FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jason Mitchell didn’t set out to start a laundry and linen service.
In fact, the Southwest Florida native started his career in finance working for large banks.
In the early 2000s, Mitchell and his wife, Brooke, started a B2B technology and information company, servicing some of the largest insurance companies in the world.
“We grew very quickly, and it was an incredible learning experience because our company had to constantly adapt to handle the growth, and we had to learn how to scale and retain a great team,” he says.
In 2014, a large private equity group acquired the business.
“I found myself essentially retired at 35,” Mitchell shares. “Brooke became a stay-at-home mom, so life was great. I spent the next few years buying and selling commercial real estate, but this left me feeling very unfulfilled.
“I really missed the camaraderie of building a great and cohesive team and the affirmation that comes from your clients when you do great work.”
His desire to be part of an operating company led him to research dozens, possibly hundreds, of different industries.
That’s where the laundry and linen services industry enters the story.
NO ROOM FOR ERROR
Today, Mitchell is CEO of the couple’s operation: Premier Linen Services.
The business focuses solely on processing linens for hotels, but the couple didn’t even have industrial laundry on their radar when the search for a new business began.
“We were specifically looking for (an industry) that we felt we could bring some transformative value to,” says Mitchell.
“In our former company, there was very little room for error. Our customers relied on our accuracy, and we had virtually no competition.
“What attracted us to COG (customer-owned goods) hospitality laundry, aside from the huge challenge of building a brand new, state-of-the-art plant, was that same feeling of ‘no room for error.’
“I love that laundry keeps you on our toes every day.”
He points out that if the laundry misses a delivery, a hotel customer might not be able to sell a room.
“As a team, we all feel that pressure every day to perform,” shares Mitchell.
He also enjoys the partnerships the company has with its customers.
“In a way, we feel much as a part of the hospitality industry as we do the laundry industry,” Mitchell says. “There’s no better feeling than when you walk into a customer’s hotel, like I recently did with the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, and the GM greets you with a smile and thanks you for all you do.
“That’s the affirmation we were missing. The kind that puts a smile on our faces, and that reminds us why we do what we do.”
After researching the industry for about four months, the Mitchells opened their first facility in December 2019.
Three months later the pandemic reared its ugly head.
“I remember those early days having a lot of extra time to think about what our company should look like. I had a lot of time because we had very little laundry to do,” Mitchell says.
He can laugh about the situation now, but at the time, he says it was very challenging because many of their prospective customers were caught off guard, dealing with what seemed like daily updates from corporate on best practices for social distancing, sanitization, etc.
“And because we had no brand recognition, it was not easy to get a meeting in those days,” Mitchell points out.
Despite losing what felt like most of Premier’s first year, he says 2021 “took off with a bang.”
“Within two years, we had outgrown our first plant,” shares Mitchell. “Fortunately, we had already begun the process of working with consultants and designing our new fully automated, state-of-the-art plant.”
That’s when the Mitchells faced their next challenge: the building industry.
Mitchell says Premier Linen Services was in a position to grow, and the company wanted to expand. Several properties wanted to work with the laundry, but it couldn’t take on any more work.
“We had decided to build our new plant in one of the most challenging environments in the history of construction,” he points out.
“Florida was experiencing huge growth, and on top of that, we all were dealing with the supply chain, etc. As a result, our original estimate of getting into the new facility by January 2022 was missed by more than 10 months.”
Premier’s third challenge came right as it was moving into its new facility in September 2022: Hurricane Ian.
“We designed our new building to withstand these types of events,” Mitchell shares. “It’s even engineered with a concrete roof; however, we had also committed to bring on two new large customers, and a large hotel in Naples needed us for emergency processing—all while we were moving into our new facility.”
He says several of his team members were displaced, and the general morale of the community was total shock.
“A lot of our customers had to get back up and running very quickly to house all of the FEMA and Red Cross people that came into our area,” says Mitchell. “We never shut down, but those were some very long days for our team.
“Fast forward to today, and we are 100% up and running. We have been dialing our team in on all the new technology that was embedded into our plant.
“It’s exciting times, and we are very grateful for our customers and team members that stuck it out during the transition.
“There are many people that Brooke and I are indebted to for their tireless long hours and commitment to our customers.”
Check back Thursday as Jason Mitchell shares about Premier Linen Services’ operations today and its future.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].