Women’s History Month: Interview with Automated Laundry Systems Distributor Kristen Packard
We’re continuing the celebration of female empowerment this month by speaking to laundry industry powerhouse Kristen Packard, co-owner of Automated Laundry Systems, and four Florida-based Laundromats – Clean Quarters, Wash & Go, Quick Wash, and Victoria Coin.
Becoming involved in the laundry industry wasn’t something Kristen and her husband/business partner, Don, set out to do.
“We knew how much capital we had to invest and that we had sound business experience, and that was about it,” says Kristen. “But when Don randomly found the listing for a distribution company (Automated Laundry Systems), I got very excited about the business potential right from the start.”
The distribution-company model appealed to Kristen on multiple levels. From sales, to service and parts, it appeared to be recession proof. “Plus, there were various revenue streams open to us,” explains Kristen.
“Everywhere I looked I saw potential laundry customers.”
In March of 2012, Kristen and Don acquired Automated Laundry Systems. They bought their first laundromat, Clean Quarters, in June of 2013, and opened their second, Wash & Go, which was built from the ground up, in February 2017.
“We acquired Quick Wash and Victoria Coin Laundromats in August and November 2017, respectively,” says Kristen.
Prior to immersing herself in the world of laundry, Kristen enjoyed a successful career in the apartment industry. Shortly after graduating from Goucher College located in Baltimore, Maryland, a newly married Kristen, and her husband Don, moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
“Don was in the Navy and we of course had no choice but to relocate where they sent us, which was Jacksonville,” says Kristen. “However, the move turned out to be an incredible career opportunity for me. I landed with a local developer and learned everything there was to know about developing apartments under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.”
“I feel very fortunate to have had this business experience.”
Kristen also felt fortunate to have attended Goucher College in the first place. Goucher was historically an all woman’s college, but shortly after Kristen applied, it turned co-ed.
“My freshman class was only the first or second to have men,” she recalls. “Yet the spirit of an all woman’s institution remained exceptionally strong. It impressed upon me that I could be anything I wanted to be.”
At that time, Kristen decided she wanted to be a lawyer. As a young girl, growing up in Albuquerque, NM, she didn’t have any definitive careers in mind; she only knew she wanted something that was secure and reliable. “My parents had been small business owners but they didn’t succeed at it, so I was very risk averse,” shares Kristen.
She met her future husband the first day she arrived in Maryland. Don had recently graduated from the Naval Academy and was living in Maryland on temporary duty before reporting to flight school. They were married during Spring Break of Kristen’s senior year.
“I had to ask permission of the dean at Goucher to marry and then continue to live in the dorms until graduation,” remembers Kristen.
“I know that marrying so soon after college disappointed some of my professors, but I count it as one of my greatest blessings.”
After graduation and the move to Florida, Kristen and Don settled into married life and concentrated on their careers.
Kristen worked in the apartment development business for over 15 years, turning to consultant work in that industry, and then to be a stay-at-home mom. While Don, after serving more than a decade in the Navy, pursued a second career as a CPA.
Then one day Don arrived home with a new revelation.
“He told me he wanted to be an entrepreneur,” shares Kristen. “And my aversion to risk kicked way into high gear, let me tell you. But we had been married for over twenty years and I knew, together, we could do anything.”
Now six years, one distribution company and four Laundromats later, Kristen hasn’t looked back.
She takes her responsibility as an employer very seriously. “My employees’ livelihoods depend on me,” states Kristen. “Failure is not an option.”
When she and Don purchased Automated Laundry Systems, all of the employees stayed on. Since then, they’ve experienced some turnover, but generally the original team has remained intact. “We’ve also managed to retain all the staff at each of our Laundromats,” asserts Kristen. “I’m truly thankful we create working environments where people thrive and can take pride in their work.”
Kristen shares her greatest achievements of her laundry profession:
“The great opportunity (and awesome responsibility) to employ amazing people and our success in being a top-notch distributor.”
Additionally, before entering the laundry business, she and Don knew nothing about washing machines. “Other than the one we owned to wash our clothes, that is,” laughs Kristen. Now they can both spout off facts about Electrolux professional washing machine’s G-force extraction and automatic water-saving features like pros.
“I can also name parts by sight,” revels Kristen. “Those black plastic thing-ees that look like top hats. That part number is 471-819501. The little round things with the blue part sticking out? Those are 432-832492.”
There was one thing about the laundry industry that took Kristen by surprise.
“It was the first time in my professional career that being a woman was detrimental,” she shares honestly. “In the beginning, I was very offended that parts customers didn’t want to deal with me because I was a woman. Or other customers just assumed I had no idea how to handle their service issue because I was a woman.
But I have learned to let all that go and just focus on providing superior customer service.”
Kristen’s advice to other women who may be intimidated by joining a “boy’s club”
Don’t back down and don’t be offended.
“My favorite phrase is, ‘how may I help you?’” she says. “When folks realize that you actually have the power to address their concerns they will eventually respond.”
What’s next for Kristen Packard?
Kristin is determined to create more value in Automated Laundry Systems’ service department. “I would like to see Automated significantly expand its service force over the next 5 years. We currently have three technicians in the field. My goal is 15 over the next 5 years.”
She would also like to apply her multi-faceted business strategy in various markets. “When you provide great customer service in the field for routine repairs, then the opportunity to sell machines will follow.”
And finally, to focus on new machine sale opportunities through a vast network of general contractors. “Talk about a male dominated field! Nonetheless, the building industry in Florida is strong and new opportunities are presented every day. I’m especially looking forward to breaking into this ‘boys club.’”