Outfitting The Oilfields

Uniform provider expands services to meet growing demand in the Bakken region.
Outfitting The Oilfields
Dee Gilbert, right, and Elene Dionne place clean uniforms on hangers before they are moved into a machine to be steamed for a wrinkle-free appearance at AmeriPride’s facility in Bismarck, N.D. AmeriPride’s Bismarck operation is one of the company’s fastest-growing, mostly due to business from the oil and gas industry.

The protective clothing and work-wear industry in North Dakota has seen a big boost from the oil boom in the Bakken Shale play.

“It’s by far our biggest area of growth right now,” says Ben Saukko, a spokesman for AmeriPride. “Our production facilities there are growing exponentially faster than the rest of our company. It’s really a key focus area for us.”

AmeriPride, headquartered in Minnesota, is one of the largest uniform rental and linen supply companies in North America and the largest in Canada. The laundering company began operating in Bismarck, N.D., in the 1970s and opened its laundering plant in 1982.

The company provides uniforms, laundering services and paper goods to a number of industries, including automotive repair, medical, food service and mining, to name a few.

“We have about 115 production facilities and service centers in the U.S. and Canada,” Saukko says. In Canada the company is known as Canadian Linen and Uniform, while in Quebec it is known as Quebec Linge.

“Our product lines include uniforms and flame-resistant apparel, which is of specific interest in the oil and gas industry right now. We have towels, rags, floor mats and we also do restroom supplies and cleaning products,” says Saukko.

The volume of new business has led the company into other ventures in the Bakken Shale play.

Oil boom challenges

AmeriPride has been in business in North Dakota for a number of years, even before the production facility opened in Bismarck, Saukko says. However, when oil production boomed, it brought new challenges for the family-run company.

To deal with the heavily greased oilfield uniforms, AmeriPride’s chemical and detergent supply company had to come up with a special formula to get clothes clean, Saukko says.

“We have the facilities now that are able to clean those uniforms,” Saukko says. “Obviously the shelf life of some of those uniforms may not be as long as other uniforms in other industries, but we have the expertise to clean uniforms of all types.”

Washers at the Bismarck production facility can handle between 500 and 1,000 pounds and are run nearly 24 hours a day. The plant runs two shifts Monday through Friday, processing about 80 loads of laundry a day on average.

“We’ve recently added 9,000 square feet to our footprint at our Bismarck facility, and we are planning even more future expansion here in the next couple years,” Saukko says.

Whenever a customer hires a new employee, AmeriPride takes the employee’s measurements to ensure a good uniform fit. The company now also carries fire-retardant clothing and other protective gear specifically for the oil and gas industries.

“Really our biggest value proposition for the oil and gas companies is the flame-resistant apparel. It’s really designed for continuous wear in areas where there’s intermittent exposure to flame or heat,” Saukko says. “What we do is provide businesses with the latest fabric innovations – pants, shirts, coveralls, whatever it might be that meet their compliance rules for their industry. We launder these items to the specifications, we know how to wash and maintain these garments so they maintain their flame-resistant properties through the garment’s life.”

Saukko notes that washing flame-resistant garments in a regular washer with regular soap can damage the flame-resistant quality and put the wearer of those clothes in danger.          

“We know how to maintain that and know when it’s time to replace them,” Saukko says.

New ventures

Workers have been able to drop off their soiled uniforms at AmeriPride service centers in Minot and Dickinson for 30-plus years. In the last year, the company built two new service centers in both those locations to meet increased demand.          

“We needed to expand because of the Bakken,” Saukko says.          

AmeriPride also recently moved into the retail market, opening a safety apparel store in Williston in November 2013.          

“It’s our first retail store where workers in that area can go right in and buy something on site,” Saukko says. “It’s just another channel for us to support that industry and it supports the work we’re doing in our Bismarck production facility, serving those local customers there.”          

Saukko says the retail store mainly specializes in flame-resistant clothing and high-visibility apparel. Clothing lines available at the store include Bulwark, Wrangler, Red Kap and Dickies.

Family business

Brothers George and Frank Steiner founded AmeriPride in 1889 in Lincoln, Neb. They delivered linens using a handcart through the streets.          

“Eventually the business grew, they upgraded to a horse-and-buggy and eventually separated into two different cities,” Saukko says. One went to Salt Lake City and the other to Minneapolis to open two new branches of their company.          

AmeriPride expanded into Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1925.          

“We are still owned and managed by the founding family,” Saukko says. “We have a couple fourth-generation guys who work here in the business. They have five family members on the board of directors, two are in management positions here in Minnesota and we also had a fifth-generation Steiner family member intern here this year.”          

AmeriPride has 45 production facilities – 29 in the U.S. and 16 in Canada – and 70 service centers where the trucks come in to load and unload uniforms and other laundry.          

The company rents, leases and sells uniforms. If a client rents the uniforms, AmeriPride provides the delivery, pickup and laundering of those items; if they lease or buy the uniforms, they are responsible for cleaning them.          

“We think of ourselves as a service company or rental company rather than just a laundry,” Saukko says.

AmeriPride has about 5,600 total employees and services 150,000 customers per week. The Bismarck location has about 140 employees.


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