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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Racking It Up

Each day hotels across the country struggle with a big cost of doing business: linens. With a roughly three month life cycle at hotels, and just six weeks at many gyms, towels are big business. Carol Moran, founder of A-1 Textiles & Hospitality Products Inc., has built her company on replacing them. “My husband used to work for a company that supplied chemicals to hotels, and they were always asking him where to buy towels,” Moran recalled. “So eventually we figured, well, we’ll get them the towels.” Founded in 1976, the Pacoima textiles distribution company sits at No. 57 on the Business Journal’s list of Fastest Growing Private Companies. Revenue grew 10 percent over the last two years to $17.2 million. While A-1 supplies linen items to gyms, athletic teams and hospitals, much of its business is done within the hotel industry. And the company has expanded to offer robes, pillows, sheets, bedspreads and other textiles. “Our growth really comes from looking at what new things we can do for our clients,” Moran said. Those new things can add up to big money, and industry experts say keeping up-to-date on products is key to a successful linen vendor’s business. “We call it ‘amenity creep’ in the industry,” said Louise Crespin, creative services manager for Hospitality International Inc., the parent company of five franchised hotels brands based in Tucker, Ga. “When one of the large hotel companies adds or changes an amenity, then everyone else wants that. For any vendor, including A-1 Textiles, to continue to be successful, they have to stay on top of the trends and make sure that they have the products everyone wants.” Finding A Niche When the company was founded, Moran, 63, and her husband and partner Greg Pfleger focused first on the generic white towels in different sizes, with some colored pool towels, expanding later to sheets and bedding. “We had all local clients back then,” Moran recalled. “It was a lot of us going out to get clients.” The company slowly grew, taking on clients including several LA Fitness and 24-Hour gym locations and local hotels such as the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys. The company struggled for the first five years, but gradually maxed out the space at its small warehouse in Chatsworth and purchased land to build its own facility in 1996. The company now has a large warehouse near Hansen Dam in Pacoima, tucked away in an industrial block. Moran supervises the 32 employees from her office at the same location. The company has six other distribution locations across the country to ship to national clients as far away as New York. But Moran still stays actively involved in the day-to-day operations, despite the fact that employees now handle many of the responsibilities she once performed. When she walks through the offices and warehouse, Moran can rattle off the contents of the hundreds of pallets of linens piled high to the ceiling, touch base with workers about orders and relay shipping information to her warehouse manager. Most of her time is now spent coordinating upcoming presentations at trade shows and working with the mills that create new products. “She’s always going out and finding out what’s new, what we need to be selling, and showing our stuff at trade shows,” said Howard Fischer, who has been a salesman at A-1 for 18 years. “She’s always working on something.” As a response to years of slow sales during the recent recession, A-1 launched its own Golden Mills brand of products, which the company sells to other wholesale distributors. “It was something we had to do,” Moran said. “It added to our business and really gave us an identity so that customers could identify us with the quality we provide.” Moran takes an active role in crafting those products, even though the company does not manufacture the linens it labels. Most of the mills are in China now, she said, and some towels come from Pakistan and Bangladesh. As demand from hoteliers for environmentally friendly products grew in recent years, she worked with representatives from one of the Chinese mills to get the manufacturer certified green and developed the A-1’s Eco Green line of bedding. Creating new lines is how the company plans to continue to grow. “We have to find new ways to sell linens – we don’t sell toiletries,” Moran said. “So that leaves us with all the linen options in a room. Our growth comes from what new things we can do.” Staying Ahead While much of the company’s early growth came without a strategic plan, Moran said she now has been forced to be more structured in her thinking. “Our calendar for next year is done, and we know what trade shows we’re going to participate in, and we know what a lot of our products will be,” she said. A trend toward adding color in linens for use on luxury hotel beds is something that has significantly added to company sales in the last year. “A few years ago, everything shifted to white – to emphasize to guests how clean it was,” Moran said. “But the problem with white is obvious. Guests come into a room and put their suitcase on the bed, put their feet up and it gets dirty. So now hotels are putting colored items on the beds to save themselves some costs.” Additionally, the company will add to its Eco Green line. But that does not guarantee that clients will spring for the new items. According to long-time salesman Fischer, while the new products keep A-1 looking forward, sometimes urging clients to adopt the new products isn’t as easy as it sounds. “It’s really trying to convince them that this is the next big thing that their guests will want and it takes patience and determination,” he said. Moran is firm in her belief that the company still has lots of room for expansion. “This is still a growing business,” she said “We have plenty of potential for growth still, and I think we’re going to find those areas where we can still expand.”

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