CHICAGO — It seems like a lot of the news in the laundry and linen services industry today involves acquisitions.
Larger companies and private investment firms are buying laundry operations for many reasons: financial concerns, growth, getting out of the family business, etc.
However, there are still laundry businesses in the industry that have stood the test of time. How have these companies achieved decades of being in business?
And how do they plan on continuing to do so?
American Laundry News heard from 10 companies that shared how they have neared (and gone well past in some cases) the century mark in the industry.
GENERAL LINEN SERVICE
General Linen started business in 1938, and it’s been family-owned and -operated ever since as one of the largest linen management companies in New England.
“It’s been a pleasure, and continues to be a pleasure, providing our dedicated uniform and linen management services to our community,” the company says.
Lucien Drolet started the company in 1938 with two customers. He made 50 cents during his first two weeks in business, laundering three aprons and a coat.
From the start, the business says it demonstrated a strong work ethic and a desire to provide quality service and customer satisfaction. It was a niche market to start and clients were happy being able to spend more time on their business and less time on their laundry.
“We strive to be innovative and on top of all the latest industry trends and guidelines,” General Linen says. “This has made us continually evolve with new facilities, top-of-the-line technology and a commitment to sustainability.
“Most recently, we went through a brand refresh and the launch of our new division–GenMed.”
In 1980, a fire destroyed the building that housed the business, along with all of the machinery and linen inventory.
The fire not only forced the family to react quickly to save the business, but it was also a springboard to new growth. Starting in the 1980s, the company grew by acquiring several other linen services.
The Drolets also realized that their customer base had changed from small butcher shops, gas stations, and barbershops to hotels, restaurant chains, and large corporations.
General Linen says it has many long-term, experienced employees who put the “service” in General Linen Service for its clients.
“Staying true to our mission and creating the best experience for our customers is how we’ve stayed successful,” it says.
“Every time we call on a prospect or a client, we have an opportunity to stand in their shoes and really understand how we can improve their business. That is what drives our innovation and growth, leading to the longevity and success of our company.”
General Linen says its local mindset and ability to outperform many national providers have been key to its long-lasting success.
“We have an experienced team that is dedicated to serving our customers to the highest standard,” says the company. “Treating our clients like they are part of the team is how we create business partners for life.”
General Linen’s advice for longevity?
“Create a foundation that you and your future employees are proud to be a part of. Then adapt and innovate so you don’t get left behind but stay true to your core values.”
DIVISION LAUNDRY & CLEANERS
Division Laundry & Cleaners opened for business in 1939 as Division Tailors & Cleaners. It was founded by Peter Garcia in a modest 1,200-square-foot building located inside Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, according to Patrick Garcia, the current president and son of Peter.
The business laundered uniforms on scrub boards, drying on a clothesline and hand-ironing and sewing on stripes for troops from the 2nd Infantry Division.
A second plant was built around 1953 on West Commerce Street in San Antonio called El Capitan, which processed military uniforms. It was converted into a food and beverage linen supply plant called American Linen Service, which was sold to a large Texas family chain linen supplier.
In 1964, Peter constructed a new facility on westside San Antonio, designed by the National Institute of Laundering and the National Dry Cleaning Institute—the first of its kind in the Southwest United States.
“Division Laundry grew adding many new customers while expanding the plant three times,” Patrick says.
In 1978, it diversified into becoming one of the major blue jean pre-wash plants in Texas, processing more than 50,000 pairs of blue jeans per week.
When Levi Straus moved all of its laundering to Mexico, Division Laundry turned its operation into a 100% hospitality and healthcare plant, processing linens for San Antonio’s major hotels and hospitals.
In February, the company announced that it had acquired the Texas assets of Angelica. The transaction included two facilities and their depots and allowed Division to expand into the Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma markets.
“Division Laundry is the embodiment of the American Dream,” shares Patrick. “It is very rare anywhere in the world for a business to be around for 30 or more years, especially overcoming great adversity, but Division has served its community for 83 years.”
Some of that adversity came in the form of Peter being an immigrant from Mexico.
Then, in 2001, a fire destroyed a plant. The company worked to keep servicing customers and hold onto as many employees as possible.
A new plant was built in 2003, providing jobs to more than 356 full-time employees as of 2020.
Patricia Garcia Luna, chief administrative officer, and Theresa Garcia, chief operating officer, believe that being women in the laundry industry presents challenges. Their perspective is that they are passionate and have leadership skills, and they will continue to fight these gender stereotypes.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic presented opportunities and challenges for Division Laundry. The company lost all its hotel business and 40% of its healthcare volumes during the peak of the pandemic.
However, Division Laundry set up unique COVID-19 control guidelines that enabled it to work with acute care hospitals in Texas and testing and makeshift facilities from as far away as 350 miles away. The company also found ways to help manufacture face masks and plastic face shields.
“My father instilled in me the pillars of his success: deliver on your promises and you have to be better than everyone else—your quality has to stand alone and above all others,” says Patrick.
“As my three children and son-in-law learned how to work together, they understood the strong moral character that their grandfather and grandmother stood for and that it would soon be their driving force to succeed in bringing the family business to greater heights.”
Patrick shares four things that have been key to the company enduring and succeeding:
- Preserving our reputation for sincerity, fairness, dedication and a strong work ethic built over decades of excellent service in our industry and community.
- Working together to exceed the expectations of those we serve.
- Taking pride in our work.
- Providing the care and professionalism that results in excellence.
“Deliver on your promises with your employees, vendors and customers,” Patrick adds. “Building strong partnerships is key to longevity. Your partnerships are built on trust. Excel in confidence building in all your partnerships.
“When your service fails in quality, delivery and fill rates, always tell the truth of why these things happen within your organization. Never tell your customers a false story.
“This is how you develop your relationships for longevity.”
To read about the previous eight companies, click HERE for Part 1, HERE for Part 2 and HERE for Part 3.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].