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. Here are insights from three.
AMERICAN TEXTILE MAINTENANCE CO.
In 1932, there were only five trucks and five towels, but it was enough for Sam Snookal to acquire a laundry and begin a linen service in Los Angeles the same year his daughter was born. Its proud heritage of quality service was also born that year, and the operation has remained in the family ever since.
“Sam always strived for a service with attention to the customer’s needs with quality products,” says Brad Shames, president. “Today, we have distinct brands: Republic Master Chefs Textile Rental Service and Medico Healthcare Linen Service.”
As the company has grown, he says its employees, especially management, were dedicated to growing the company with excellent service.
“We have many employees with many years of service,” points out Shames. “Still today, we are fortunate to have low turnover in management. We still look from within when we add headcount. But, as we grew/grow, we do look to the outside for some management help.
“We always have invested in training and teaching management business skills to our staff. We always have tried our best to fill openings from our current staff when possible.”
Over the years, American Textile Maintenance Co. has acquired more than 10 family-owned businesses in Southern California, according to Shames. It has also acquired a food and beverage business from Angelica and a healthcare business from ARA.
“In my 43-plus years in this business in California, besides the environmental, we have been challenged with earthquakes, riots, fires and floods,” he shares.
Shames says, “It takes tenacity every day to succeed in the industry. You cannot ‘practice’ linen/uniform service. You have to play hard every day in order to succeed in this industry.
“If you want to continue to grow in this business, all management and staff have to understand the goals and be on the same page.”
Since WW Uniforms started back in 1924, the company says it has had one mission: to grow and be the strongest service-orientated company in the industry.
After three generations in business in the Wallingford, Connecticut, area, it has learned that customers dislike surprises as much as they appreciate quality service.
With that in mind, WW Uniforms says it has built long-standing relationships by consistently delivering more than expected, without any fine print or “gotcha” moments.
The company began as a dry-cleaning business, but after watching the market change over the years, it expanded into uniform rental, using its detailed business approach to succeed.
The company says that success has continued thanks to the family’s and the team’s passion for building a company that everyone can be proud of.
“We stay ahead of the curve when it comes to safety, employee wages and overall employee benefits,” WW Uniforms shares. “Our team is strong and supportive, with an average tenure of just about 100 employees of 10-plus years.
“By treating everyone like family and engaging our employees to reach new goals, they have the ability to move up throughout the company.”
The company says it works to keep up with business innovations, always incorporating the latest technology whenever possible.
WW Uniforms says all companies share similar challenges, from inflationary repercussions to employee challenges, but what’s important is how you handle them.
The company says it faces problems head-on and approaches them with care and consideration, making strong alliances with the community and industry leaders.
“We are a growth-driven company, and between a strong sales team, service team and owners’ involvement, we have had consistent year-over-year growth,” the company shares.
“With the help of a professional growth coach, we partnered with many years ago, we are all kept accountable and aligned toward the same goals.”
For WW Uniforms, the keys to success are simple: capital investments, keeping up with new technology, adapting sales techniques, engaging and motivating employees, and as the owner, having strong involvement and dedication to your team.
“Be completely vested in your goals,” says the third-generation owner. “Do not just ask or set a goal for your team, be a part of achieving the goal. Be completely involved, build up your employees, and your achievements, and re-investment of your time as an owner!
“All of this will inspire loyalty and the ability to sustain for many years to come.”
For 90 years, Ace ImageWear says it has brought the personal touch and high-quality service of a family-owned business to its customers in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1932, founder Ed Heilman did everything possible to make ends meet during the Great Depression, including taking up boxing under the name “Ace,” the company shares.
Together with his wife, Clara, they took their $1,800 in savings, and “Ace Linen Service” was established in Kansas City. Their first customers were local businesses nearby, like the neighborhood grocer.
Things have changed since they opened their first “production floor,” which was just a washing machine, sewing machine and hand iron in the couple’s basement, but Ed’s motto and vision have stayed the same: Always do business on a first name basis.
The business has successfully grown and expanded outside of Kansas City into other markets including Houston and Beaumont, Texas, but Ace ImageWear has faced its share of challenges.
“We bought the business from the second generation right as we entered the recession of 2009, incurring a substantial amount of debt, followed by a significant decline in top-line revenue,” say company owners.
“It was scary, but we hunkered down, cut expenses, implemented a growth strategy (and didn’t sleep much), but we survived 2009, entering a new era where we felt equipped to survive anything.”
Through decades of changes in the uniform rental industry, the COVID-19 pandemic and national competitor buyouts (including a recent Houston acquisition that leaves Ace the last local uniform rental provider in that area), the company says it has worked to stay consistent for its customers.
“As a family-owned business, we treat our employees as part of our family,” the company says. “We pride ourselves on making sure every member of our team is able to bring their thoughts and ideas to the table.
“Since everyone on our team is either out in the field or in the facility every day, they know firsthand what does or doesn’t work, and we always make sure to utilize their valuable input.”
Ace ImageWear believes the key to success and longevity in the laundry industry is establishing a personal relationship with customers and the community—and doing what it says it’s going to do, whether it’s a follow-up with a prospect, a deadline for a customer or a commitment to an Ace team member.
“You’re not on an island,” the company points out. “Take advantage of peers, vendors and consultants so you avoid some of the issues they may have.
“The best idea doesn’t have to come from you, you just have to be smart enough to listen, find it and implement it.”
Check back next Thursday as two more operations share their longevity secrets.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].