PANGBURN, Ark. — As one of the only family-owned and operated laundry businesses in the state, the focus of HMT Industrial Laundry has and always will be on personal customer service.
“A key difference between our company and our competitors is that our customers have our personal cell numbers and are encouraged to call when they need anything—we’ve delivered on weekends, holidays, bad weather, you name it, and we’re there when you need us,” says owner Brad Watlington.
He says this type of service inspires loyalty from HMT’s customers. In the almost 20 years the company has been in business, it has experienced a remarkable less than 2% customer turnover.
“Our customers have watched our three boys grow from toddlers to teenagers; they personally know us and we know them,” shares Brad.
“Once a business becomes our customer, they become part of our customer family and we show them how much we value them.”
HMT serves businesses that need rugs, towels, linens and uniforms, including hotels, medical facilities, restaurants, gas stations, schools, colleges and manufacturers.
“While we specialize in smaller to mid-size businesses, we also service larger, Arkansas-based companies that appreciate the personal service we can provide them,” adds Brad.
HMT Industrial Laundry was started by Brad and his father, Gary, in April 2003.
Gary, who has been in the industrial laundry business for 49 years, started his career at a locally owned company as a driver and eventually moved into management.
“When that company was bought out by a much larger competitor and changed the way they were doing business, he started considering branching out on his own,” Brad shares.
“He recognized the need for personal, relationship-based customer service in the industry, and all he needed was a partner—that’s where I come into the picture.”
As a child, Brad rode on the route with his father whenever he could.
“You could say I grew up in the laundry business,” he says. “When I finished college, dad proposed we open our own company. We started HMT Industrial Laundry in April of 2003 with one van running all of our services out of our 1,200-square-foot garage.”
Brad says that Gary “literally found our original 50-pound washer-extractor sitting in a field and talked a friend of his into repairing it for us.”
HMT used the washer for two years until it could purchase another.
In 2009, Brad’s mother, Gail, retired from her career in the public school system to manage the wash floor, allowing Gary and Brad to focus on selling and running routes.
“Her leadership on the washroom floor was instrumental to the success of the company,” Brad points out.
While Gary and Gail are semi-retired as of 2017, Brad says they still play a crucial role in operations, and the couple gives their son credit for the company’s growth over the last five years.
“We’re so proud of where Brad’s leadership has taken the company,” Gary says. “His professionalism, honesty, and dedication to growing the business show in the rapid increase in customers we’ve experienced.
“I also want to thank all of our employees who believe in our commitment to customer service and bring that to the job every day. We consider them part of our family.”
Today the HMT family includes 11 employees that work 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday in the company’s 7,000-square-foot facility.
HMT moved into the facility in 2008, and today it uses washer-extractors ranging from 110 to 275 pounds with four 175-pound dryers to process 11,000 pounds of laundry every week for its customers.
And Brad says each team/family member “owns” the responsibility of ensuring quality and timeliness for HMT’s customers.
“We’re all invested in making sure our customer deliveries are on-time, accurate and meet all quality expectations,” he shares.
“We inspect each delivery four times before it leaves our facility, beginning with the washroom employee who fills the order, continuing to the washroom manager who checks it, leading to our plant manager who does another inspection and ending with our driver who is responsible for final signoff before they leave the facility.”
Another way HMT remains on task is by using Friday of each week as a catch-up day if needed.
“For example, we recently had an ice storm that shut us down half of Wednesday and Thursday,” Brad relates. “Our team pivoted to Friday and business continued on track and on schedule for the following week.”
HMT is good at “pivoting” to maintain its business.
“We weathered the economic downturn in 2008 with perseverance and customer loyalty,” Brad says. “A fire in 2015 destroyed 70% of our facility and all of our supplies. For weeks, we washed product with retail washers and dryers, cleaning rugs with soap and water hoses in our yards and garages.
“During the entire time, we kept service running and our customers stayed with us until we got everything back up and running.”
COVID-19 has been another setback for HMT as the company sadly watched customers it has had for years go out of business.
“We’ve had some positive turns in new industries that’s helped us pick up new business, but we’ve absolutely felt the impact,” says Brad.
Despite the pandemic, he shares that HMT has tripled its customer base over the past four years.
“If we keep growing at our current rate, we’ll be expanding our facility and adding personnel to support our increasing customer base,” Brad points out. “We’ve increased our customer base purely through word of mouth, referrals and feet on the pavement.”
The company is in the process of obtaining certification from the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC), and he says exceptional customer service, loyal customers, great vendors/suppliers and “an awesome home team” help with attracting new customers.
“Potential customers call us based on talking with our other customers,” Brad says. “We’re referred to new customers from established customers, and our sales team and drivers are constantly reaching out to prospects and leaving business cards.
“With the growth of our business, we’ve been blessed to be able to add several outstanding employees to our work family who understand our focus on customer service and are committed to supporting that goal.”
He reiterates that the HMT team is always willing to do what it takes to exceed customers’ expectations whether that means being available via phone 24/7, 365 days a year, working on a normal day off, or making an extra trip to a customer that ran out of planned supplies.
“HMT Industrial Laundry is the best place I’ve worked and the people I work with are amazing,” says Amber Cole, wash floor manager. “We are a team where everyone is treated the like family. We make memories and still get the job done!”
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].