A Century of Innovation is Just the Starting Point

Roscoe innovation graphic

As we near the end of a historic year for the Roscoe Company, it might be tempting to imagine that when it comes to meeting the work uniform needs of businesses across the Chicago area, we know all there is to know.

After all, we just celebrated 100 years in this business and our customers report record-breaking levels of satisfaction in our annual customer survey.

But of course, as our hardworking customers know as well as anyone, you don’t succeed in any enterprise by imagining you’ve got nothing to learn.

As proud as we are of our 100-year milestone, we know that we reached it in large measure because of our belief that there is always a better way to do things. Innovation was hardwired into the DNA of this company by its founders back in 1921 and it’s a path we’ve consistently followed.

Our Drive to Innovate at Home and Across an Industry

Our belief in innovation drives us toward continuous improvement in our company and our processes. It also fosters our commitment to helping the industry move forward. We are proud of the way our industry has embraced innovation to enhance quality and reduce cost for our customers.

“I think just the attitude that you’re trying to improve and you’re not happy with the status quo, to me is the most impressive thing.  Any business that’s been in business for 100 years is a rare company and you have to take note. That alone tells you something is going on right.”

M+A Matting President David Hart

It is especially gratifying to hear from others in our industry who have been inspired to pursue innovations developed by Roscoe. When our company was featured in a recent industry publication, we heard from colleagues, competitors and vendors.

Thoughts they shared about the impact of innovation were especially satisfying considering the challenges faced by our industry and so many others, during the past two years.

For example, Joseph Ricci, President and CEO of the industry organization TRSA, recalled one of the first conversations he had after assuming this position in 2010. The association was still focused on the merger of two organizations into the TRSA. Two days into his job, Ricci picked up the phone to find himself talking to Roscoe CEO Jim Buik, “who said ‘You have to keep the (Executive Management Institute) EMI going,’” Ricci recalled, referring to an industry leadership education program for which the future was in doubt as the result of the merger.

Buik was a forceful advocate for keeping the program. More importantly, Ricci said, he helped to create a task force to determine the best steps for preserving this crucial program.

Rici noted that EMI now reflects a combination of tradition and innovation. He added that it illustrates the way Roscoe has always fused legacy and innovation. It’s a hallmark of many of the family-owned businesses who make up the majority of TRSA members.

Ricci observed that “Family-owned businesses are especially engaged in investing in technology – they want to leave that legacy. I think a lot of that drove Jim to the innovations that his company pursued.”

Ricci also highlighted examples of Roscoe’s industry-leading innovations, including a skills certification program developed in concert with the trade association, and the installation of a high-tech automated sorting system. 

The skills certification curriculum, Ricci said, is a “true innovation” and an example of Roscoe’s leadership and commitment to continuous improvement. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “A company would have to spend $75,000 to $100,000 to implement it” even if they already had the curriculum.

Innovation Runs in the Roscoe Family

Buik is always quick to point out that he can’t take all the credit. He comes from a long line of innovators and industry leaders, going all the way back to the company’s founders: J.P. O’Connell and Buik’s grandfather, George C. Buik.

“My father Don pioneered a number of innovations in the industry from the transition from cotton garments to blended garments, supporting the use of tunnel finishers instead of presses, as well as the use of computers and wastewater pre-treatment,” Buik said. “Roscoe was the first industrial launderer to install a pre-treatment system after the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, with the longest record of environmental compliance in the nation.”

David Hart, president of M+A Matting and a longtime Roscoe vendor, worked with both Buiks. He agreed that innovation runs in their family. “I’ve known Jim for 40 years and I knew his dad, Don. They’ve always been extremely active in the trade association and willing to share whatever information they could to help the industry as a whole,” he added.

“I think just the attitude that you’re trying to improve and you’re not happy with the status quo, to me is the most impressive thing,” he said. “Any business that’s been in business for 100 years is a rare company and you have to take note. That alone tells you something is going on right.”

Pursuing State of the Art Technology

The sorting system represented an investment of over $1 million and years of careful planning.

Phil Hart, President and CEO of Kannegiesser ETECH, Inc., maker of the system, said Roscoe’s investment was bold, especially given the amount of building renovation required to make it work. The project was made far less complicated by the fact that Roscoe had such a well-defined process and methodology, he said.

Jim Buik “is ahead of the curve in terms of innovation,” Hart said. “That’s what makes (Roscoe) relevant and makes a company of their size able to compete with the biggest players and win.”

Such process improvement innovations are closely aligned with the way that Roscoe embraces innovation in its customer satisfaction processes, said Carl Hendrickson, President of Market Measurement Inc., which conducts Roscoe’s annual in-depth customer satisfaction surveys.

Hendrickson points out that the survey, conducted annually since 1992, is the starting point for carefully crafted and implemented action plans – a process that drives continuous improvement and innovation.

Ellis Corporation supplies Roscoe’s washer-extractors, dryers, shuttle and conveyor systems and heat exchange and water supply equipment. Bob Fesmire Sr., Chairman and CEO of the company, has been working with Roscoe for over 50 years. He cited a number of Roscoe’s water use and efficiency innovations.

“We talk to Jim (Buik) a lot about innovation,” Fesmire said. “He’s one of the most innovative leaders in the industry. He’s a very forward-looking guy.”

A Debt of Gratitude

It’s high praise, to be sure. And we’re committed to the ongoing effort to ensure we’re worthy of it. In the meantime, to all of our customers, vendors and industry associates, thank you! You are a big part of what is going right at Roscoe, and we wouldn’t be here without you.

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