RIPON, Wis. — Less than a year ago, Pravin Parmar was perched in a National Guard boat navigating the streets he normally drove on his way to work. He was hoping Hurricane Harvey spared his facility. As the Guardsman guided the boat to the front of Gulf States Laundry Machinery Co., the Houston business he owns with his brother, Harish, it was clear that the 24 inches of water was not just outside the company’s Houston office; it had completely flooded the facility.
Fast forward to April 2018. Pravin is standing in an immaculate showroom and he is smiling. He is smiling because the entire staff at Gulf States, people he considers family, worked together to overcome the devastating impact of a hurricane and be named the 2017 Huebsch Distributor of the Year.
“If the Gulf States story was solely about rising from the floodwaters and getting back to business as usual in less than eight weeks of time, it would be great,” says Kathryn Rowen, North American sales manager for Huebsch. “Where the story becomes absolutely amazing is the team did all that while posting one of its most impactful years to win this award; truly remarkable.”
Gulf States got its start in 1984 in a garage in Houston. The Patels set out with a goal to not just sell drycleaning equipment, but simplify the business for entrepreneurs. They wanted to become the trusted, go-to experts sharing their expertise every step of the way. This customer-first focus helped them become one of the largest distributors of drycleaning equipment in the country.
When Alliance Laundry Systems approached Gulf States about taking on the Huebsch brand of vended laundry equipment, the pair saw potential.
“The coin laundry business, we really saw this as something we could grow big,” Pravin says. But the brothers also were in agreement on another point. “If I’m going to take on a line, we’re going to strive to be among the best,” he adds.
CREATING CUSTOMER OPPORTUNITIES
Gulf States adopted the same approach to the vended laundry segment that had made it successful in the drycleaning business: make it easy on the customer.
“We aren’t ‘salespeople,’” Pravin says. “This is about creating opportunities for customers.”
Gulf States has built a loyal customer base with this approach. That loyalty is forged in the company’s service, which includes a parts department that is open six days a week. Pravin adds that sales staff sets the bar high out of the gate in being strict on the locations they work with customers on. They will walk away from a deal, if the location doesn’t meet their high standards for success.
“We always knew we were working with the highest-quality manufacturer,” Pravin says of the strong relationship Gulf States has with Huebsch representatives and the brand’s parent company, Alliance Laundry Systems.
That relationship, combined with the staff’s intimate knowledge of the region, having developed drycleaning businesses in the Houston area for decades, have helped the company become a prolific Laundromat developer.
THE STORM AND THE RECOVERY
Pravin likes to say part of the success of Gulf States is that they “sell from the heart.” Heart is also what helped the company rebound so quickly from something that might have kept some companies down for a year or more.
When the team was allowed back in the flooded office, they set to work removing drywall, carpeting, etc. Meanwhile, the company’s Atlanta location was instrumental in helping make sure Houston customers had access to service, support, and any new equipment necessary to getting back up and running.
“Gulf States is like a family, and that showed after the hurricane,” Pravin says, adding that Ben Prema, who heads up the Atlanta office, worked tirelessly in helping ensure the Houston facility and its customers were well taken care of with no interruptions.
And just what is family capable of in the face of a disaster? Consider that Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017—and the Gulf States open house, scheduled for October 2017, went on as planned. Equally inspiring is that Gulf States transacted 30% of its 2017 business in the fourth quarter.
“The tenacity Gulf States showed in rebuilding their Houston office is testament to the passion this entire team brings to the laundry business,” Rowen says. “They are so deserving of Huebsch’s top annual honor.”
This is the third time Gulf States has won the Huebsch Distributor of the Year award.