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More Pressing Business: Springfield Laundry is working on cleaning up beyond dry cleaning

By Kathy Halper

If it can be cleaned, we’ll clean it.” That’s the can-do philosophy of Jimbo Carrico at Springfield Laundry. It’s an attitude that serves him well as he negotiates the downward cycle of the dry cleaning industry and the competitive nature of uniform rentals.

Covering the 18 counties of central Kentucky, Springfield Laundry offers dry cleaning and laundry along with uniform and linen rentals. Three facilities service their customer’s laundry needs. Industrial laundry is processed along with some dry cleaning at Springfield Laundry. Another store, Rainbow Cleaners in Danville, provides dry cleaning and shirt laundry, while in Lexington there is a drop store location for dry cleaning.

“We are a mixed plant. There is not much we don’t do,” says Carrico.

Approximately 600 customers make up the uniform and linen rental business, with linen accounting for half of that figure. The company has always sold direct, as well, supplying anything anyone asks. In the past year it has started to develop more direct sales.

Surrounded by small homes and a nearby church, Springfield Laundry can be found one block from Main Street in downtown Springfield. It’s not exactly an industrial area to be sure in this town of 2,500 people, but it is perhaps fitting for the decades-old family-
run business.

Carrico’s grandfather, Maurice Carrico, started Springfield Laundry in 1939. His brother Perry joined him after World War II. It was strictly a dry cleaning and laundry service. Ownership gets a little confusing after that.

In the mid 1970s, the second generation consisted of Maurice’s son, Perry, and Perry’s son J.B., along with Leo Carrico (no relation). “Leo worked for my grandfather for a long time and got to be so good at his job in maintenance and garment cleaning that he was offered one-third ownership,” Carrico says. That shift in ownership allowed the business to move into the industrial rental business.

In 1995, Jimbo came into the business. The third generation took hold in 2002 when Leo’s kids didn’t have an interest in the business. Instead, Perry’s son, Jimbo, and J.B.’s son, Perry Thomas, split Leo’s share and a couple of years later split Perry’s share. J.B. is still a partner but plans to retire after 2013. Don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz on this later.

The Springfield Laundry facility employs about 30 production employees with five or six routes and one dry cleaning route. In Danville, 25 people are employed with two dry cleaning routes. The Lexington location has three employees.

Much of the industry in the area relates to Toyota manufacturing, so there is a lot of auto related business. Toyotomi, a parts manufacturer for Toyota, is one of Springfield Laundry’s direct accounts. Carrico say, “Employees come into the store and we fit them. We clean what we call COG (customer owned goods) where we clean their apparel.” Mats and other products are also rented.

“Our background in dry cleaning means we know how things should look.” Carrico cites this as a big help in the uniform industry. “You can tour laundry plants and see the difference. Products come out of our plant definitely looking better. It may not be the cheapest way of doing things, but you see the difference in the quality.”

Carrico knows his customers really appreciate that the owners are an integral part of the business. “As opposed to companies that require meetings to schedule meetings,” he says, the owners at Springfield Laundry can be talked to directly anytime. Carrico personally manages the sales team and is proud of being a local company.

As a response to the competitive nature of the rental business, a salesman was added four years ago. “[Our sales were] all word of mouth, and while we still benefit from that, we can’t rely on that.” Carrico acknowledges that before an outside sales force was added, sales were stagnant. Now there is 5- to 10-percent growth on the industrial side per year. But new sales can bring their own challenges. In addition to considerable upfront costs to bring in new business, it can take time to get the initial investment returned. “So if we get a five-year contract, depending on the customer, it might take up to a year until you start to see profits on that account with all things considered,” he cautions.

A shift in management style occurred two years ago. Prior to that, the owners basically came in and did whatever need to be done. “Press a shirt, get a spot out of something, whatever,” Carrico says. There were no designated responsibilities, and the company wasn’t growing. With dry cleaning declining, the management team divided up the duties. Now Carrico manages everything related to uniforms. Perry and J.B. oversee everything related to production and plant management. “We have made an investment here so the profits aren’t necessarily there yet, but it is growing,” says Carrico regarding the new, more focused approach.

A new website with UniformMarket creates a more professional look for the company and has resulted in some surprising orders from outside of Kentucky.

Carrico is quick to admit that promoting the company is not his strength. “I’ll be the first to tell you we are terrible with marketing.” There is no “tech” person on staff so they are looking to other resources to try to improve efforts in that area.

Looking to the future, Jimbo knows that dry cleaning is pretty flat and the uniform business is very competitive. But he remains optimistic that, with sales people in the field, they can grow in the tight market. “If you are in the right place at the right time, there is always business to be had when larger companies don’t live up to their sales pitch. I do see major opportunities out there.”

Not surprisingly, he would not recommend the dry cleaning business for someone looking for a business pursuit, “unless you grew up in it.” He cites examples of someone doing what a garment tag says should be the proper way to clean it, but it is not always what is really best. His training and expertise is vital to providing the customer service that is so critical. And he has a hard time imagining anyone starting up a uniform rental business that doesn’t already exist, with direct sales being an exception.

Prior to Springfield Laundry, Carrico served in the military and studied business management at the University of Kentucky. It was not presumed that he would follow in the footsteps of the other Carricos, but at some point his dad needed help and he came on board.

In 1997 someone broke in and started a fire in the Danville facility, closing it for eight months while it was rebuilt. During that time, all business was processed in Springfield. Ironically, Carrico relays, running everything in the one location meant longer hours but proved to be surprisingly profitable.

In his private life, Carrico has an equally powerful partner in his wife. She is the property valuation administrator in Springfield, an elected position. Her uncle was chief of staff to the governor. In addition to a 15-year-old son, Carrico and his wife have an adopted son from Florida, affectionately nicknamed “Gator.” With a new child at home, Jimbo finds his time limited, though he does play a lot of golf.

In the end, while the crystal ball for the dry cleaning industry may not look terribly bright, it appears Jimbo Carrico and his family at Springfield Laundry are well prepared to continue reaching out for new business opportunities. And if their efforts so far in the commercial laundry and rental fields are any indication, they will continue to clean up in the heart of Kentucky and well beyond.

 

Springfield Laundry

207 East High St.

Springfield, KY 40069

1-888-806-8306

www.springfieldlaundry.com