KALAMAZOO — Continental Linen Services Inc., a provider of uniform rentals and linen cleaning services, has completed a $6 million expansion following a pandemic-induced downturn that cut sales in half.
The 123-year-old, family-owned company had planned the expansion by early 2020, but was derailed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that caused widespread closures of one of its key business segments in food and beverage.
“We were ready at that point in early 2020 to make the decision to expand, then the pandemic hit and it hit us pretty hard,” Senior Vice President and co-owner Sarah Wrubel told MiBiz. “We went down to about 50 percent of our volume. Customers just fell right off.”
The new 11,000-square-foot expansion adds to the company’s existing 40,000-square-foot facility at 4200 Manchester Road in Kalamazoo, just south of I-94. The project includes a new 53-foot-long tunnel washing system that automates the linen cleaning process while also cutting back electricity, water and chemical usage, Wrubel said.
Portage-based AVB Inc. served as the general contractor on the expansion. Continental Linen Services plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.
The expansion followed a separate $2.4 million project in 2019 to upgrade a soil room that sorts dirty linens.
Founded in 1899, CLS operates six locations in the Lower Peninsula and employs 250 people in Michigan. In addition to linen cleaning, the company also provides uniform services, mats, mops, custom apparel, facility products and rentals.
At the start of the pandemic, CLS furloughed some of its workforce and implemented layoffs to adjust for the loss in volume. The company also received a U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan to help cover payroll.
Wrubel said the pandemic provided a valuable lesson on the need to diversify its product offerings.
“We learned that it was good to be diversified,” Wrubel said. “A lot of our industry partners went down more than 50 percent (in volume) because they had a lot of food and beverage customers. If anything, it taught us that we’re doing a good job with a diversified product line with more products being offered to customers.”