WESTBROOK, Maine — If you live in Maine, you’re likely a customer of Pratt Abbott Garment Care—the state’s largest provider of drycleaning, vended laundry and linen/uniform rental services.
David Machesney and his father, Jim, purchased the company in 1991. It’s since grown fivefold—capturing market share through acquisitions, new development and continual improvement.
Today, Pratt Abbott umbrellas 12 drycleaning facilities, eight vended laundries and a 50,000-square-foot linen and uniform rental plant. By design, multiple revenue streams feed the Pratt Abbott enterprise.
“One of the reasons we have all three business sectors is to provide volume to afford a management infrastructure which allows our employees growth opportunities,” says David Machesney.
The other, he maintains, is because providing “everything clean” simplifies life for customers.
A FAMILY-OWNED HISTORY
Always family owned, Pratt Abbott was founded as a solitary drycleaning store in 1944, in Portland, Maine, according to Machesney.
“Elliott Abbott led the business for 14 years, often waiting on customers and pressing shirts himself,” he says. “In the 1940s, he combated unemployment by hiring veterans through the GI Bill.”
Among those hires was World War II veteran Roderick Lowell, who worked his way from the shirt presses to ownership in 1958. Lowell and his daughters staffed the counters, while Lowell’s father repaired and maintained machinery, according to Machesney. During the 1960s, he opened additional drycleaning locations and expanded into uniform rental.
Since acquiring Pratt Abbott in 1991, the Machesney family—including children and grandchildren—have worked the counters as well. After Jim passed away in 2015, David took the lead. He’s since significantly grown each of Pratt Abbott’s business segments—dry cleaning, vended laundry and linen/uniform rental—benefiting employees and customers alike.
Today, Pratt Abbott’s drycleaning business makes up 60-70% of Maine’s retail drycleaning market and generates 38% of total company revenue, according to Machesney.
Twelve drycleaning facilities bring multiple services to customers, including dry cleaning, shirt laundry and household laundry services. Other perks include free pickup and delivery, as well as off-season garment storage. Efficient equipment and processes ensure high-quality, eco-friendly results.
VENDED LAUNDRY: EXPRESS LAUNDRY CENTERS
Pratt Abbott’s vended laundry sector significantly contributes to the success of the company as a whole, contributing more profit than dry cleaning, according to Machesney. In many ways, the two intertwine. This is partly because most Pratt Abbott vended laundries and drycleaning stores are located side-by-side. This configuration draws revenue from a broader demographic, creates shared operational savings and encourages consumer crossover.
“We look at it as a convenience to the customer and a way to serve more customers,” shares Machesney. “Co-mingling also allows us to run fully attended laundries and offset some of the labor cost from drycleaning revenue.”
Thus, the vended laundries tend to make the drycleaning stores more profitable—and vice versa. Even better? The pairing creates “one-stop-shop” customer convenience. That’s important, according to Machesney, because Pratt Abbott “is in the business of selling time.”
UNIFORM & LINEN RENTAL
Uniform and linen rental—the most profitable Pratt Abbott business sector—began in the 1970s, but only recently ballooned into a super-performer.
“Back in 2000, we bet the uniform and linen rental business had more potential for growth than dry cleaning based on the demographics of our area and the lack of population growth,” says Machesney. “We broke the uniform and linen rental sector away from dry cleaning and formed a separate company to focus on it. We knew we needed to develop separate production plants and teams for both.”
That’s when Pratt Abbott Uniform & Linen became a standalone business.
Today, operating from a new, state-of-the-art commercial laundry plant, Pratt Abbott Uniform & Linen serves healthcare and hospitality clients within a 250-mile area. Making up a robust 58% of total company revenue, Pratt Abbott Uniform & Linen provides pickup and delivery of cleaned and leased garments and linens.
During the last 12 months, it has realized double-digit growth, according to Machesney. Thanks to the new plant’s size and equipment mix, he expects that growth rate to continue for the next two to five years.
CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT & RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Committed to continual improvement, Machesney ensures his plants, drycleaning locations and vended laundries operate at peak performance. He reinvests for big returns.
“We continuously improve all our processes to provide innovative services that increase satisfaction, quality and value for our customers, and create profitable growth for our company,” he says.
During the last decade, for example, he’s renovated several vended laundries, which resulted in a per store revenue bump of 10-30% and utility cost savings of 50%. He enhances two stores per year and starts by replacing hard-mount machines for higher performing soft-mount Continental ExpressWash®Washers and ExpressDry®Dryers.
“At many of our acquired stores, utility costs consumed 40% of revenue,” Machesney says. “Now, thanks to the new equipment, we’ve got that down to 18 to 20%.”
As stores are renovated, they are rebranded Express Laundry Centers®and feature similar soft-mount equipment mixes. This consistency simplifies employee training, store management and routine maintenance, he said.
Grateful for the company’s success, Machesney and the Pratt Abbott team make a point to give back to the community.
“We are active volunteers of Junior Achievement,” he says.
Additionally, Pratt Abbott cleans 40,000 Coats for Kids each year and supports Camp Susan Curtis summer camp for underprivileged kids.
“These kids are in tough situations and summer camp gives them a chance to breathe and plan for their future,” says Machesney. “It helps them break the cycle of poverty.”
FUTURE EXPANSION & DEVELOPMENT
Following the current path, Machesney will continue to look for opportunities in acquisition, improvement and development.
“We like to diversify our assets and control our destiny,” he shares, “so in addition to having the three different segments of garment care industry, we invest in commercial real estate to control our locations and further diversify our assets. We absolutely want to continue to grow and solidify our market. If you can do something you like and be profitable along the way, that’s the ticket.”
Machesney is ever on the hunt for new opportunities. His most recent project includes the development of two new Express Laundry Centers, which recently opened in North Windham and Yarmouth, Maine.
It’s a journey, according to Machesney.
“I didn’t look to get into the business to clean clothes,” he says. “I wanted to run a business, and I knew we needed enough size and infrastructure to do it right. I have 160 employees and five direct reports, and we try to make it a fun environment.”