As I travel around our state, I see too many small towns that are struggling to hold on because they have lost their industrial base. Plants and buildings that once housed busy workers are collecting dust. While it is not easy, there are opportunities to reenergize these towns and create new jobs for local residents. These towns have a lot to offer, and by collaborating with the right businesses, can create win-win opportunities. Bert Rubinsky is a Mississippi-based entrepreneur who has built his company, First Class Linen, into a dominant force in the linen rental business while creating a significant number of jobs in the process. Located in Durant, the company has approximately 95 percent of the market share of the fine and casual dining market in Jackson and about 60 percent in Memphis. With a product line focusing on napkins, mats, towels and tablecloths, First Class Linen serves casinos and gaming, restaurants, country clubs, convention centers and other hospitality locations, such as universities, colleges, and schools.
A native of Jackson, Rubinsky grew up around his family’s business. His parents, Toby and Betty Rubinsky, started Jackson Industrial Uniform Service in 1959. After graduating from LSU, he began working in the family business in 1983. Rubinsky shared, “After some experience in the uniform rental industry, I saw an opportunity to open a denim finishing plant in the Jackson area. This included everything from acid washing to formulating the correct wash technique to accomplish certain colors as requested by the manufacturer.”
The opportunity to grow in uniform rental and denim finishing began to shrink after NAFTA passed, and Rubinsky realized that he needed to look into other niches for strategic growth. He observed that there was a high demand for a linen rental service in hospitality and food and beverage, and the area was underserved. After his parents passed, Rubinsky sold Jackson Industrial Uniform Services to G&K Services, and in 2001, First Class Linen was born. He and his business partner, Kenny Perry, have grown the company from the ground up. They started with zero clients and have since grown to 167 employees with 1,000 customers and $10 million in revenue.
Rubinsky shared, “The laundry industry hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years and is in desperate need of some modernization in a variety of areas, such as implementing better energy efficiency practices, using better fabric choices for durability purposes, etc.” As a leader, Rubinsky tries to find ways to be innovative. He advises future leaders to “be forward thinking about how to improve whatever industry you are in, but maintain a balanced focus and stay at the forefront of what’s needed today.” He believes that it is important to be the best in your field and not just “the best wherever you may be located.” In addition to expanding his core business, Rubinsky is also looking to expand. He is looking to expand into the next market where he sees opportunity – leasing, renting and selling better quality medical textiles and apparel. In fact, the United States Patent and Trademark Office recently issued him a patent on fabric with antimicrobial properties. “The fabric, ‘B++’ will first be used to create bactericidal incontinent pads, sheets, pillow cases, patient gowns and operating room apparel and sold to medical institutions and facilities,” according to Rubinsky. His goal is to “minimize the bacterial pollution in medical environments.” Rubinsky will sell these products and a line of bacteriostatic apparel, through a new endeavor, Medical Grade Innovations.
Rubinsky is a great example of an entrepreneur who with vision and passion can take a traditional industry like laundry and apply innovation and expertise to create a significant market presence. Because of his efforts, Rubinsky has brought some much needed jobs to Durant, and I am sure he will continue to be a job creator for our state.
Up Close With Bert Rubinsky
Title: CEO, First Class Linen
Favorite Books: Sales books by Jeffrey Gitomer
First Job: Working in the soil room at Jackson Industrial Uniform Service
Proudest Moment as a Leader: President of Beth Israel Congregation
Hobbies/Interests: “Sports and following local players – Mo Williams, Jerry Rice, Deuce McAllister, Eli and Peyton Manning. Watching and attending LSU and Saints football events.”
Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.