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.
While the company now has two plants, the Metro Laundry Service story starts with a 1,500-square-foot location, the size of a small, in-house laundry, providing quality linen service.
Actually, the story starts with a young man growing up in a family bent on business success.
FAMILY OF ENTREPRENEURS
Bernard Young, president and CEO, started Metro Laundry Service back in 2002, but Steven Young, senior account executive/COO (and nephew to Bernard) says the drive for his uncle to have his own business started back with his previous employment—in other family businesses.
“His father, my grandfather, was a successful farmer in Virginia, one of the original forms of self-employment,” he shares. “He learned a lot from that. Bernard and his two other brothers were all entrepreneurs.”
Bernard also worked for his brother who had a chemical company that sold cleaning supplies and chemicals to different businesses throughout the D.C. metropolitan area, and hotels were some of their most important clientele.
“Bernard developed relationships with different hotels, and the hospitality business as a whole, during his employment with his brother as one of the lead sales reps,” Steven relates. “As time went along, he wanted to venture out and do his own thing, so through his connections he decided to start this business in laundry.”
At the time, Steven says Bernard only planned on laundry being a “side gig,” some secondary income.
“He was going to process food and beverage linen for local catering companies that he already had relationships with, but it was one of those situations where one thing led to another,” Steven says.
Bernard was approached by a general manager he knew well in downtown D.C. who asked if he could service his hotel. Steven says his uncle was up front about things and told him no. He wasn’t prepared or set up for it.
“But Bernard told the hotel GM to give him three to four months, and he’ll make the necessary investments and get the right equipment in so he can handle it,” shares Steven. “That’s how we got started with our first hotel, and I first came on board around that time. We had to start an overnight shift just to do that one hotel, and that hotel, to this day, is our customer.”
He adds that he’s proud Metro has maintained that first 300-room property as customer.
“Bernard founded the company with one client being the driving force,” shares Richard Burney, a consultant for Metro. “He started out with a focus on restaurants but matriculated to hotels only, with the exception of restaurants in hotels—100% hotels and their dining facilities. No medical at all.”
In fact, he says the company has absolutely no desire to process healthcare linens. However, Metro did have a “brief date” with a medical business to help someone out.
“That lasted barely a week, if that,” Steven says with a chuckle. “It was a hospital in D.C., and Bernard knew the laundry manager there, and they had some significant equipment that went down so they needed our help. They asked us to help them out for about two weeks.”
He says that after just a few days, they realized healthcare linen is very different from hospitality, especially when it comes to the soil side.
“It got to the point where our team members were practically wearing hazmat suits handling the stuff,” he shares. “Our tenured employees, our leads, the people we lean on, came to us and said look we can’t do this. They pretty much said we’re going to quit if we have to keep handling this stuff.”
Metro went back to the hospital and said it could process for a few days more and helped it find an alternative laundry.
“That’s when we realized we will never do that again,” Steven says.
BIGGER AND BETTER
Steven says the original Metro Laundry Service location was in a small shop of about 1500-square-feet.
“We just had a couple washers and dryers and a small gas-powered ironer,” he says. “It was basically the size of a typical in-house laundry at a hotel.”
After being in that location for a few years, the laundry moved to a sub-lease building that was split into sections. Metro occupied one of the 4,000-square-foot spaces, adding more equipment and making upgrades.
“As we grew and gained more clientele, our reputation grew a little bit, we needed more space,” says Steven. “So, we leased out the section next to where we were at, which was another 4,000 square feet, and we just cut a hole in the wall so we could travel back and forth.”
A couple years after that, the company had continued to grow and again needed to expand. Fortunately, Steven shares, once again the company that was next door had moved out, so Metro added another 4,000 square feet, again cutting a hole in the wall for access.
“At that particular time, that was all the space we could occupy there, so we were at 12,000 square feet for at least a three-to-four-year span, and we grew quite a bit during that time,” he says.
“Once again, we got into the position where we maxed out the space we were in there, and we decided we’re going to go after another location and took a year or two to find a proper location, and that’s when we found the building here in Capitol Heights, which was 24,000 square feet.”
Metro acquired its first tunnel washer when it moved into the Capitol Heights location. Shortly before, Steven says the company hired a plant manager who had a lot of experience with tunnel washers and laundries as whole—experience he admits Metro didn’t have.
“His expertise was very helpful with making that move in transferring to a tunnel system,” he points out.
“Capitol Heights, Md., really was the facility that allowed the company to reach higher heights,” says Burney. “That facility is located right off the Beltway.”
But Metro wasn’t done growing, and after about three years, Steven says the company realized it was going to outgrow the new location sooner than anticipated.
“Once again, we were in a position where we either cut it off here or we grow some more,” he says. “We decided to continue to grow and started a search for another facility. This time around we knew we weren’t going to move everything into another facility, we were going to have two facilities.”
After an extensive search, Metro found the Elkridge plant, which had been previously occupied by another laundry.
“The infrastructure that we needed was already there, which was helpful,” Steven relates. “It took a while to things up and running and in place, but we did our grand opening in October.
“We finally settled into a rhythm with some of the accounts we’re pushing into now. We’re in a good place and ready to expand. I’m in the position where I’m very aggressive with getting new clientele.”
“The new facility has a rail system very early in its lifespan and is more mechanized,” adds Burney. “The equipment there is more mechanized in addition to the rail system.”
Steven and Burney estimate that Metro has more than 100 employees working between both plants. However, as accounts grow, Elkridge is expected to reach about 100 employees on its own in the future.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion on Metro’s success, challenges and the future.