A SIT DOWN WITH JOHN HARLIN OF REED MANUFACTURING
The laundering industry is full of people, from vendors to the actual providers, that want to help people. According to Colin Wetlaufer, CITY’s President, this industry is all about people helping people.
“One of my favorite things about the laundering industry is that there is a level of blue collar. People in this industry, they know how to load a washing machine, and they know how to work,” said Colin Wetlaufer.
One of CITY’s vendor’s John Harlin discussed his experiences in the industry both on the laundry side and the vendor side.
Colin Wetlaufer: How did you get started in this industry?
John Harlin: I got started on a route. My family has been involved in this business for three generations. We’re one generation shy of CITY’S. My father was partners with some industrial laundries, and that’s where I got my start.
Colin Wetlaufer: How old were you when you got your start?
John Harlin: 20 years old.
Colin Wetlaufer: Did you ever work in the business before that?
John Harlin: No, I didn’t know what the industrial laundry business was before then.
Colin Wetlaufer: So, it’s kind of unusual in the family business for somebody not to work in the business you’ve growing up.
John Harlin: Well, we had farms. My father had a farm on the side. That’s where I spent my time. He didn’t pay enough, so I went to work for a construction guy. But after college, I ended up going into the rental laundry business.
Colin Wetlaufer: And where is this?
John Harlin: Tullahoma, Tennessee
Colin Wetlaufer: So, you said your grandfather started the laundry?
John Harlin: My grandfather was a garment manufacturer, and my father worked for that garment manufacturer, “Brand X”. Then my father, after he left Brand X started some rental laundries with some partners.
Colin Wetlaufer: What’s “some rental laundries” mean?
John Harlin: Three laundries.
Colin Wetlaufer: Three laundries at the same time?
John Harlin: Three at the same time, one in the Nashville area, one in East Tennessee, and one in Louisiana. I worked in the one in East Tennessee. I worked for them for a couple of years. Then there was an opening at REED Manufacturing where I started 38 years ago.
Colin Wetlaufer: So, what year was it that you started the laundry?
John Harlin: When I started the laundry? In 1979.
Colin Wetlaufer: All right, and how long were you at the laundry?
John Harlin: Two years.
Colin Wetlaufer: It didn’t take you very long to figure out that it was smarter to sell us laundries stuff than to do the laundering.
John Harlin: I sat in my office for a year and learned the background. I learned to sew a little. I spent a lot of time in sewing plants. I had to learn what we were making and that’s what is a little bit different now. A lot of people don’t see how it’s made. They can’t see how it’s made anymore because there are no more domestic facilities. So that was the other part. It’s a highly skilled labor-intensive thing. You can’t totally automate it.
John Harlin: Yes. It started slowing down before that. We made a lotof goods for a lot of different people. So, we actually went into the Dominican Republic several years ago, where we still are.
John Harlin: So we moved into Dominican, and we also eventually moved into Haiti, and you’ve got challenges culturally down there, but we’ve got facilities down there that are first class. And we are certified with a worldwide responsible accredited production certification. We’ve been through with green and wages and working conditions. We’re one of the few that are certified.
Colin Wetlaufer: When did you get that?
John Harlin: We got that three years ago.
Colin Wetlaufer: How long did that take?
John Harlin: It took over a year. It’s been a big part of our company mission. That was very important. Our customers can be 100% certain the products they buy from REED have been manufactured in factories that treat their employees & the environment right.
The WRAP certification certainly is very important to us because it, you know, we treat our people great. I mean we’ve got so many longtime employees at REED. We still have operators that do post-production work for us domestically who’ve been with us for over forty years and like to come in and we can call them in and even if they haven’t been behind a machine for a couple of weeks, they still come back in and do amazing things.
That’s why I’m still doing this. 2019 is REED’s 100th year anniversary and we expect to go quite a few more years.