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.
Gallagher Uniform has been in business for nearly 130 years, evolving over the years by adding products, services and innovative technology to best serve a wide range of customers.
John C. Gallagher started the business in 1893 as Detroit Waste Works to clean and recycle rags for local businesses. As the company continued to grow, not only providing shop towels but laundering and maintaining them as well, they were able to move to a larger facility in 1924.
In the late 1930s, Norman Gallagher, John’s son, expanded the company to Battle Creek, Michigan, where it is still based today.
The Gallagher story includes five generations of the Gallagher family, facilities in Detroit through the early 1900s and even a cotton mill in Florida where they spun cotton for shop and bath towels.
The 1960s and ’70s brought change as the company began laundering work uniforms to serve the growing Michigan manufacturing industry. The company also changed the name to Gallagher Industrial Laundry and in 1975 decided to sell the Detroit facility to focus and expand in Battle Creek.
Throughout the last several decades, Gallagher Uniform says it has focused on technology and innovation with bar codes on garments and now UHF chips to track garment lifecycle, location within the facility, and ensure complete deliveries to their customers.
Like many industrial laundries, the makeup of manufacturing in Michigan has meant serving a variety of industries from food manufacturing and automotive to pharmaceutical production and agriculture. Michigan’s economy has been a challenge over time, the company points out.
Another challenge is always the family dynamics of working with family and ownership succession.
Gallagher says it has always held company culture, transparency and innovation as core attributes of its leadership team and its associates. Company leadership has always been involved in the community and local organizations, and it encourages associates to do the same.
Leadership is on a first-name basis and makes it a point to be accessible to associates, according to Gallagher.
“We post our company numbers in our break room areas and share success with the company,” it says. “An overall relentless pursuit of continuous improvement in growth, innovation, and being a good employer and corporate citizen are at the heart of our culture.”
Like how transparency, accessibility to leadership and investing in technology have helped Gallagher grow as a company, the company says these aspects have also helped in generating new business.
“We have stayed focused on the industrial uniform rental business,” according to the company. “Our growth has not come through any acquisition, just keeping customers and partnering with new ones.”
Gallagher Uniform continues to add new technology to make communication faster and more efficient with web-based and mobile applications for customers and their employees.
The company says the apps and CRM (customer relationship management) utilization also help empower its sales and service teams to make decisions and help customers the first time they need it.
“We invest in our associates through cross-training and offer flexibility and creativity in order to help them learn and grow,” says Gallagher. “We also celebrate them throughout the year with our St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Kids Christmas Party and our company Christmas party for associates.
Gallagher points out that integrity, honesty, a passion for great customer service, and involvement in industry associations and local organizations have all been key parts of its longevity. It also includes devotion to the tradition of the family business and maintaining it for the next generation—a healthy respect for the Gallagher who passed it on to honor going forward.
“Be innovative, always looking for ways to improve efficiency, processes, tools, etc.,” the company says. “Invest in technology to support making jobs faster, easier and more productive. Build a trusting and supportive culture, work alongside your associates, have a hand in building your legacy, and most importantly, deliver on your promises.
“Get good professional help to navigate family succession planning and working out the differences of opinion. Get good coaches (consultants) who can help you grow your business and develop a strong strategic plan. You can’t do everything on your own.”
Plymate is a fourth-generation family business that was founded in 1930 in Shelbyville, Indiana by Glenn Plymate. Today it provides work uniforms, facility service programs, floor mat programs and direct purchase logo apparel throughout Central, South Central and North Central Indiana.
Glenn started by purchasing a small dry-cleaning operation. Soon he added hospitality, healthcare and home laundry. The company says he focused on the customer above all else—not only outside laundry customers but also internal employee customers.
Plymate says taking care of the customer was and still is the cornerstone of its operation.
After adding commercial laundry, Jim Plymate, the second generation in the business, focused on developing industrial rental programs with work uniforms and floor mat programs.
The company says its most difficult challenges were surviving a fire in 1968 and again in 1988. The 1968 fire destroyed the facility, shortly after a major remodel, and forced it to find a new property. Plymate says its employees were loyal and worked tirelessly to help recovery efforts in both instances.
The company says its mindset has been to provide a quality product. In addition, it has created a work culture where it embraces open communication. All opinions and ideas matter.
Its philosophy for acquiring business is to do what it says it is going to do.
“We are honest in what we can offer and open when we cannot offer or solve a problem,” Plymate shares. “We take pride in our commitment to investing in advanced technology and also hiring the most talented co-workers possible.
“Hire and train well, pay fairly, offer competitive benefits, recognize hard work, don’t over commit and show appreciation.
“Communicate, communicate and communicate both internally and externally!”
KLEEN KRAFT SERVICES
Kleen Kraft Services was founded in Los Angeles by Albert Antman in 1952, and it wasn’t long before Kleen Kraft became a family business with Albert’s son, Seymour, joining the company in 1956. Today, Seymour’s son, Fred, serves as president and CEO.
Kleen Kraft started as a small retail laundry business, and over the years its dedication to high-quality service allowed it to grow.
In the 1970s, Kleen Kraft’s services had expanded to include commercial laundering and uniform rental to other small local businesses. This growth also meant acquisitions were possible, and by purchasing Supreme Laundry and Pride Uniform Rental, key personnel joined the team, including VP and General Manager Boris Zaidman and Director of Sales and Service Bob Halstead.
The company’s success has not come without challenges, and like most small independent businesses, national competitors are always a concern.
With Kleen Kraft’s focus entirely on uniform rental and facility supplies services today, hundreds of similar companies have fallen by the wayside or been bought up by national providers.
However, through strong family values and careful management, Kleen Kraft says it has maintained a steady trajectory of growth and profitability, consistently providing each client with a high level of service.
By treating its customers and employees with respect and professionalism, leadership created a company culture that people don’t want to leave. Kleen Kraft says its employees enjoy fair pay, advancement opportunities and a variety of benefits that have resulted in something rare in most businesses today—workforce longevity.
Some of its employees have worked for Kleen Kraft for 10, 20 and even 40 years. Leadership believes that if you hire the best and take care of your employees, you can offer the best in service.
For Kleen Kraft, strategic investments in equipment, industry education, continuous innovation, patience and persistence are the keys to longevity and success.
“Take care of your customers—be accessible, fair and honest,” says Zaidman. “When your customers are happy, your business will consistently grow and thrive.”
To read about the previous five companies features, click HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2. Check back Thursday for the final two long-lasting companies in the feature.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].