HandCraft Services got its start — and made its name — as a dry cleaner in Richmond more than 50 years ago. But these days, the company’s big business is handling the medical industry’s laundry.
Brothers Jay, Keith, and Jeff Nichols, HandCraft’s second generation owners and equal partners, say 90 percent of the company’s business now comes from hospitals and private medical practices.
“Health care is one of the most stable industries, and it’s going to keep on growing,” said Jeff Nichols.
Working mostly out of a 60,000-square-foot state-of-the-art laundry facility on Cofer Road in South Richmond, the company launders bedding, gowns, towels and a host of other laundry for its clients.
The $10 million facility, which opened in 2008, operates seven days a week and, on average, cleans 24 million pounds of laundry per year.
Their evolution from being primarily a retail dry cleaner to an industrial laundry operator is being recognized today by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
At a luncheon, HandCraft will be given the SBA’s Small Business Persons of the Year award for the Richmond district, which includes all of Virginia except Loudon and Fairfax counties.
“It really validates who you are,” Jeff Nichols said.
The award is due in a large part to the development of the South Richmond facility, which HandCraft partly financed with the SBA’s help.
“I was very impressed by the owners and the operation,” said Sally Robertson, president of Fairfax-based Business Finance Group and the person who nominated HandCraft. Business Finance Group is a Northern Virginia-based nonprofit that finances commercial real estate and equipment for small businesses.
“They’re creative and innovative and extremely knowledgeable,” said Robertson, who added that this was only the second time in 10 years that she has nominated a company.
“It’s not something I do lightly,” she said. “But (HandCraft) is so well operated and so well run.”
HandCraft, which began working with its first hospital in 1983, services 43 hospitals and 450 medical offices in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia.
The company continues to look for new clients and has space to expand the South Richmond facility to accommodate additional business.
But even as HandCraft grows its medical laundry business, the company continues to operate five retail locations in the Richmond area, though they generate only 10 percent of the company’s volume and revenue.
The change from being primarily a retail dry cleaner to an industrial one was gradual — but necessary.
Over the years, as fabrics have changed and as people have begun dressing more casually, the dry cleaning business began to drop off, the brothers say.
Some changes have been caused by seemingly unrelated developments, among them parking garages.
Jay Nichols said he remembers a time when overcoats constantly came in to the dry cleaning locations. But as an increasing number of companies built covered parking garages, the need to wear an overcoat — and keep it clean — has virtually vanished.
“We hardly see them anymore,” he said.
The drop off in the retail dry cleaning business was exacerbated in recent years with the economic downturn and the large number of layoffs that went with it.
“I don’t know that the (retail) dry cleaning business will ever be what it used to be,” Keith Nichols said.