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Growth and Quality in D.C. Metro Area (Conclusion)

Hospitality laundry finds success, challenges, looks to the future

CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. — In October 2018, Metro Laundry Service celebrated the grand opening of its second plant, a 53,000-square-foot facility in Elkridge, Md.

The celebration included many local business leaders and Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford—and it was a well-earned celebration for this company that services hotels in the Washington, D.C., area. 

The Metro Laundry Service story began with a 1,500-square-foot location, the size of a small, in-house laundry, providing quality linen service. Today, with two plants, the company has become successful by continuing its focus on quality, and it plans to continue that success.

CHALLENGE, SUCCESS

Steven Young, senior account executive/COO, says that because Metro deals exclusively with hospitality laundry, it’s a seasonal business with ups and downs. Volume picks up significantly in spring and summer and dips down in the winter months.

“And at Capitol Heights, and even previous plants, as we’ve got closer to being maxed out from a capacity and volume standpoint, we had to figure out how do we deal with these huge volume days,” he says. 

“There have been a lot of long nights to get it all done so we could keep our clientele serviced. Just meeting the demands of having 24/7 clientele is a challenge in itself. Hotels are a 24/7 operation, so your operation has to mirror that almost.”

Outside of the seasonal challenges, Steven points to Metro’s growing pains as another challenge they’ve overcome. 

“As we grew and took the next step, every next step was uncharted territory for us,” he shares. “We learned from a few things, made some mistakes and got better from it.” 

According to Richard Burney, a consultant for Metro, another challenge is that because the company has gained its reputation on quality, it’s difficult to find capable and qualified people who are committed. 

“Even though we offer employees the opportunity to obtain TRSA training, which is a big part of our growth strategy moving forward, it has been a challenge to actually get employees to accept the challenge and the opportunity,” he says. 

Steven agrees and points to the limited talent pool for more significant positions, such as plant managers and mechanics and engineers.

“It’s really hard to find good personnel to fit those high-level positions,” he says. “Laundry is not a glamorous career or profession or one that anybody really thinks of who goes to college saying I want to be in laundry. It’s usually something people fall into like I did myself, but it’s definitely a career path that can be lucrative and beneficial.

“We’ve had the mindset of trying to promote that through the people who we connect with and talk to and the organizations that we belong to.” 

Burney agrees that Metro makes use of its professional trade association relationships to mitigate the shortfall of talent. These include TRSA, the Hotel Association of Washington, and the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association.

With a reputation based on quality, Metro Laundry Service also has to overcome pricing objections. Steven says they have relationships with executive housekeepers, room directors and general managers who want to provide quality and a high level of service.

“The unfortunate part of it a lot of the time is they aren’t getting that from the vendor that they’re with for various reasons, and the reason for that is you get what you pay for,” he relates. 

“It comes to money, dollars and cents, and hotels run at a very low profit margin because of the massive operational expenses that come with operating a hotel, so they pinch pennies anywhere they can and a lot of time they try to do it with the laundry service that they get.” 

Steven goes on to say that housekeeping managers often approach Metro to “come on board,” but the effort gets put to a halt by corporate offices. The laundry has been working over the past few years to establish and build relationships with hotel management and corporate companies to try and get them to understand the value in the service that it provides. 

“If you go with pricing that’s too low, you’re going to suffer on the back end,” he says. “You may save money by having this low per-pound price, but you’re going to end up spending more money in the long run because you’re going to have to keep re-purchasing linen and comping rooms because the service you’re receiving is not adequate.”

Last summer, Metro’s original hotel client switched ownership, so they tried to go with a lower priced vendor, shares Steven. 

“Within two weeks they called us and said this isn’t working out; we want you guys back,” he says. “They realized the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. We took them back with open arms.”

“But because Metro was growing so rapidly, we couldn’t take them back right away,” Burney adds. “It was less than two months, though.”

Steven says from early on, Metro decided it would stick to quality of service and not go the route of low bids and cutting corners. 

“We’ll put in the time, effort and money to maintain a high level of service, and if we lose accounts because we’re not the lowest bid, then so be it,” he shares. “Typically, if we ever lost an account, it was always due to pricing and never due to service.” 

Burney adds that every Metro laundry client has the phone number and cell phone number of Steven and Bernard Young, president and CEO of Metro, and Steven’s uncle. 

“They don’t hide,” he says. “They run into problems, and they do everything they can to fix them. With as many hands as are involved in commercial laundry, there’s going to be problems. Sometimes it’s on the part of Metro. They always fix them.” 

That dedication to quality and connection has led to Metro taking on some major clients.

“My most satisfying success, which has been very challenging, was obtaining the contract at MGM National Harbor,” shares Burney. “That is a very exacting client with multiple businesses within a business. They know what they want, and each department, even each restaurant in the hotel, has specific requirements. It’s been very challenging to work with them, to figure out what was feasible and what was not, and to come up with a solution for each of their operating entities. 

“If you want to play at the highest level, that is the kind of client that you must obtain and satisfy, long-term.”

Steven adds that it took a long time to gain the MGM National Harbor account. He attended meetings before the property even broke ground, even when company was pitching it to the county and state to get approval. 

“I found out the size of the property, how many rooms it was going to have, did some networking, got some contact information for some people within MGM, and that’s how the process got started,” he relates. “That was something we put a lot of work in and were pursuing for quite some time. It was very satisfying to land that account.”

MOVING FORWARD

In its pursuit of quality, Metro doesn’t rest on its laurels, challenging itself by working with new hotel brands that have new ideas. 

“With these new brands, they brought on new concepts, new fabrics, new textures to address and deal with, new business travelers, especially millennials,” Burney says. “At the same time, we’ve tried to maintain the quality and service level that older business travelers and leisure travelers, including luxury leisure, deal with. 

“We’ve had to make sure that we did not forget what made us successful initially while still addressing emerging opportunities.” 

He says the new brands have a different room presentation approach, and Metro plays a role in all of that.

“We’ve gone to the point where we have offered the brands opportunities to run their new fabrics by us for us to test them,” shares Burney. “That is not commonly done. 

“The designers choose these new styles and they frequently go untested in a commercial laundry environment, and some of these new fabrics just don’t hold up. So, we’ve offered the brands the ability to have us run them through the rigors to see if they hold up. That’s something that we do that is unique.”

New hotel brands aren’t the only ones trying new things. Steven says Metro is always looking to be innovative and grow the company and grow within the industry. One of the next significant steps for Metro is radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. 

“We, for some time now, have been looking for a hotel to partner with that was willing to make the investment to have this technology and have it functioning on both ends because in order for it to use RFID technology with the linen and laundry service, it’s going to require effort and investment on both sides, on the hotel and laundry side,” he shares. 

“In this country and especially in this area, RFID technology still hasn’t been accepted with open arms from the hospitality business. Finding that hotel to partner with is difficult, but we finally found one that we will start servicing soon. We’re very much looking forward to launching that and utilizing RFID systems and being able to grow the business from there.”

Another technology component besides RFID tracking, says Burney, is the company’s linen management software, which makes it easier for the rooms department and the accounting department to track billing and inventory. 

“So, if you combine RFID tracking with our linen management software, you will literally eliminate the need for a typical monthly inventory, where each and every piece of linen gets counted,” he says. “We can completely eliminate that as we fully integrate technology. That’s a huge time saver and as a result, a huge money saver.” 

Burney also says Metro is looking to advance in its sustainability. 

“In both of the facilities, you would see state-of-the-art use of low-flow toilets to the most efficient lighting to a truck fleet that is now comprised of clean-burn vehicles,” he shares. “We’d like to even go further, and that’s on the horizon, but sustainability is a big factor to go along with technology.”

Miss Part 1 on Metro’s beginnings and growth? Click here to read it.