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Wash, dry, repeat: Gunderson celebrates 70 years in the industry

Adapting and evolving with the times noted as key to success, growth

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September 23, 2022

MENASHA – With 70 years in the industry – the Gunderson family knows a thing or two about the laundry business.

Sara Gunderson – who along with her brother Doug now serve as the company’s third-generation owners/operators – said Gunderson Uniform & Linen Rental has seen steady, organic growth since her grandfather Douglas E. Gunderson started the business in 1952.

“Grandpa – he always went by Douglas E. Gunderson, he liked the formal,” Sara said. “He started the company from humble roots. He didn’t have anything – just hope, a dream and a lot of hard work and dedication.”

Sara said Douglas E. started the business with one dry-cleaning location he rented on Lake Avenue in Neenah that boasted four washing machines, but by 1969 had added a second location.

In 1989, Gary Gunderson – Sara and Douglas’ father – purchased the business from his father and continued to broaden its reach.

“I would credit my dad for thinking outside the box, being creative, coming up with other products and services to offer the community and branching out seeing the big picture of the business,” Sara said. “So he worked very hard.”

She said between 1997-2009, her father continued to expand the company – opening Gunderson Image Wear (formerly Accents ImageWear) & Embroidery and FRSTeam Fabric Restoration and investing in radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking technology.

She said her dad “officially” stepped away from things last year.

“But he’s really been behind-the-scenes for many years, but it became official last year,” Sara said. “Doug and I appreciate all he did, because we wouldn’t be where we are without his foresight.”

Today, Sara said Gunderson serves clients in the Fox Cities, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Door County, the Lakeshore and Central Wisconsin.

In addition to uniforms and work apparel, she said Gunderson provides tablecloth and napkin linen rental services, healthcare rental services, hotel linen, towel and shop supplies along with mops and microfiber rental and restroom supplies, including quality paper towel, tissue, soap and odor control supplies.

As Gunderson’s customer base grew in size and scale, so too did its truck fleet. This one is from the 1980s. Submitted Photo

“We have dedicated account managers who get to know our customers and understand their needs,” she said. “We strive to provide world-class service with our certified hygienically clean linen, and our ability to be agile and flexible.”

Sara said all linen is cleaned at two dedicated plants in Menasha – one that processes healthcare linen and a second dedicated to industrial linen.

Not how her grandfather did it
Sara said the way the laundry business is done today is vastly different than how her grandfather did it 70 years ago.

“While there have been significant improvements in the areas of laundry equipment, information technology and fabric technology, the principle of providing quality linen at a fair price with exceptional service has not changed,” she said. “It still comes down to the basics of delivering a great product with honesty, integrity and a smile.”

Sara said one of the things Gunderson prides itself on is all uniforms and linens are hygienically clean, which means they follow the processes created by the Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA).

She said the business holds TRSA certifications in the healthcare and hospitality categories.

“Having linen free of yeast, mold, germs, bacteria and viruses is essential to our customers, which is why we sought certification,” she said. “The certification shows we take all the necessary precautions, have the best practices in place and participate in third-party lab testing of our linens.”

Sara said the TRSA certification process is rigorous, but that Gunderson has worked hard to ensure the linen they deliver is not just clean, but hygienically clean.

She said Gunderson garments are also tagged with RFID chips in order to track them.

Today, Gunderson serves clients in the Fox Cities, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Door County, the Lakeshore and Central Wisconsin. Submitted Photo

Sara said RFID chips, which are about the size of a dime are sewn into each garment and given an individual tracking number – which allows Gunderson to track each garment throughout the laundry and rental process.

“When we boil it down, it’s laundry right?” she said. “So it seems simple, but there is so much more to it. It’s a lot more complex – the technology not just for chemistry and for machinery, but also with the fabrics and so forth that we have.”

Sara said Gunderson is also on the cusp of robotic technology.

“There’s a lot of super cool things,” she said. “It’s very technological, much more so than you and I throwing laundry into the washing machine. We have two tunnel washers doing 100 pounds every 90 seconds.”

In an industry that uses a lot of water and electricity, Sara said Gunderson utilizes several sustainability initiatives, including reclaiming heat from the washers and reclaiming water usage.

“Our mission is to provide the highest quality products and services in a sustainable and resourceful way,” she said.

Three generations of owners
Sara said becoming third generation owners/operators weren’t necessarily always what she and Doug had planned.

“I ran away actually,” Sara said. “I worked in the business all growing up – all three of us worked folding towels. I went to college after high school, came home for summers and worked in the business, but once I graduated, I stayed in Minneapolis. I did my own thing.”

Sara said eventually, she found herself back home and getting more involved in the business, as did her brother Doug.

“I worked for a big bank and did my own thing, and then came back here and slowly got myself more involved,” she said. “My brothers have a similar story. They left for a little while and came back.”

Sara said she and her brother Doug own and operate the industrial laundry portion of the business, while their brother Greg operates and owns the dry cleaning part.

Sara said she takes great pride in being at the helm of a long-running, family-owned business.

“I’m imagining my grandpa with a big smile upstairs going, ‘Wow, look at what they did with this – I started this with just doing family laundry. I barely made ends meet, and I almost lost the business because I had a fire. And now my grandkids are taking this into the third generation.’”

Sara said the legacy of a family business passed down several generations are pillars of the community.

“My parents’ friends all remember Gundersen, so, there’s a little bit of nostalgia, but there’s also a lot of pride in what was started, some of the trials and tribulations that my family went through – fires, COVID was difficult for everyone – and to say, ‘Hey, look, we made it through some of these tough times.”

But Sara said they didn’t do it on their own.

“The community was supportive of us,” she said. “The community kept using us. The community kept encouraging us. The community kept referring us. When I talk to a customer, I always say it’s a partnership. And maybe that’s an overused word, but, I 100% believe I can’t do my job, if we’re not working together. And I think it’s been like that for 70 years.”


Siblings Sara, left, and Doug Gunderson serve as the company’s third-generation owners/operators of Gunderson Uniform & Linen Rental. Submitted Photo

Sara said she and Doug aren’t sure whether or not the company will be passed down to a fourth generation yet, but is hopeful.

“I have three kids and my brother has two, so you know if they are interested in – yeah, I mean we’ve started the conversations about succession planning, and what would that look like,” she said. “We’re not there yet. My kids are a bit older than my brother’s kids, but they need to live their life a little bit and decide if they want to do anything with the company.”

In terms of overall company growth, Sara said much is ahead for Gunderson’s.

“We have big plans,” she said. “We’re currently in the midst of an expansion.

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