GULFPORT — David Gross grew up around dirty laundry.
“There is a lot of dirty wash water in my veins,” said Gross, whose firm Gulf Coast Laundry Service recently made the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private businesses in the U.S. “The real quick and dirty on it is that I’m the third generation in my family to be involved in the laundry business. My grandfather, Herman, was one of the original founders of National Linen Service, which began in 1919 and became one of the largest laundry companies in the U.S. My father, Alvin, had a very successful enterprise, Broward Linen Service, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which is where I got my start in the business.”
In 1985 Gross moved from Florida to Las Vegas to run what was at the time the largest laundry service in the country, Western Linen Service. The company provided laundry services to hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. He ran that company for four years, and in 1991 went to work for Mirage Resorts — the parent company of Beau Rivage — as executive director of laundry services.
“It was in that capacity I came down here in 1996 to determine how the laundry service needs of the Beau Rivage would be met when that hotel opened,” Gross said. “When it was clear no existing laundry service on the Gulf Coast could handle the needs of the Beau Rivage, I was asked to open a private venture here on the Gulf Coast because the company didn’t want to operate a laundry. The rest is history.”
Gross landed other major casino hotel accounts with Grand Casino as well as the Isle of Capri, and grew 571% between 1998 and 2002. Its growth put it as number 310 on Inc. magazine’s list of fastest growing private companies. The company with 140 employees had revenues of $6.5 million in 2002.
The company processes between 14,000 to 16,000 bed sheets each day in addition to other laundry such as towels and uniforms. About 5,500 hotel rooms are served by the business, including more than 1,000 rooms in New Orleans.
Many casino execs feel the space within their hotel is too valuable for laundry facilities.
Instead, that area should be used for income-making enterprises.
“If they locate the laundry off premises, they have all the issues of being in the laundry business and supervision of a separate business,” Gross said. “Most casino hotels elect not to do that. Also, it is a drain on management. If there is a viable alternative, it is generally a better route to outsource this function. As more hotels have decided to outsource over the past five years, our business has grown.”
The Beau Rivage is the Coast’s largest hotel with 1,780 rooms. Before even beginning the work for Beau Rivage, Gross put in a call to Grand Casino’s corporate offices and learned with the expansions planned at both the Biloxi and Gulfport Grand properties, the Grand was looking at doing away with their on-premise laundry facilities.
“Consequently they made a decision not to build an off-premise laundry, but gave me a contract for Biloxi and Gulfport properties,” Gross said. “The only stipulation was we had to be open by February 1998. We had about 100 days from the day they said ‘yes’ to get it open. That was a major challenge but we did get it open on time, and our accomplishment was written up in trade publications. We were producing in time for the opening of the Bayview Hotel in Biloxi.”
Since then Gross has added the Isle of Capri in Biloxi, and also runs two tractor trailer loads of linen each night to hotel properties in downtown New Orleans.
The company, located on Seaway Road in Gulfport, has already gone through two major capital improvements, and is starting a third one. Approximately $7 million has been invested in automated equipment and a Web-based production and management information system.
Gross has found the business climate on the Coast to be good, but the biggest challenge has been finding reliable workers.
“Most businesses along the Gulf Coast struggle with the exact same problem,” Gross said. “About 35% of our workforce is contract labor that we utilize because we can’t find enough people locally who can pass a drug test, will come to work everyday, and are willing to work in a laundry plant — even though this is a high-tech laundry that has great pay and benefits. It has been frustrating for me that we can’t find enough local employees.
“Our core group of local staff members does a fantastic job. However, with our extraordinary growth, we have needed more people than have been available. To address the challenge, we use companies that have brought in people from outside the U.S. who are here on temporary work visas. We have an international workforce not just from Mexico, but from many of the former Soviet Union countries. They do just an absolutely fabulous job. We are very proud of them.”
Gross attributes the success of his company more to the workforce than the high-tech laundry equipment.
“There is no question the major reason this business has been successful is the workforce we have does a marvelous job,” Gross said. “It is about putting out a good-quality product each day that our customers really appreciate, and their customers, as well. People who work on the floor of that plant put out 70,000 pounds of laundry every single day.”
To view the laundry operation, you don’t have to visit the facility. Instead, log onto the Web site www.gclaundry.com, which, according to Gross, is the only Web site on the Internet where you can see a live laundry operation.
“There are 14 Web cams around the plant,” he said. “We have gotten a lot of positive feedback from customers and prospective customers on the live Internet service.”
Employees came up with another use for the Web cams. The plant’s two production teams compete to see who has the highest productivity level.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.