1896 – Spalding Laundry and Dry Cleaning Company is founded by Peter E Spalding, the great grandfather of Lisa Austin. Attached is a picture of Peter Spalding. This is the best I have found so far, hopefully you can make it look good. Spalding was 27 when he and his brother, William Spalding opened a one room laundry at the 13th and Breckinridge with five employees. William Spalding left the business several years later.
1925 – Peter’s two son’s Greg Spalding and Peter Spalding II join the family business.
1957 – The founder, Peter Spalding dies at the age of 88. Under his guidance the firm expanded its physical facilities to some 50 times the size of the original plant. The company had 525 employees and a fleet of 65 trucks and operated four drive-in dry cleaning stores.
1958 – Bill Tate, Peter Spalding II, son-in-law, joins Spalding’s Laundry as a Supervisor in the retail dry cleaning stores.
1962 - Bill is promoted to Vice President and General Manager of the linen supply division.
1968 – Bill is promoted to Executive Vice President and sales manager for laundry, dry cleaning, and rug cleaning.
1970 – Bill is promoted to President and changes the business from a retail dry cleaning and home laundry company to a commercial textile rental service
1979 – Bill leaves Spalding’s and establishes Universal Uniforms as a uniform rental company. He does not have a plant for washing, but contracts with Cintas to make ready his uniforms with logos and emblems and then contracts with Kentucky Overall in Lawrenceburg KY to handle the cleaning. Bill hires three sales representatives to sell uniform and dust control service in the morning and then make deliveries to their accounts in the afternoon.
1980 – Bill recruits Don Dimmitt, a Production Manager at Spalding’s to join him at Universal Uniforms…first assignment to build a laundry plant at 1819 Commerce Road. Decision is made to wash clothing for uniform rental in the day time and then “stone wash blue jeans” at night. In June, the plant is ready for first new denim customers, Levi Strauss and H.I.S. Sportswear. Throughout the mid 80’s the uniform and jeans business grew steadily.
1988 – The operation outgrew the facility and after an extensive city wide search, the property just down the street at 1803 Commerce was purchased. The property consisted of seven acres and two old buildings that formerly belonged to the B.F. Avery Tractor and Plow Manufacture. Both buildings were completed renovated and restored back to their former glory as when they were originally built in 1920. The buildings were then placed on the National Historic Register and remain their today.
1990 – The company is split into two divisions, Industrial and Denim, both with separate management teams and operating statements. Both grow quickly and at the peak of production in 1995… the denim division was processing over 300,000 pair of blue jeans weekly, however, 90% of the business was with one customer.
1994 – Tom Austin, Bill Tate’s son in law, joins the company as an Engineer in the Denim Division, and advanced in 1996 to COO and General Manger of both Divisions.
1997 – When Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, it signaled the end of American made apparel. Universal’s largest jeans customer began to close US factories and move manufacturing and laundry services to Mexico.
1998 – As the denim business was declining, the uniform business continued to grow. The denim facility had abundant washing capacity and the company implemented a strategic plan to build a linen supply company that would eventually replace the lost denim revenue. Medical accounts that used uniforms and scrubs were first targeted for growth because of Universal’s expertise in uniform rental.
1999 – Tom Austin is promoted to President of Universal Uniforms. The first ironer was installed in former denim facility to begin servicing food and beverage accounts with napery. The timing in the market was ideal as the largest linen supplier in the market, National Linen, purchased the next largest supplier Cintas Linen.
2000 – The linen business was growing quickly and a new plant design was laid out with Gardner Machinery Company defining the production flow, new ironer location, conveyors, soil sorting and material handling systems were installed. This plant was designed with a one shift capacity of 125,000 Lbs/week.
2002 – An end of an era, Bill Tate was preparing for full retirement and the family decided to sell the uniform rental business to G&K Services and the linen service company to Tom Austin. The property was divided into two parcels; 3 acres of land and building (1803 Commerce) was leased to Tom’s new company, Universal Linen Service. In addition he purchased all the linen customer contracts, inventory, receivables and washing & pressing equipment. G&K purchased the adjacent building and 4 acres plus all the uniform rental customers, inventory, receivables, and the washing, drying, and sorting equipment. Tom signed a non-compete agreement with G&K not to compete in the uniform rental business for 5 years.
2003 - National Linen Service, decided to close their Louisville processing facility and sold all the customer, contracts, inventory, and trucks to Universal. The additional business required the plant to add a second shift and many new team members from National joined Universal.
2005- National Linen Service, decided to close their Lexington service center and sold the customer contracts, inventory, and trucks to Universal. A depot was opened to service central Kentucky with processing & cleaning still performed in Louisville. An overnight service to Lexington is provided with a tractor trailer.
2006 – Universal Linen Service purchased the adjacent 4 acre, 50,000 square foot property, formerly the uniform rental plant from G&K and began a process to build a new processing facility. The building is in need of substantial repair and required a new roof, windows, paint, office remodeling, and HVAC upgrades. Turn Key Engineers was hired to assist Universal in purchasing all new equipment including mechanical and water processing system; soil and clean material handling systems; a tunnel washer and drying system; an automated open pocket washer and drier line; new large and small piece ironing and pressing systems and sundry folding equipment.
2007 – Installation of the new equipment for the plant began in July.
2008 – After a difficult start up period of 6 months in the new plant, several of the large pressing equipment was replaced and the original design and flow of the plant re-worked. Also, the company introduced a new branding initiative by shortening the name to just Universal with new logo, adding our tag line “Every Piece Counts” Our route sales representatives were highlighted as the face of the company with a picture of each on their delivery vehicle.
2009 – Universal purchased the adjacent 1803 property which had been leased from Universal Uniforms since 2002. The property is used for warehouse and logistics for lodging customers. The company re-enters the uniform market with RF Technologies for tracking wearables.
2010 – The company’s focus was to improve quality and cleanliness with a shift to high performance output. The company expands their geographic service areas west to include Owensboro and Paducah Kentucky as well as Evansville, Indiana. They also expand farther north into Columbus, Indiana.
2012 - Universal Linen Service RECEIVES HEALTHCARE LAUNDRY ACCREDITATION: The industry’s highest rating on quality and safety, from the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC). HLAC is a non-profit organization that inspects and accredits laundries processing healthcare textiles for hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. The primary benefit of accreditation is that an independent third party has inspected your facility and found that it meets or exceeds the highest standards for processing healthcare textiles. A laundry cannot inspect and accredit itself, and its customers generally do not have the time or expertise to do so.