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Mission Accomplished: How Mission Linen Has Laundered to Success for Eight Decades

George Benson “Ben” Page left his home at the age of 16 with dreams of becoming a cowboy. He hopped a freight train heading west and ended up in Los Angeles, where he landed a job greasing cars. Later, he oiled equipment for Peerless Laundry, a job Page claims put “laundry in his blood.” The year was 1919, and the foundation for a future opportunity had been laid.

While working for Peerless, Page heard of another opportunity across town and persuaded the owner of Domestic Laundry to let him fix up an old truck and solicit customers on straight commission. Within six months, Page had built the largest route the laundry ever had. When he turned 27, Page headed north to Santa Barbara, and after working for a laundry there and building another large route, he decided to apply his sales ability and business know-how to form his own business. Thus, in 1930, Mission Linen Supply was born.

After more than 80 years since its inception, Mission Linen Supply is still headquartered in Santa Barbara and remains family owned. Linda Page, Ben’s daughter, is chairwoman of the company’s board of directors. In September of 2009 Mission Linen Supply brought on President and CEO Karl Willig to help this flourishing business continue to grow.

The Mission Linen business model remains fairly traditional. The management team works hard to provide the basics – giving excellent customer service, helping customers manage their expenses by managing their inventory, making capital improvements to facilities, and investing in employees and the communities where they work.

But at the same time, their success is also due in part to how they’ve adapted to important changes over the years by introducing new technologies, responding to the changing economic climate and protecting the planet. At the core of any successful business is the ability to be flexible and to know how to respond when the rules change. This has been accomplished by providing unparalleled customer service; that includes constantly keeping in touch with customers and staying informed about their ongoing business needs.

Willig says, “As Mission Linen Supply has grown into a large, Western U.S. company, it has never forgotten or abandoned its dedication to thinking and doing business locally. Many of our customers have been with us for decades, and we remain committed to providing them with quality product and unmatched service.”

Mission’s business units are largely comprised of three main categories: linen, healthcare and industrial. Healthcare in particular has seen tremendous growth throughout the organization. One of the main areas that set Mission apart from the pack is its dual business units of providing both uniform and linen rentals, in the hospitality markets as well as industrial accounts. In addition, as it’s grown, its capacity and capabilities have increased, so it now also serves corporate accounts and city and county governments.

Mission Linen works with any business that has dirty laundry, a restroom or dust control needs. It is also attentive to any company that wants to improve its image, control expenses and be sensitive to the environment. Among the core industries it’s worked with are:

– Hotels/Motels
– Restaurants
– Spas
– Automotive Facilities/Car Dealerships
– Hospitals/Medical Facilities
– Municipalities
– Manufacturing Facilities
– Agricultural Facilities
– Waste Management
– Power Facilities

One of the 40,000 clients is The Wine Group, an organization located in Ripon, Calif., that offers everyday and premium wines in numerous packaging formats. TWG wanted to work with a company that could serve multiple accounts, was invested in sustainability and could consolidate the services it had been using to support its uniform and dust control purchases. With Mission Linen’s help, including its extensive product offering, pricing and service team, TWG consolidated its number of uniform providers from five to one.

Another key client is the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, where Mission Linen provides linens and garments to the Arizona State Veteran Home (ASVH) in both Tucson and Phoenix. Here, Mission Linen provides healthcare and dietary lines and dust control products, as well as uniforms and garments for housekeeping, kitchen and maintenance staff. Homer Rogers, assistant deputy director of ASVH says that choosing to partner with Mission Linen Supply on the Tucson location was an easy decision. “The changing demands of the Tucson facility require flexibility and great service on the part of our supplier. Mission Linen had already demonstrated that they are capable of managing our needs in Phoenix, so we knew they would be able to offer the same quality and service to us in Tucson.”

There are a multitude of garment considerations that run the full gamut including tablecloths, napkins, chef coats and pants as well as police, automotive, municipalities and trash removal uniforms among others. In the healthcare arena, textiles range from sheets, towels and blankets to lab coats and surgical scrubs. Mission Linen also rents and sells mats for floor care as well as restroom supplies. The standard work garments line has grown, and more industries and businesses are adapting this model to strengthen their brand and improve their image. There are also more style options available for women, and everybody has more choices to meet current trends in fashion, comfort and safety.

Mission Linen was built on the rental model, renting uniforms and linens for the hospitality and industrial industries as well as restroom products. The rental sector allows its customers to focus on their individual businesses while Mission Linen takes care of their uniforms, diminishing a major area of concern for an owner. Doing this gives customers the assurance that their employees are always wearing clean uniforms since everything is being processed properly at a Mission Linen facility. The process is now completely streamlined, and problems like uniform wear and tear or contamination are no longer matters of customer management concern.

In more recent years, Mission Linen Supply has expanded its service offering to include direct sale items such as restroom paper products, soaps and sanitizers, waste can liners and a variety of synthetic gloves. These product lines are a natural fit for customer needs, and the direct sales approach has allowed Mission Linen to serve as a one-stop shop.

With the changing economic climate and the recent recession that forced many organizations to scale back on their costs, the option to rent or buy garments and supplies directly served as a key differentiator. Now products such as paper napkins could be sold to the customer directly, or their employees could purchase uniforms outright and launder them themselves.

“Our direct sales offering has allowed us to be of much greater service to our customers,” says Mark Whitten, vice president of sales. “Our route sales and service reps were stopping multiple times weekly to deliver linen and uniforms; but now the same stop responds to much more of our customers’ needs at lower cost and with fewer intrusions into the customers’ businesses.”

As Mission Linen expands its direct sales division, tools like customized websites have been adopted to meet all their customers’ needs. This “higher tech” approach, which also includes the UniformMarket eCommerce platform, offers new opportunities to strengthen relationships with customers and provide products and services that meet their specific needs. These include employee apparel programs where a customer’s employees buy their garments directly. This turnkey service allows staff members to have garments shipped straight to them so they have exactly what they need when they go to work. This streamlined process is where Mission Linen has seen the most progress from a web store perspective. It takes extra work away from customers and ensures that their employees are in the corporate uniform.

The latest web project has been building an online storefront for the direct sales division. After listening to customers, it determined that offering online ordering services was an important and necessary adjunct to the current business model. Customers now have multiple ways to interact with Mission Linen staff, and it’s pleased to provide them with a convenient way to view and order products.

Mission Linen has also begun new relationships with several large, corporate accounts, developing online company stores and selling approved-only items to ensure that multiple locations are leveraging, honoring and strengthening their brand. For example, the online store for the University of California campuses offers the university control and provides employees with the convenience of ordering university-approved items online.
The internet is no longer just a valuable marketing tool; it’s a requirement for doing business today. Mission Linen has built an informative and engaging site that answers questions, appeals to customers’ concerns and directs more people to their business. The standard is ensuring that the site not only makes it easier for to run the business, but that customers gain efficiencies, too.

At the same time, using technology to become more efficient doesn’t replace the “personal” service that Mission Linen has always prided itself on. It offers an abundance of special services that others do not, including customization, tailoring, special orders, training and product demos. In addition, because it has so many facilities – more than 40 locations across the Southwest – it’s able to offer emergency service during off hours. That’s a key benefit when working with hospitals, restaurants or any business that may unexpectedly run out of items on the weekend. Knowing that customers can always get what they need keeps them happy, and in turn they can focus on pleasing their own customers instead of worrying about garments or supplies. Everyone wins.

“In an industry that has been less than speedy in adopting technology, Mission Linen has been a leader in using 21st century tools to provide better service and support to our customers,” says Tony Mancuso, Mission’s vice president of corporate services.

Mission Linen makes a point to have what customers look for when they choose business partners: reliable service and quality products. Beyond that, it’s the “added value” aspects of the business that make the difference. And today, customers are eager to work with companies that are environmentally responsible, so that has also become a key priority for Mission.

Currently, Mission Linen is one of the largest industrial laundries on the West Coast, with around 2,500 employees. It operates in five states: California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon. Its vision for the future is a financially sound company that responds to its customers’ needs, is sensitive to employee concerns and contributes to the well-being of the local and global communities.

Most of the Mission Linen facilities are in industrial park, locations and its vehicle fleet travels to its customers. This has been very well received, primarily because of the personal service and especially the human element. The average employee has been at the company for more than 11 years, so customers establish a strong relationship with employees.

Additionally, Mission Linen delivery trucks have always been an excellent form of advertising. Employees and clients are also another terrific advertising mechanism; it’s not uncommon to get referrals from current customers who spread the word about the outstanding service that they’ve received. Mission also advertises in trade publications, and it tries to maintain a strong community presence in locations where it has facilities.

When Carl Willig, President and CEO, started in the business, he didn’t know what a complex industry this was. “Figuring out the complexities has been part of the challenge, and the fun,” says Willig. “There are so many aspects to what we do; we need to be smart in a lot of different areas. Over the years, I’ve had to learn quite a bit about the environment, the financial markets, changes and advances in technology, as well as working to understand each and every customer’s business so we can be an effective partner. But learning about these things is what’s made the work fun and interesting, and I wouldn’t change any of it.”

To be successful in the current economic climate, Mission Linen focuses on reducing expenses and managing resources. Its approach relies on finding efficiencies and limiting new initiatives to maintain a strong market position. But it is confident that if it continues to rely on “first principles” – providing the best customer service that it can, supporting its employees, giving back to its communities and protecting the environment – it will no doubt continue to build on the successes it has enjoyed since Ben Page first opened the original location.

Mission Linen
725 E. Montecito St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
Phone: (805) 963-0414
www.missionlinen.com