By PlanetLaundry staff | Dec 14, 2010
As the Coin Laundry Association closes out its 50th year of serving the needs of the self-service laundry industry, we felt the best way to cap this milestone was with a very special anniversary feature article, saluting the men and women whose creative thinking, leadership and dedication have guided the laundry business from its early days to the $5 billion industry it has become.
So, here (in alphabetical order) are the 50 who have made a difference:
As a former stockbroker with a bachelor’s degree in finance from Penn State University, Chris Balestracci represents the epitome of today’s professional, progressive, tech-savvy laundry owner. Balestracci – president of Super Wash Laundry, a mega-store located in Connecticut – is a forward-thinking, aggressive promoter who has switched his store to card technology and has been among the first to embrace online marketing for his business. In addition, the affable Balestracci is always willing to help fellow operators. The former member of the Coin Laundry Association’s Board of Directors remains a popular and engaging speaker as many CLA-hosted educational events. Balestracci was named CLA Member of the Year in 2003 and also received the association’s Outstanding Director Award last year at the Clean Show in New Orleans.
With more than 50 years in the industry, Lionel Bogut’s list of industry credentials is an impressive one, and his experience has run the gamut from multi-store ownership to owning his own commercial distributorship. Additionally, Bogut, who received the CLA’s Founder’s Award in 1997, has always given freely of his time and talent to the industry’s associations at the local, state and national levels. He has served as president of the now-defunct San Diego County Coin Laundry Association, as well as having been an active member of the CLA’s Board of Directors. Also, as publisher of the regionally distributed Coin Laundry News, Bogut continues to distribute timely industry information and business-building ideas to laundry owners in the western regional of the U.S.
Jeff Brothers currently serves as senior vice president of sales-North America for Alliance Laundry Systems. With 33 years worth of experience in the laundry business, he has gained a unique perspective on the industry, as well as an uncanny ability to recognize and anticipate the changing needs of today’s self-service laundry owners. Brothers has played a pivotal role in the strategic development and implementation of new Alliance Laundry System offerings to meet the needs of coin laundry operators, including extended warranties and popular energy-efficient laundry technologies.
In response to the specific needs of its members, the Coin Laundry Association formed CLA Insurance in 1988. Since then, CLA Insurance has been providing self-service laundry owners with property/liability and workers' compensation coverage for their businesses. And, for nearly as long, laundry owners in need of quality insurance have been turning to Ruby Burch for guidance. For more than 20 years, Burch, executive coordinator at CLA Insurance, has been handling coin laundry adjustments and claims, rating coin laundry policies, and educating CLA members on the finer points of loss control. Cynthia Neal also has served as a vital member of the CLA Insurance agency, overseeing policy endorsements and premium payment processing over the past 16 years.
Kenneth Cherry opened his first coin laundry in 1959 in Livingston, Tenn., back when the self-service laundry industry was still in its infancy. Today, he owns three stores. Cherry has always been a price leader in the laundry business and was the first owner in Tennessee to offer tiered pricing for cold, warm or hot water. Cherry joined the Coin Laundry Association in 1961, and in 1969, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Coin Laundry Association, a position he still holds. Also in the 1960s, Cherry was instrumental in the passage of a sales tax exemption for laundry owners. He received the CLA’s Leadership Award in 2002 and remains a strong leader, mentor and industry pioneer.
Sally Collins has spent a lifetime breaking down barriers for women in business – particularly in the coin laundry business. She and her husband, Joe, currently own one laundry in Lakewood, N.J.; however, over the years, they have operated as many as three award-winning stores. She is a founding member and the first woman president of the New Jersey Coin Laundry Association, and also has served as chairman of the national CLA. Collins has published numerous articles on coin laundry management, conducted workshops, and has sat on various local and national panels during her career. She is the author of “Happiness is Owning a Laundromat: An Introduction to the Coin Laundry Industry” and was recently named Citizen of the Year by the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce.
Durwood Davis was one of the true pioneers and very first distributors in the coin laundry industry. He got involved in the industry in the late 1950s in Georgia as a distributor for American Laundry Machinery, Inc., which was the largest producer of commercial laundry equipment at that time. In 1958, Davis started his own business, known to this day as Star Distributing Co., currently one of the oldest laundry distributorships in the Southeast under the same family ownership. During his career, Davis established more than 3,000 laundry facilities as a distributor, while also owning and operating 25 laundries and drycleaners in the Atlanta area. In fact, Star developed perhaps the first concept stores back in the 1970s, decades before the rest of the industry. For 12 years, Davis served on the Board of Directors of the National Automatic Laundry and Cleaning Council and later the Coin Laundry Association, during which time he chaired the Distributor Conference Committee.
Jeff Deal – president and owner of Hamilton Engineering in Livonia, Mich. – spoke at his first Clean Show in Chicago in 1979, presenting to a group of several hundred on energy conservation, and he immediately committed himself to helping to educate laundry owners. Over the last 31 years, Deal has given dozens of presentations in the fields of utilities and energy at various workshops and Coin Laundry Association events. An active member of the CLA since 1981, Deal served on the association’s Board of Directors for nine years, was elected its chairman in 2000, and was the first CLA member to be awarded the Dick Torp Memorial Award for Excellence in Education.
David DeMarsh joined BDS, his father’s company, in 1969. Ten years later, he took over operating control of the business, which today is in its third generation of family operation, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2011. DeMarsh has been a steadfast supporter of the CLA, serving on the association’s Board, including being elected chairman in 1998. For 41 years, DeMarsh has worked to strengthen the coin laundry industry one business at a time, helping entrepreneurs achieve their goals of successful business ownership. To date, BDS has helped entrepreneurs establish more than 787 new laundries or significant laundry upgrades throughout the Midwest. DeMarsh has received numerous industry awards, including the CLA’s Leadership and Founder’s Awards.
Bob Eisenberg has worked tirelessly for the betterment of the laundry industry for more than 35 years. As one of those instrumental in introducing the frontload washer to the business, Eisenberg has devoted countless hours to the CLA, educating new and experienced owners on the ins and outs of running successful stores. As a former sales manager for Wascomat, a former vice president for IPSO USA, a distributor in the Philadelphia area and a store owner himself, Eisenberg has influenced every aspect of the industry. He also served actively on the CLA Board of Directors, completing his tenure as the organization’s chairman. Eisenberg remains a highly sought after speaker across the country. He clearly loves what he does and it shows. He has been an unbelievable source of knowledge to many in this industry.
In January 2005, Michael Finkelstein became the largest laundry owner in the industry – having purchased Associated Services Corp., which currently owns and operates 116 laundry facilities. Finkelstein works directly with his management team, headquartered in Danville, Va., and has a vision of not only having the largest coin laundry company in America but the best coin laundries in America. ASC currently employs a staff of 196 full- and part-time personnel. The company was founded in 1959 by Richmond Williamson, who ran the business until 1988, expanding throughout Virginia and North Carolina. In 1988, the company was purchased by John Kluge, who added South Carolina locations and grew ASC into the largest coin laundry business in the U.S.
Mike Floyd, president of Continental Girbau and a former Coin Laundry Association chairman, is a 28-year veteran of the laundry industry. Named president of Continental Girbau in 2005 after serving 10 years as vice president, he is also a member of the Continental Girbau Board of Directors. Floyd, who served the CLA for 10 years, was honored with the 2002 Leadership Award and the 2003 Director of the Year Award and is currently serving as the Chairman of the Board for the CLA’s Laundry-Cares Foundation. As a CLA volunteer, speaker, columnist, director and chair, Floyd has shared his expertise in marketing to benefit several association programs and individual members who have leveraged his advice to grow their businesses. He has worked tirelessly to change any negative perception of the industry through targeted marketing programs, launched by the CLA.
Jeff Gardner, the owner of Sel Dale Laundromat in St. Paul, Minn., represents the industry’s growing number of professional “new age” operators. The self-proclaimed “Laundry Doctor,” Gardner – a former marketing director for the PGA Tour – has rapidly embraced today’s emerging Internet technologies as a way to promote his business and the industry in general. Gardner – also is a strong proponent of the drop-off segment of the coin laundry business – has spoken widely to laundry owners across the country on ways in which they can better market and grow their businesses. In addition, Gardner is president of the Minnesota Coin Laundry Association, where he has worked tirelessly to strengthen that organization, as well as reaching across state borders to help laundry owners and affiliate organizations in neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin. Gardner, also a director on the CLA Board, is always willing to help new operators and has an infectious outlook on the industry.
Ward Gill served as executive director of the National Automatic Laundry Cleaning Council, which later changed its name to the Coin Laundry Association. Gill then went on to head both the CLA and the Car Wash Association. While overseeing these trade organizations, he helped to develop the Clean Show concept, which of course remains the industry’s leading trade show and convention to this day. After his “retirement,” he served as executive director of the Steel Fabricating Association. And, in 1962, he worked at the original McCormick Place convention center in Chicago. Gill also served as president of The Forum (CSAE) from 1969 to 1970. After his “second retirement,” he went to work for Corcoran Expositions, one of the largest exhibit management companies in the industry.
Harvey Gitlin changed the self-service laundry industry “one vend at a time.” After years as a coin laundry distributor, he founded ESD in 1969, which revolutionized the industry by introducing a vertical coin slide to North America – thus enabling laundry owners to increase their vend prices. Over the years, ESD, based in Fort Washington, Pa., introduced several slides with even more flexibility. Then, in the early ’90s, Gitlin recognized the potential for card systems in the laundry industry, which would allow store owners to adjust vend pricing in increments as small as a penny. And, over the last two decades, ESD has developed a debit card system and a “smart” card system. Today, Gitlin’s ESD products are currently being used in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Gary Gray entered the coin laundry business in 1986 with a big splash – constructing a brand new 4,500-square-foot store. Since then, Gray has built, as well as purchased and renovated, a number of laundries. In fact, he still actively owns and operates 15 coin laundries in his home state of Arkansas. What’s more, he has helped scores of entrepreneurs break into the business in the Mid-South through his distributorship, Justin Laundry Systems. Today, JLS, which is now led by Gray’s son, Philip, is one of the fastest growing distributors in the Arkansas-Tennessee-Mississippi region. Gray still consults on every coin laundry project developed by Justin Laundry Systems and remains active with the Coin Laundry Association, for which he served as chairman of the Board of Directors.
Sumner Greenberg was one of the first coin laundry owners – a pioneer who opened his first store in Massachusetts in 1959 and greatly influenced the direction of the laundry industry. In fact, he was actively involved in persuading his home state to allow coin laundries to open on Sundays, at a time when such business practices were not commonplace. In addition, Greenberg was one of the first operators to offer his customers frontload washers, as well as wash-dry-fold services. He also was among the first owners to run his laundry business fully attended. Greenberg was ahead of the curve when it came to card systems as well – providing this payment option to customers as early as 1994. He also believed in giving back to the industry, having played a pivotal role in founding of the New England Coin Laundry Association, as well as serving actively on the Coin Laundry Association’s Board of Directors.
Mitchell Hall – the son of Louis Hall, who founded Monarch Tool & Manufacturing, which then specialized in coin acceptors for player pianos and nickelodeons – purchased the company from his father in 1936. Over the years, Hall worked tirelessly toward boosting the company’s product offerings, including a number of innovations for the laundry business. In fact, he developed and patented the first push pull style coin acceptor to be used on new commercial laundry machines. Hall also invented several timers and meter cases that have helped the laundry industry develop into what it is today. When he passed away in 2001, Hall held 57 patents, of which 30 were for the coin laundry industry. His family still runs Monarch with the third and fourth generations actively involved in day-to-day operations.
One of John Hooper’s most notable achievements was the development of today’s Easy Card debit card system for self-service laundries – a project he worked on with his son, Jeff, and an innovation that has helped to slowly reinvent the laundry business over that last couple of decades. Hooper, who served as president of family-owned Salem Laundry Co. in Salem, Mass., also was actively involved in overturning an antiquated Massachusetts ordinance that forbid self-service laundries from operating on Sundays. In addition, Hooper – who championed the concept of larger stores with frontloading washers – was instrumental in the formation of the New England Coin Laundry Association.
Gwendolyn “Gink” Howard
In 1987, Gink Howard became the first woman to chair the Coin Laundry Association’s Board of Directors – and the only reasonable question to arise from her election was, “What took so long?” At that time, Howard had already been a long-time store owner and a CLA member since 1972. As an active member of the CLA Board, she had chaired the group’s Public Relations and Membership committees – and her chairmanship was no less active. Howard oversaw Clean ’87 in Atlanta, which turned out to be the industry’s largest trade show to date (with more than 500 exhibitors and 18,000 attendees). Also, during her tenure, Howard conducted a feasibility study responding to the need for a better insurance option for laundry owners, which paved the way for the creation of CLA Insurance. Howard received the CLA’s Distinguished Service Award in 1989 and its Founder’s Award in 1994.
Monte Huebsch Sr.
Monte Huebsch Sr. used his goal-oriented, hard-working, flexible management philosophy to change coin-operated laundry forever. His parents started the Huebsch Company, and in 1931, Monte has come on board and invented the open-end drying tumbler, which brought national recognition to the business. During World War II, Huebsch provided shell casings and portable laundry units to the troops. In 1954, Huebsch created drying tumblers constructed specifically for the coin-operated laundry market. Huebsch also introduced the “Hy-Dry,” a double-load dryer used in apartment laundries in 1958. In addition, he ushered in stack dry tumblers in 1988. It was Monte Huebsch’s innovative ideas that have propelled Huebsch to become the successful brand it is today.
As a former service manager for Maytag Commercial Laundry, Jim Hunter has been a significant contributor to the commercial laundry industry for more than 40 years. Hunter has dedicated countless hours to guaranteeing the quality and reliability of self-service laundry machines. By closely working with product engineers, he assisted in the development of many time-saving equipment improvements that simplified machine use and service. What’s more, Hunter exemplifies the CLA’s mission to educate entrepreneurs in the coin laundry industry. The majority of his career was dedicated to providing service and product information to distributors and laundry owners. One could always count on Hunter for not only a solid answer to the question at hand but also a background description as to why the answer made sense. Hunter has always had a knack for explaining complex procedures in a way that is simple to understand.
Craig Kirchner, global director of commercial laundry for Whirlpool Corp., has been largely responsible for many of the successes of Maytag Commercial Laundry since 2003. Kirchner clearly understands the dedication, passion and pride laundry operators have for the industry. Leading the way, he piloted an initiative to become the first commercial laundry manufacturer to offer a complete line of energy-efficient products. Additionally, he reinforces the benefits of owning and running a coin laundry, while educating today’s owners on driving bottom-line growth. As an industry advocate, engineering energy-efficient machines and continual improvement of technical support remain at the top of Kirchner’s priority list.
Ruby Kong was a prominent figure in the coin laundry industry in northern California, as well as nationally, for more than 40 years. Kong, who was a long-time coin laundry and drycleaning operator in the Oakland area, served as executive director of the NorthCal CLA affiliate (now known as the Golden State Coin Laundry Association). She also worked as editor of the NorthCal Bulletin, the association’s popular newsletter, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Above all, as executive director, Kong was relentless in getting northern California laundry operators and distributors to attend the group’s meetings, which were held six times per year. Kong received the very first CLA Member of the Year Award in 1988. She also was recognized with the CLA’s Leadership Award in 1985.
Andrew Kretz – president of Dexter Laundry, Inc. and an employee-owner since 2002 – has served the Iowa-based manufacturer in several different capacities over the years, including director of sales and marketing, and vice president of sales, marketing and customer service. During his tenure at Dexter Laundry, Kretz has played an integral role in creating and implementing a number of critical initiatives and innovations, including Dexter’s ground-breaking Emergency Stop Button technology, as well as the company’s expansion internationally. Kretz is currently an active member of the Coin Laundry Association’s Board of Directors.
Having purchased Equipment Marketers in 1977, Dick LaMaina, along with his wife Susan, has developed the New Jersey-based distributorship into a large and stable business, which supports and strengthens the laundry products it provides. Realizing the potential for growth early on, LaMaina immediately developed a route division alongside his company’s coin laundry division – which, along with an OPL division started later, created a powerful three-fold business model. Providing Maytag equipment exclusively, LaMaina has led his sales team to multiple awards, including the Fred Maytag Award, which his company has won four times, and the first-ever Maytag OPL Award. Twice a year, LaMaina hosts impressive and very popular open house events at the company’s headquarters in Cherry Hill, N.J., for which his customers turn out in droves. Currently, he is serving on the CLA’s Board of Directors.
Jack Lanagan was one of the founders of the National Automatic Laundry Cleaning Council, which was the forerunner to today's Coin Laundry Association. During his career, Lanagan was president of Standard Change-Makers, Inc. from 1957 to 1969. He also served as a coin laundry operator in Indianapolis and, in 1971, became the owner and publisher of Coin Launderer and Cleaner magazine. In 1979, Lanagan bought Klopp Coin Counters, moved the company from Michigan to Florida, and served as its president until his retirement in July 2003. Lanagan received the CLA’s Presidential Award in 1965 and the organization’s Founder’s Award in 1988. In addition to his industry involvement, he was an arts and political activist in Indianapolis, and was appointed by the governor to two terms as an Indiana State Arts Commissioner.
Pierre Lier, who was born and raised in The Netherlands, immigrated to New York City when he was in his early 20s, where he continued his education and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. After working for several drafting firms, Lier began his career with Greenwald Industries in 1963. Forty-seven years later, Lier’s career at Greenwald has taken him from entry-level draftsman to chief engineer – and his influence on the coin laundry industry has been profound. In fact, his stamp can be found on nearly every mechanical product sold by Greenwald today. Anyone who knows and has worked with Lier, from distributors to route operators, knows the impact that his clever mind has had on the industry. Fortunately, for Greenwald and the industry, Lier shows no signs of slowing down.
Dick Luca of Super Laundry, based in Linden, N.J., has been a champion of the unconventional laundromat. For more than 40 years, he has taken non-traditional buildings, such as bus depots, and turned them into first-class laundry facilities. Luca is well known for his many “themed stores,” transforming boring walls with murals of aquariums or colorful savannahs. He also has experimented with store layout and equipment placement; for example, installing the machines in a circle, or stationing a store’s laundry attendant upon a raised, centrally located service platform. Such innovations, along with Luca’s vast industry experience, help to make each of his store’s unique and engaging focal points of their communities.
Stewart MacDonald was one of the founders and owners of the Mac-Gray Company, based in Cambridge, Mass. He also was one of the “founding fathers” of the Coin Laundry Association. “Stewie,” as he was fondly known, helped create the National Automatic Laundry Cleaning Council, which eventually evolved into the CLA. MacDonald had the vision, drive and energy to realize the industry needed an impartial organization that would look out for the best interest of the manufacturers, distributors and store owners alike. He served on the Board of Directors of the NALCC and also was very active in the formation of the New England Coin Laundry Association.
To say that Wally Makowsky is a successful, long-time laundry owner and soap distributor in the Chicago area would be accurate – but it also would be missing the point. Of course, Makowsky is also the author of The Journal’s popular, long-running stain removal question-and-answer column, “Wash with Wally.” (Yes, that Wally.) Each month, he uses his high-profile platform to positively influence the business practices of the magazine’s tens of thousands of readers. But, although Makowsky’s back-page column is the reason many laundry owners read The Journal from back to front, his local influence goes beyond the printed page. In fact, many laundry owners in the Chicagoland market won’t make a major business move without Makowsky’s input.
James McNutt Sr.
In the 1950s, working for The Nik-O-Lok Co., which was established in 1910 by his grandfather, James McNutt Sr. saw a need in the vending industry for a machine that would change a quarter for nickels and dimes. In 1955, he introduced a simple mechanical device that would do just that. The first Standard Change machine sold for $89.50, and shortly thereafter, Standard Change-Makers, Inc. was established in downtown Indianapolis. In 1956, the next generation change machine was produced. The 500 Series was a “technological breakthrough” for the vending industry. At that time, no vending machines could handle anything larger than a quarter. The 500 Series Changers converted half-dollar coins into combinations of quarters, dimes and nickels – in any configuration the operator chose. And the rest is vending – and coin laundry – history.
In 1956, a young Bernard Milch, with an engineering background and experience in laundry equipment sales, was hired to assess damage to the laundry equipment aboard the Swedish American Line’s M/S Stockholm after the ship collided with another just off Nantucket. This was Milch’s first introduction to Swedish-made Wascator frontload stainless steel washers, and he was extremely impressed; so much so, in fact, that he obtained the sales and marketing rights for Wascator machines in North America – and Wascomat was born. Today, Wascomat-equipped coin laundries can be found throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Although Milch retired in 2007, his son Neal took the reigns as CEO and long-time Wascomat employee Howard Herman was named president. In 2009, the company, now doing business as Laundrylux, introduced the Electrolux Professional Laundry brand to the North American market.
James Mitchell assured himself a place in coin laundry industry history in 1960, while the laundromat business was still in its relative infancy. An executive with the Philco Corp., Mitchell was unanimously elected as the first chairman of the National Automatic Laundry and Cleaning Council, based in Chicago. The NALCC was organized when the need was recognized for “combined effort to oppose restrictive legislation, to help increase volume and profits, and to generally work for the promotion and growth of the self-service laundry and drycleaning industry,” according to the original NALCC press release. Today, 50 years later, the Coin Laundry Association has grown and evolved, but it continues to strive to meet the lofty goals that Mitchell initially set forth in 1960.
Owning laundries in the mid-1950s and finding it difficult to locate detergent because of limited distribution, Mary Peet began purchasing large quantities packed in tubes. When other laundry owners heard of Peet’s “stockpile” and asked to purchase some, her garage became her first headquarters, and in 1959, Sudsy Automatic Vending Supplies was born. As she grew the business, soap manufacturers took notice and asked Peet to carry their products. She eventually added delivery trucks and expanded her product line to include everything a laundry would need – making Sudsy the national one-stop-shop distributor it is today. However, Peet is perhaps best known for her dedication to her customers. Sudsy remains a family-run business, and Mary Peet is still just as active in day-to-day activities as ever.
Relying upon his experience building industrial laundry machinery, Norvin Pellerin introduced the Milnor Tripleloader in 1959 as his young company – Pellerin Milnor Corp. – entered the vended laundry marketplace. At that time, coin laundry operations were primarily stocked with appliance-style topload washers. By contrast, Pellerin’s industrial-grade Tripleloader model was based upon the company’s existing product for high-volume, in-house laundries in hospitality and healthcare settings. The Tripleloader quickly became a fixture in coin laundries across the country, and the basic design of that machine remains in production today. And Pellerin, who founded the company with his father and uncle in 1947 and served as president until the early 1980s, remained active in research and development with the company until his retirement in 1996.
Mort Pollack has been a key player in the laundry business for more than 40 years. In 1968, he – along with John Wickham, the exclusive distributor of Speed Queen laundry equipment in southern California and southern Nevada, and Bernie Steinberg, the originator of Launderland "turnkey" laundries – established PWS in southern California. Well known in the industry as a pioneer of coin laundry resale, Pollack is responsible for growing the number of store owners by acquiring existing laundry chains for the sole purpose of selling each store separately to individual operators. He introduced more than 200 entrepreneurs to the business with the acquisition and resale of the Lucy’s Laundry Mart and Spin Cycle chains alone. Today, PWS is active in all facets of the industry, including replacement equipment, new stores, brokerage and customer support. And the company continues to set the bar for other distributors around the world.
Rea and Rick Rawlins
There are few self-service laundries that don’t have at least a couple of laundry carts from R&B Wire Products. And that’s thanks to Rea Rawlins, who founded R&B Wire in 1946. Rawlins’ vision was to make doing laundry simpler and more convenient for both store owners and customers alike. Over the years, he also served the laundry industry as chairman of the National Automatic Laundry and Cleaning Council, which later became the Coin Laundry Association. Of course, Rea’s son, Rick, has long since taken over as CEO of R&B. Under his leadership, R&B Wire Products has remained a leader and innovator, with such offerings as the company’s popular “Clean Wheel System.” Like his father, Rick also served as chairman of the coin laundry industry’s national trade association.
Bill Reed of Daniels Equipment Co. is a long-time veteran of the self-service laundry business and is widely considered among several of the industry’s pioneers and founders. Through his unequaled knowledge of the laundry industry – coupled with a pleasant and caring personality that is unrivaled – Reed has played a significant role in raising the industry to where it stands today – and to where it will be tomorrow. For more than four decades, Reed has played an integral part in the overall positive and profitable transformation of the coin laundry industry, as well as being one of the driving forces behind the success of the New England Coin Laundry Association.
As president of Riddle & Associates, John Riddle is the man behind the Clean Show. In fact, over the years, his name has become synonymous with the industry’s biennial trade show and convention. His diversified experience prepared him well for trade show work, which he has done for nearly 35 years ago. Six years of playing professional baseball, followed by eight years in operations and sales with the Atlanta Braves and two years as general manager of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau honed his teamwork, organizational and promotional skills. An entrepreneur at heart, he also has been a retailer, a manufacturer’s rep, a rodeo producer, a ticket broker, bred Corriente roping steers and rented portable bleachers. Riddle began working with the Clean Show in 1981 as a floor manager. When the show outgrew self-management, his company bid successfully for the job and became the show management company in 1992. Riddle is a hands-on manager, involved in every aspect of the show. What’s more, most of his staff has been with the show for more than 15 years.
If you have stack dryers in your laundry, you can thank Martin Slutsky. The founder of American Dryer Corp., Slutsky originally was one of the owners of Solon (now Coinmach), which at the time was the largest route operator in the United States. After selling his interest in Solon, he started ADC – the company that invented the 30-pound stack dryer, which is an equipment innovation that changed the coin laundry industry forever. It enabled existing stores to effectively double their dryer capacity, increased store sales tremendously and helped usher in the era of mega-stores we see today. After Slutsky’s retirement, his son, Dennis, took the reins and has grown ADC into the largest exclusively commercial/industrial dryer manufacturer in the world.
Reynolds Smith is a multi-store laundry owner from Vero Beach, Fla., who has given back to the industry many times over – both on the local and national levels. He served on the CLA’s Board of Directors for eight years, including a one-year term as chairman in 2002. In 1995 and 1998, Smith received the CLA Leadership Award. In 2003, he was the recipient of the CLA Distinguished Service Award, and in 2004, he took home the Founder’s Award. Locally, he has been a Board member of Florida Coin Laundry Association for more than 20 years, serving as president of that group for 10 of those years. Smith, who has been active in the industry for more than 30 years, currently owns four laundries in the Vero Beach area.
John and Dorwin Teeters
Brothers John and Dorwin Teeters founded Teeters Products in 1955. In those early days, they traveled to laundries across Ohio and Indiana, selling homemade detergent – and giving away soap vendors along the way in exchange for exclusive soap contracts. As business grew, the Teeters brothers used their established relationships to enter the commercial washer and dryer business. Soon, the company expanded, and Doug Grise was hired to clean equipment and manage the warehouse. However, it wasn't long before Grise worked his way up to selling equipment. And, in 1988, he purchased the company. Today, Teeters Products has one of the largest equipment showrooms in the United States, and Grise continues to build upon the foundation of hard work and relationship building started by John and Dorwin Teeters a half-century ago.
Dick Tennes was an industry pioneer and a true innovator. As the founder of Vend-Rite Manufacturing Co., Tennes was fond of saying that his company’s name was “not just a catchy phrase – it’s our way of doing business.” Among many other accomplishments, Tennes is responsible for creating “fluff-n-fold” bags, as well as the entire segment of laundry bag vending. He promoted vending in coin laundries as a customer convenience and profit center, and he delighted in working trade shows, selling the benefits of what he called the “silent salesman.” Tennes’ vision for the industry was simple and straightforward: build a quality product that will offer years of service, backed with customer service that is second to none. He also felt strongly about Vend-Rite’s membership in the Coin Laundry Association, and served actively on the organization’s Board of Directors.
Lamar Thomas, president of T&L Equipment Sales Co., got his start in the laundry industry in 1954, delivering washers and dryers to coin laundries in the Charlotte, N.C. area. In 1967, he joined his father at S.H. Duncan & Co. – and, in 1976, he opened his own company, T&L Equipment Sales. Since those early days, T&L has grown into a leading supplier of not only laundry equipment but also knowledge and expert advice for potential investors, newcomers to the industry and experienced operators alike. Over the years, Thomas has served the Coin Laundry Association on its Board of Directors, its Executive Committee, and as the chairman of its Distributor Services Committee, during which time the CLA’s Distributor Code of Ethics was written. Currently, he is the president of the North Carolina Coin Laundry Association.
Don Tomasian Sr.
Over the last 40 years, Don Tomasian Sr., president and owner of D&M Equipment Co. in Chicago, has earned the reputation as one of the most experienced and knowledgeable commercial laundry distributors in the country. He has successfully built from the ground up or modernized more than 200 laundromats. Additionally, Tomasian was one of the first to build “mega-laundries” of more than 4,000 square feet in free-standing buildings. In fact, he was the design and construction coordinator for the impressive 13,500-square-foot World’s Largest Laundromat, located in the Chicago suburbs. He also was an industry pioneer when it came to focusing on the development and installation of frontloading equipment to save on energy and water consumption. Tomasian’s calling card has been his honesty, integrity, hard work and dedication to his laundry-owner customers.
Greg Tompkins is the owner of Integrity Laundry Solutions, a distributor of coin laundry equipment, and Tompkins Appliance, a 45-year-old family business specializing in service route applications. Tompkins, an integral participant in the self-service laundry industry for several years, is largely responsible for helping to found today’s Washington Coin Laundry Association – an active organization through which Tompkins spearheaded the repeal of his state’s coin laundry sales tax. His successful efforts on behalf of tax reform within his state also indirectly led to his current position as county commissioner of Walla Walla County. Tompkins currently serves as chairman of Coin Laundry Association.
John Vassiliades, president and CEO of J. Vassiliades & Co. and WashPro USA, began his career in the coin laundry and drycleaning business more than 40 years ago. During that time, he has owned multiple stores throughout the Chicago area, while also working as both an equipment distributor and a manufacturer's representative. Vassiliades is a licensed real estate broker responsible for brokering more than 900 coin laundries. In addition, he is the former executive director of the Coin Laundry Association and CLA Insurance, a program he helped create to provide reasonable insurance rates to the underserved coin laundry business community. Also during his tenure at CLA, Vassiliades shared his broad industry knowledge by authoring one of the business’ most popular how-to books, “Today’s Coin Laundry.”
Over the years, Jeff Waggener has amassed an impressive chain of 40 self-service laundries, primarily in San Antonio, Texas. While building this laundry chain, he also was a leading distributor in the region, before eventually deciding to give up distribution to focus solely on improving his laundries to better serve the marketplace in which he dominates. Additionally, Waggener has always been willing to share his hard-earned industry knowledge with fellow laundry owners and prospective investors. He is a long-time member of the Coin Laundry Association and currently serves as secretary of the CLA’s Texas affiliate group.
With a career in the self-service laundry and drycleaning equipment business spanning five decades, Emery Wheeler has a depth of knowledge in all phases of building and running coin laundries that is difficult to equal. It all began in 1966, when Don Fowler, an old college buddy, persuaded Wheeler to join his New Jersey-based laundry distributorship. In no time at all, Wheeler had worked his way up to the position of sales manager for Fowler Equipment Co. “It’s not just about selling equipment and store plans, it’s following up with your customers and giving them the quality help you would want for yourself,” Wheeler said. “Helping others achieve their dreams of owning their own business is very rewarding.” At 88, from his home office, Wheeler continues to make entrepreneurial dreams come true.