Valley Linen Supply serves the vibrant Aurora and greater Chicago market with linen and garment rental to restaurants, banquet facilities, hotels, country clubs, health clubs, retirement communities and healthcare facilities. Owners Leo Ahasic Jr., President, and wife Barbara Ahasic, Human Resource Director, are the third generation of the Ahasic family to lead the 96 year old company which has a rich history in the laundry industry. Today, the firm continues to embrace core values that include providing the best service and quality to their customers as well as a positive, enjoyable work environment.
In reviewing the company’s rich history, the Ahasic family’s vision and leadership are major factors in the company’s success. Founded in 1919 as Aurora Wet Wash, a residential washing service, the company embraced new opportunities over the years to today’s third and fourth generation’s focus on rental. From modest beginnings to today’s 35,000 sq ft plant, this family business continues to thrive.
President Leo Ahasic recalls, “In the beginning my grandfather Caspar Ahasic took in residential laundry. He picked up cotton net bags on his route, washed and returned the wet laundry. While most customers line dried their own laundry, some paid an upcharge to have their laundry dried, ironed and folded.”
Fourth generation, Jacqueline Ahasic, Leo and Barbara’s daughter, continues, “The company grew first by adding small businesses to the residential service and then, by embracing major changes such as dry cleaning which became an important opportunity for growth. ”
When Caspar’s sons returned from service after World War II, the family venture grew quickly. In the 60s, hospitals and hotels hired the company to launder their linens. All aspects of the business was booming and the plant continued to expand in size, equipment and employees, eventually adding a dry cleaning route servicing 15 local dry cleaners who outsourced 10,000 shirts a week.
Current President, Leo Ahasic, Jr. joined the firm in 1974 after military service. The following year, linen and uniform rental was added to the already full list of service offerings. The business was at capacity, but, as Leo points out, “busy” does not equal “profitable.”
Recalls Leo, “New players entered the market and low balled large hospital accounts. Without regard to quality of service, many bean counters switched to the competition. There was no loyalty. We had over 250 employees working long hours six days a week and were just trading dollars. It wasn’t profitable and it wasn’t fun.” Leo recalls. “I saw the writing on the wall.”
After careful analysis, management chose to focus on the more profitable sectors of the business and, by the early 90s, the majority of Valley Linen’s income was coming from linen and uniform rental. By 1999, the residential and small business “bring your own goods” laundry service was phased out as was processing of shirts for other dry cleaners.
By focusing on the profitable linen supply and uniform rental business, the workforce was reduced from 250 to around 75. Says Leo “Everything changed. We were able to close on weekends and the work is much more profitable. We’ve had steady growth every year since then with the exception of 2008 and even then we did better than many businesses.”
As Valley Linen focused on the most profitable segments, healthcare rental service was limited to small clinics, surgery centers, doctor and dental offices. “We can control inventory and these customers don’t demand a 7-day per week operation like the hospitals.”
The current Valley Linen Supply staff is smaller than in the past years but remains a vital component of the operation. “Their commitment and 800 years combined industry experience are key to providing exceptional service to our customers. The employee average tenure is over 13 years with one employee clocking more than 60 years of service. This low turnover is directly attributed to the positive work environment Valley Linen Supply offers. We’re not overbearing and we are easy to get along with.” says Leo.
While enjoying steady growth from referrals, the Valley Linen Supply Team continues to actively seek out new customers. Marketing Director and Sales Manager Jacqueline Ahasic says “We’ve put a lot of effort into our online presence with a new website and a focus on SEO. We are also actively posting to our Facebook page with new products and updates. We are seeing great results from the updates to our website as well as our focus on SEO. Updating our website was something we knew we needed to do for awhile so the time and effort was worth while and the money well spent.”
Additionally, Route Representatives are encouraged to seek new clients and ask for referrals. They are rewarded by recognizing them for bringing in leads and commission for every sale they bring in. Jacqueline adds, “We get a lot of new business from referrals and word of mouth. It seems that most new customers come to us because current customers are telling others about the great job we are doing for them.”
Great customer service gives Valley Linen Supply customers something to talk about. A willingness to try new products helps too. Jacqueline adds, “Many of our hospitality customers want to stand out and we help them do that by finding specialty linens in unique colors and high end materials. Some of our customers take advantage and are using checks, stripes, and even monograms. Thankfully we have an operations manager that is skilled at washing custom fabrics separately on some of our smaller washers. Customers see that we are willing to go the extra mile to help them stand out in the marketplace.”
Looking to the future
Like all businesses Valley Linen Supply continues to face challenges. Increased costs for employee healthcare coverage and negotiating with the unions about pensions are two recent examples.
Rising water and sewer costs are also a concern but a recently installed recycling system should help. Leo noted “Our target goal is to reuse 50% of our water and we are trending toward that. The system should pay for itself in 4 years.”
The third and fourth generation of this family business continues to embrace change and growth. Thriving during the lengthy economic downturn demonstrates their ability to meet and overcome challenges.