Look for the Silver Lining

Daniel, Mark, Ben and Jarryd Halberstadt outside Faster Linen in Toronto.

Sometimes you lose an account when a competitor offers a lower price, or when a new purchasing agent takes over at the client’s company – or both. That’s what happened to Faster Linen Service Ltd. of Toronto, Ontario, when the National Hockey League (NHL) accepted a much lower price to clean towels and other products needed by the teams for the pandemic-shortened season. It might have been a time for despair, but owner Mark Halberstadt told his sons Jarryd, Ben and Daniel, “Just wait and see.”

It’s sage advice, since sometimes the ‘new/quoting’ company doesn’t work out as well as it could. Mark never burns a bridge, and always keeps the door open for renegotiation.

Faster Linen production area in full operation.

The job was time-critical. Each day, 12 teams would be working out, and 20 players per team needed towels before and after practice. The ‘season’ was set to run just 45 days, and those towels had to be there on time every day. It added up to over 1,700 towels per each of the two venues, and they had Gatorade logos on them that might prove tricky to clean.

Disaster struck early. The first 400 towels cleaned by the competitor were ruined. Not only did the logos run, but the towels were not coming to the facilities on time. Landing the account was only part of the equation – servicing it proved to be more difficult.

Keep the door open

“Our business is about relationships, which leads to partnerships,” said Mark. He was not too proud to go back to the NHL upon getting a phone call from their operations team, and offer to do whatever it took to provide the service required. It’s his mantra: Kill ’em with service, service, service, and more service.

He got the job back, which meant long hours for his team. Towels had to be there by 8:30 a.m. each day, and they required 24-hour turnaround on servicing. Because of the threat of Covid-19, Faster Linen had to service all the venues ‘in a bubble’ – everybody was in lock-down, and security was tight. Everything had to work smoothly, as the various teams could not play or practise without these clean towels.

Faster Linen did so well, they received a hand-written note from the NHL after the season, thanking them for their commitment to excellence. “It’s a real feather in our cap,” Mark said. It’s also a great example to others to persevere even when things look dark.

It’s all in the attitude

Mark is, admittedly, a guy who likes slogans. But he doesn’t just mouth them, he lives them – and expects his team to follow suit. Another favourite is, ‘Solve to resolve; resolve to solve.’ In other words, no quick fixes. Make it right, don’t put a band-aid on it and let it come back and get you later.

The pandemic has put a lot of people in difficult situations, and creative marketing has been key to getting new customers and keeping company growth on-track. But you have to be on the lookout for the opportunities. When the Covid crisis began, Mark began seeking new ways to help out, as well as keep the plant busy. His answer was in PPE – Personal Protective Equipment. Specifically, reusable gowns.

“I talked to a dentist friend of mine, and asked what he was doing to stay safe,” Mark said. “He told me they were wearing disposable gowns, gloves, masks and face shields whenever they worked with patients.” When asked what they paid for such gowns, the dentist said it was roughly $10 per disposable gown. Mark saw an opportunity.

Dr. Cappell and his assistant in the Level 2 PPE gowns.

He used his contacts to locate a supply of high-quality, Level 2 reusable PPE gowns. Unlike many of the cheap versions, these are comfortable to wear, include cuffs, and cost about the same as three of the disposables. “However, they only cost $1.29 to wash, and will hold up for about 150 washes,” Mark said. When he put the numbers in front of his dentist friend, it was a no-brainer. Soon Faster Linen was in the gown-supplying and gown-washing business, increasing their volume to keep employees busy.

Just survive, or thrive?

It’s up to each company owner whether they eke out a living in tough times, or embrace the challenge to bring in new business. Thinking outside the proverbial box is essential, and the next opportunity may come as a complete surprise. Watching for it, anticipating it, dreaming it up are the traits that successful entrepreneurs are finding even more important today than ever before.

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