In the midst of discussing the challenges of running a company that the B.C. hospitality sector relies on for everything from clean sheets to cutlery, Haddon Equipment & Supplies Owner and General Manager Charles Reid suddenly smiles.
“We’re the people who help give hotel guests a great first impression about their surroundings, so the pressure is always on us in this regard,” he says. “But it’s also a fun job for me. And you know why?”
Like Clark Kent transforming into Superman, Reid unbuttons and pulls apart his jacket to reveal a pair of service overalls underneath. “One day I’m office bound in my three-piece suit, and the next day I’m travelling somewhere in the province with one of our service teams to help people. I’m going to Campbell River tomorrow to install chemicals in a dishwashing machine for a client. The hours may be long, but there’s a real sense of satisfaction in what we do.”
The enthusiasm Reid exhibits is shared by the 15 people who make up his Vancouver-based company, and it dates back to when Haddon first opened for business 60 years ago as an appliance wholesaler. Phil Abbott, who worked for Haddon between 1958 and 1999, says, “Nine to five didn’t exist for us: if a job needed doing we would stay on the premises until it was done, and if we had to work weekends we did so. But we never thought of it as a slog, because we liked our work and enjoyed each other’s company — to the point where we would have picnics together, got our own fastball team going, went to each other’s weddings, you name it.” Even today Abbott will come in when asked to help with inventory and accounting.
Haddon is a leader in selling commercial laundry, dishwashing equipment, and cleaning supplies, and in addition to serving hotels it deals with the health care, corrections, fire fighting, school and foodservice sectors. As the B.C. distributors for the UniMac, Huebsch and Continental lines, it is estimated that Haddon is relied upon by 80 per cent of B.C.’s on-premise laundry facilities.
Moreover, it’s the only company of its kind in B.C. that provides both laundry and kitchen equipment and chemicals as well as ozone systems (AquaWing). Clients include all major hotel chain brands in British Columbia including Sandman, Coast Hotels, Ramada, Best Western, Days
Inn and Sheratons. Some of the major British Columbia independent properties and landmarks such as the Sylvia Hotel, Century Plaza, The Listel, Executive Inns and Accent Inns have been customers for as long as Reid can remember.
Haddon has undergone so many transformations over the decades that the company means different things to different generations of British Columbians. Many older Vancouverites remember it as the company that sold Speed Queen washers and dryers, or the company that brought ‘living colour’ into homes via the Quasar brand of transistorized colour televisions. But the expertise and efficiency gained by staff during its long decades of wholesaling has made the Haddon name synonymous with cleanliness to the hospitality sector today. “I’ve never taken the importance of cleanliness in hotels lightly, whether it’s the linens being washed in one of our units or cutlery that emerges from a dishwasher,” says Reid. “We’re not like car salesmen who sell a product and say `See you later.’ We’re in constant touch with our clients to ensure the proper operation and maintenance of the products they have purchased from us. Three years ago we put a dedicated technician on the road whose sole purpose is to visit all our chemical customers, and provide preventative maintenance on a monthly route. This is in addition to the customers regular Haddon salesperson so in this regard, we feel like a part of their team.”
As part of a hotel team, Haddon representatives often find themselves dispensing advice as frequently as they dispense chemicals. “We always look for new ways to save our clients money, and that could be as easy as assessing their linens inventory and deciding they can cut down on new purchases, reviewing procedures or providing staff training,” says Reid. Indeed, Haddon representatives undergo thorough training in order to perform analysis of clients’ existing equipment and suggest how they can reduce costs by customizing the way chemicals are delivered or merely optimizing a machine’s performance settings. “Many owners don’t change the settings on their machines or chemical delivery equipment from their factory settings,” says Reid. “We’ve saved them thousands of dollars just from looking at their equipment settings and performing small adjustments.”
Not that Reid is downplaying the importance of product sales — in fact, it’s the cornerstone of his company. “One reason we blow the competition away is that we’re the only firm of its kind in North America that has its own house line of chemicals,” he says. “We also have four vans constantly on the road, each fully-stocked with at least $10,000 of inventory: most competitors don’t even have that amount of inventory on their shelves, let alone in their vehicles. The reason we do is because we want to answer service calls and fix the problem all in the same trip.”
Pausing to summarize feelings that have rarely been expressed to outsiders, Reid adds, “I feel great when I walk into a banquet hall about to serve 500 people dinner and see the crisp white table covers and the gleaming cutlery: it’s all because of us.”
Despite its high-profile position in the hospitality industry, there’s something comfortably low-key about Haddon. Its headquarters in an older commercial sector of Vancouver is nondescript. The carpeting, furniture and paneling give it an almost 1970s residential appeal; Reid’s wife Julie greets visitors at the reception area; and the silence in the corridors indicates that a good-sized portion of Haddon staff are on the road where the real business takes place.
Haddon’s various owners have tended to shy away from talking about themselves to the press over the years, and the company’s website is strictly business, no puffery.
For example, under the heading `Build Value for Your Customers’, terse bullet points outline how Haddon can assist business:
• By tailoring the delivery amounts for your cleaning chemicals, we can reduce your operating costs while still ensuring superior wash/cleaning quality.
• New high performance washers and dryers require less energy to operate while also improving output and productivity.
• Our modern washer-extractors also have higher extraction speeds, removing more water more quickly and reducing drying time significantly.
Another series of bullet points tell prospective clients they can, with Haddon’s help:
• Save on operating costs using better cleaning products.
• Reduce your environmental impact.
• Perform preventative maintenance on your ware-washing and laundry equipment to prevent unexpected mechanical breakdowns.
• Freely assist in customizing your chemical delivery amounts for cleaning dishes and linen so you get maximum value.
• Ensure that you get emergency repair and cleaning products outside of business hours and on weekends and holidays.
For a company whose staff exhibits as much discipline as they do hard-won skills, it’s remarkable that so many of them fell into the business by accident. “Before I joined Haddon 27 years ago I was the manager of a retail store, then I went into direct sales and pharmaceutical sales covering Western Canada,” says Reid. “Eventually I wanted a more interesting and higher-paying job with less travel as I was just beginning to start a family with my wife Julie; Haddon was advertising a temporary opening in chemical sales, so I applied and got hired. I had the privilege of working with one of the principals of Haddon at the time, Jim Ireland. He was the meat and potatoes of the company operations and my experience gained from him was invaluable.
Former service technician Larry Mannette, who worked for Haddon between 1968 and 2011 and who was recently called back to provide temporary assistance, says he applied for a warranty clerk’s out of the appliance wholesale business, and a new generation of Japanese colour sets made Haddon’s television offerings “look like antiques,” recalls Mannette. “So after suffering a “Black Friday” in which many of our operations were shut down and half of our staff were let go, Don and Bob reinvented Haddon by leasing coin operated laundry machines to apartments and other commercial facilities.”
Mannette, who survived the Black Friday, was charged with driving in a red Datsun truck from one client to another to collect coins. “I also had to clean out the machines, and that’s how I wound up becoming a serviceman, a role that was fortified by me taking courses at Don and Bob’s expense.” According to Mannette, Haddon’s entry into the commercial laundry sector was made possible when manufacturers developed powerful front-loading washers. “It was a revolution in that these washers had a three-phase motor, one drum, one belt. They scared the hell out of regular service people, but we loved them because they could do what no other washer could do, which is handle commercial loads. They enabled hotels to have their own laundry room and save considerable money.”
The more Haddon developed its commercial portfolio, the more people like Mannette found themselves on the road. “We would drive or fly all over the province in order to answer a service call within 24 hours, and we thought it was great fun. I often said that I’d like to die with a steering wheel in my hand, and I still feel that way.” Reid soon established himself at Haddon by growing the chemical division, of which he eventually became manager. “Initially I was overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of hotel laundry and dishwashing requirements, but then it became exciting because I was offering tangible solutions to clients,” he says. “The only negative aspect of my work is that to this day, a lot of friends and acquaintances don’t really get what we do.”
By 1997 Wilson and Mainwaring had long retired, and the owners who had succeeded them were themselves of retirement age. “The actual ownership had been whittled down to one, and because I saw even greater potential for Haddon and because I didn’t want it sold to a competitor, I put together a group of six staff members and we bought him out,” says Reid. “I had mortgaged my house to make the buyout happen, so I was doubly motivated to make Haddon an even bigger success than it already was.”
Reid and his colleagues grew Haddon via marketing and sales. “In fact, we are first and foremost a sales organization that to this day seeks out new clients,” he says. The team also grew Haddon’s reputation as a chemical supplier, and it also ensured that both sales and service people underwent thorough training and re-training as circumstances required. “It’s very difficult to become knowledgeable in our specialized line of work, and we’re careful to train everyone from the bottom up,” says Reid. “This combined with the fact that we’re employee owned and operated has resulted in zero turnover, which of course lends a sense of permanence to our relationships with hoteliers and other clients.”
As with any new idea, some of Haddon’s innovations were initially met with resistance, none more vigorous than in the late 1980s when the company decided to sell clients the chemicals used to wash clothes and dishes in addition to the machines. “Oh boy, other companies were angry with us and thought what we were doing was extremely unfair – but it turned out to be a success,” says Mannette. “Then after Charles took over the company he took it to the next level with his passion and desire to make Haddon successful and a great place to work and which suppliers want to deal with. Charles sourced out and developed X3 about eight years ago, which many people thought was a crazy idea but once again proved to be revolutionary.”
Mannette is referring to the X3 solid laundry detergent that reduces the amount of water required to wash every item of commercial laundry. Presently, Haddon’s customers using the X3 Solid Laundry System are saving over five million litres of water annually, with a high percentage of this volume being hot water. “X3 also eliminates the need of a least three other traditional liquid products, so storage and handling is greatly reduced and the number of plastic 20 litre pails going to landfills is greatly reduced,” says Reid. “Helping the environment in our industry has been very difficult to do in the past, so we’re extremely proud to contribute in a meaningful way to a greener world.”
Reid is equally proud of that fact that Haddon is the exclusive provider of Green Wave, the only solid dish detergent that is EPA approved and 100 per cent environmentally friendly. “Green Wave is used in well over 100 hotels and restaurants as well as care homes and hospitals, and that number will continue to grow,” he says.
Haddon is looking forward to delivering other innovative services to hotels, including the benefits derived from UniLink technology from UniMac. “UniLink is a total laundry control system that allows users to easily gather machine performance and maintenance data, which will result in increased efficiency and reduced operating costs associated with labour, linen replacement, utilities and maintenance,” says Reid. “UniLink is still another year or two away from taking off, but we’re excited about it.” When asked if technology like UniLink will impact Haddon’s service billings, Reid replies, “Yes, but that would be mitigated by travel savings and increased sales.”
In the meantime, it’s business as usual at Haddon, and Reid is keenly anticipating his trip to Campbell River the following morning. “The technology may have changed drastically, but the close-knit ties amongst our staff that have kept this company going for 60 years continue to flourish. We’re friends in our off-hours, we frequently attend hockey games as a group, and sometimes I even send people on all-paid family vacations – because quite frankly my team is invaluable, and it’s rare when everybody has everyone else’s back.”
Reid concludes, “Above everything else, we all genuinely love solving problems for our clients.” To which Mannette adds, “Don and Bob started the company, then transformed it, and now Charles is guiding it with the same kind of vision for the future and sense of fairness that they had. It’s safe to say that his clients will be in good hands — good clean hands — for a long time to come.”