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Price of Processing in Paradise

Doing laundry in Hawaii comes at a higher cost, but the folks at JC Linen say it’s worth it

LIHUE, Hawaii — Chris and Jackie Carswell operate two businesses on the island of Kauai in Hawaii: Kauai Tent & Party Rental Inc. and JC Linen Co.

Their first business, Kauai Tent & Party Rental Inc., involves them providing tents and tables and other items needed for outdoor parties on the island.

It seemed to be a perfect occupation in a perfect location, but not everything was perfect.

“In approximately 2000, we were providing sub-rented linens for our clients who wanted table linen for their events,” says Chris. “But the linen quality we received was very poor.” 

The Carswells decided to deal with the issue themselves, buying linen and a washer and dryer to process the linens for weddings and party rentals. 

Around 2010, Chris learned that there was a need was for linen service on the island.  

“We were interested in the business and decided then to get into it,” he says.  

Chris started looking for a location to set up a plant around the North Shore, and after 6 months found a warehouse in Lihue in 2012.  

“Finding our location alone was a success as commercial space is very limited on the island.” he points out.  

However, operations didn’t start right away. It took almost two years for the Carswells to receive the necessary permits to start the laundry.

“Once we got the permits, we started building the infrastructure from the ground up,” shares Chris. “We had a contractor friend who helped facilitate the process and guide us toward the right direction.”  

The Carswells also had an experienced laundry consultant who helped guide them in purchasing and placing equipment in the 9,375-square-foot plant. He also helped the Carswells get their first customer at the end of 2014.  

“We actually only had minimal experience and a lot to learn,” Chris says. “We had the tent business and knew how to run a business. However, we had to learn the ins and outs of the laundry business. We became members of ALM [Association for Linen Management], which helped out immensely. We had a lot of help along the way from friends in the business.”

Today, the laundry runs a shift and a half, seven days a week, with a staff of 18 full- and part-time employees who process about 1.2 million pounds of goods annually.

“We serve both hospitality and healthcare customers, and a small portion of food and beverage,” shares Chris. 

JC Linen uses several washer-extractors, including a 60-pound machine, a 400-pound top side loader and a 900-pound side loader. Dryer sizes include 75-, 120- and 500-pound machines. 

For finishing, the laundry uses a two-roll ironing line, a one-roll small-piece ironing line and three small-piece folders. 

Pick-up and delivery is handled using two box trucks that service the island daily.  

While running a laundry business on the North Shore of Kauai would seem to be perfect, working in paradise every day, the Carswells point out that operating on the island offers some unique challenges.

“Running a laundry operation/plant in Hawaii is challenging because of the fact that we are so isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,” Chris shares.  

Electricity, propane, water and sewer are very costly on the island, and it’s all related to petroleum. Most of JC Linen’s supplies have to be shipped in. 

“This makes it extremely important for us to stay ahead of the game,” Chris points out. “If we use overnight shipping, it is extremely costly. We definitely pay the price to live and work in paradise.”

He says that if the laundry needs spare parts to keep machinery running, it’s a minimum of two days out for shipping. To combat this, JC Linen tries to stock a healthy supply of spare parts for all of its machines.

“To help curb some of the price of the utility cost, we are on solar power,” says Chris. “We like to say we clean your linen with the sun.” 

Another challenge is finding employees. Unemployment on the islands is at 2%, Chris points out, and there’s a high cost of living in Hawaii. That’s why the Carswells feel fortunate to have an outstanding staff.

They’re also very appreciative of their clients and vendors. 

The Carswells says all of the help they received was invaluable in setting up JC Linen. The plan now is to keep the party-rental business going and for JC Linen to grow at a steady pace that is comfortable for the Carswells and their staff.

“We are grateful for all the help we received along the way,” shares Chris.  “It’s amazing the timing of this project and all the inspirational people who came into our lives to guide us for this new business venture.”