Member Spotlight: Michael Wilson, Jackson's Workwear

Michael Wilson is the Managing Director of Jacksons Workwear. He has worked his way up the company having started there 35 years ago in 1982. Michael is now a shareholder in the Company however, he is not a Jackson family descendant. The Jackson family is still involved though as the Company Chairman, Alistair Mackinder, is the 7th generation of the family to head up the business.

Michael provides us with some detail into the history of the company, an insight into his background, views on the industry both past and future.

Michael, can you give us some history of Jacksons Workwear?

Jacksons acquired the help of a local historian recently who traced the Company’s origins back to 1791. This is no mean achievement and is due to the skill and enterprise of three families – the Jackson’s and their successors by marriage the Clarke’s and Mackinder’s.

Originating as Dyers, Jacksons progressed with the times and became steam carpet beaters before developing into one of the first drycleaners in the country. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that Jacksons expanded into the laundry industry and finally deciding to specialise in workwear rental in the 1980’s.

Last year was our 225th year trading, a milestone we celebrated by holding a gala dinner for all of our staff and their partners, and as a lasting commemoration, we established an anniversary garden by the river that passes by our premises, an area where the staff can enjoy their rest periods from work that is tranquil and beautiful.

One of my early impressions of the laundry industry is how all laundries undervalue themselves. I can recall prospective customers contacting us, and the first thought any one had, was “how much discount shall we offer them?”

This was probably driven by our experience of working for the M.O.D. As Lincolnshire is on the east coast and very flat, there are numerous R.A.F. camps in the area. All the laundry services required by the camps were awarded by a tendering process, the rules of which were, they would issue a laundry price list (at ridiculously low prices), and companies would tender offering a discount off those prices. The frustrating thing was that the lowest price tender was awarded the contract, so no matter how poor the quality of service given, as long as you were cheap you won the business. This was one of the reasons we eventually moved away from flatwork, as a sheet is a sheet, and comparing one clean sheet to another is difficult; whereas offering a workwear contract to a customer, with individuals actually wearing the garments we are providing, the service is noticed.

Individuals have their garments laundered and repaired, and as we do a good job, it is noticed and appreciated.

 

Can you indicate the breadth of customers you service?

We have over a thousand customers and consider ourselves as “customised workwear rental specialists”, in that we have a very flexible attitude to any idiosyncrasies that our customers have. We have a HACCP scheme in operation to enable us to process work from the pharmaceutical and food industries, but also have washer extractors to give us the flexibility and opportunity to segregate wash loads to successfully clean the heavily soiled garments in the heavy engineering and oil industry. All accompanied by an extensive sewing department that is required to maintain the garments used in those fields. One of our strengths that enables us to be so flexible is the staff we have; more than 20% have been with us over 21 years (we have a 21 club dinner every year to celebrate).

How did you arrive at the business?

I was educated at Lincoln Grammar School, who’s well known ex pupils include John Hurt (the actor) and Mark Byford (ex BBC deputy director-general). Having decided to leave school at 16 after my O levels, I gained employment as a technical apprentice at a local engineering company. After a four-year apprenticeship and 5 years on block release at the local technical college, I was employed as a Production Planning Engineer.

I first realised that this was not going to be my life’s passion, when spending the traditional Friday lunch at the local Pub and trying to enjoy my pint (you could in those days), some colleagues were talking about a new cutting tool that could cut aluminium at 600 feet per minute, and they were finding the conversation interesting!

After spotting an advertisement in the paper for an Assistant Production Manager at our local laundry, I decided a change of career was due. After a few months in my new role, I was in the pub enjoying my pint on a Friday lunchtime with a colleague (still acceptable), and I found myself excitedly talking about a new style of Boiler suit that was available, and I realised I’d found my vocation!

Through my interest and dedication (and I like to think a little hard work), I progressed through the Company from Production Manager to General Manager and on to Sales Director and finally my present position of Managing Director.

I have a close group of friends who meet regularly in a pub each Friday evening (lunchtime drinking is a definite no-no in these modern times), who have also been successful through their careers (Chief Constable, Managing Partner in a law firm, major incident Loss Adjuster etc.). They are still shocked at how one could be successful in a “Cinderella” industry like laundry, and are very envious of how much I enjoy my work.

How great to hear from one so passionate, Michael! Can you share your thoughts on how the industry has changed over last 5-10 years and what you’d like to see in the future?

As an industry we are always shooting ourselves in the foot! When our garment suppliers began the practice of manufacturing garments offshore, we were all offered greatly reduced prices. I saw this as an opportunity for our industry, for once, to earn reasonable margins and have the prospect of investing in improving the quality of our services. In true laundry fashion, nothing of the kind happened, and everyone started reducing the charges to our customers.

What I would like to see in the future for the workwear market, is an industry that values itself and its services. As we all invest in the latest technology to make us more efficient in our production, we should invest savings into providing a better overall service for our customers. When I explain to my Friday evening drinking partners what we charge for purchasing and providing an individual wearer with 3 boiler suits, delivering and collecting one each week, having washed and repaired it, they are aghast as to the value we give. Now, why can’t we enlighten our customers to feel the same way?!

No truer words have been spoken, Michael. Thank you.

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