through each step of the process—from washing and drying through to finishing and delivery.
The facility is designed for efficiency and quality, embracing LEAN philosophies and being as environmentally sustainable as possible, from water conservation to heat reclamation, from recycling hangers to using energy-efficient lighting.
“We are continually investing in our plant and our people,” shares Johanna.
In January 2020, she says Ames installed a new tunnel system with a press and dryers.
Johanna adds that the laundry uses a mix of open pocket washer-extractors, dryers, feeding and folding equipment for three ironer lines, a full complement of dry fold equipment, and a garment steam tunnel and conveyor system.
“Right now we are preparing to install additional soil rail storage capacity and a sling loading system for the tunnel to replace our Conway,” she shares. “We invest in the inventory needed to keep our plant operating efficiently and so as never to break a promise to a customer.”
In order to make those promises happen, Ames is Hygienically Clean Healthcare Certified, and the company trains rigorously on its quality and safety standards.
“We expect the best from our people and our vendor partners,” Johanna points out. “We work to maintain duplicity in our operation—in plant and fleet—and we invest in the spare parts inventory necessary to avoid significant downtime events.
“Above all else, we have people who care.”
Like many independent laundry operators, Johanna points to its outstanding customer service and product quality as key qualities of the business.
“In the past year as we have all faced the pandemic-induced challenges, I am more convinced that our service proposition is second to none,” she says.
“We will always answer the phone in person. We will not stop until we resolve questions or concerns. We admit that we will make mistakes and we invite our customers to judge how quickly we resolve those mistakes.
“One of our longstanding mantras is, ‘Honesty and integrity in all that we do.’ We solicit feedback from our customers and implement changes based on that feedback.
“We are nimble. We are not bureaucratic.”
From start to finish, the smallest details are handled by well-trained and qualified staff, especially the forward-facing route service reps, who are empowered to address needs and concerns immediately.
And everyone involved is committed to best practices with a goal of 100% customer satisfaction. Ames has a very low reject rate of .0025%.
When it comes to sharing about the challenges Ames Linen Service has faced over the years, Johanna says that it is difficult to not focus singularly on the pandemic and the consequent challenges around supply chain, variable and inconsistent demand from customers.
And the labor crisis plaguing the country.
“With every challenging situation, we identify the incremental details surrounding the opportunity, we formulate a plan and we execute,” she shares.
But there is one challenge Johanna points to that shows how her team handles adversity.
“As I look back over the years, the single largest challenge that we have faced was the sudden loss of our beloved GM, Todd Pinti, in 2016,” she says.
“In the midst of their own personal heartbreak, the team came together to not only ‘do the work’ but to support our production associates, route service representatives and customers.
“They led by example and leaned on each other as we navigated something so sad and unexpected.”
Until the pandemic, Ames Linen Service grew consistently, year over year, for decades, enjoying a very high rate of customer retention.
“We have a beautiful plant and we work hard to take care of it,” says Johanna. “With just about everything, we sweat the details and we work with discipline and urgency.”
While it remains to be seen if a fifth generation of the Ames family will lead the laundry and linen service in the future, the company is in great hands with Johanna at the helm.
“I will work to restore the company to our pre-Covid volumes and growth trajectories,” she says. “I will work to maintain our culture and our value proposition to our customers.
“I will continue to invest in our people.”