JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kristen Packard is co-owner of distributor Automated Laundry Systems and four Florida-based Laundromats: Clean Quarters, Wash & Go, Quick Wash, and Victoria Coin.
Becoming involved in the laundry industry wasn’t something Packard and her husband/business partner, Don, set out to do.
“We knew how much capital we had to invest and that we had sound business experience, and that was about it,” Packard says. “But when Don randomly found the listing for (Automated Laundry Systems), I got very excited about the business potential right from the start.”
The distribution company model appealed to her on multiple levels. From sales to service and parts, it appeared to be recession-proof. “Plus, there were various revenue streams open to us,” she says. “Everywhere I looked, I saw potential laundry customers.”
In March 2012, the Packards acquired Automated Laundry Systems. They bought their first Laundromat, Clean Quarters, in June 2013, and opened their second, Wash & Go, which was built from the ground up, in February 2017.
“We acquired Quick Wash and Victoria Coin Laundromats in August and November 2017, respectively,” she says.
Prior to immersing herself in the world of laundry, Packard enjoyed a successful career in the apartment industry. Shortly after graduating from Goucher College in Baltimore, she and her husband moved here to Jacksonville.
“Don was in the Navy and we, of course, had no choice but to relocate where they sent us, which was Jacksonville,” she says. “However, the move turned out to be an incredible career opportunity for me. I landed with a local developer and learned everything there was to know about developing apartments under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.
“I feel very fortunate to have had this business experience.”
She also felt fortunate to have attended Goucher College in the first place. It was historically an all women’s college but turned co-ed shortly after Packard applied.
“My freshman class was only the first or second to have men,” she recalls. “Yet the spirit of an all woman’s institution remained exceptionally strong. It impressed upon me that I could be anything I wanted to be.”
At that time, Packard decided she wanted to be a lawyer. As a young girl, growing up in Albuquerque, N.M., she didn’t have any definitive careers in mind; she only knew she wanted something that was secure and reliable.
“My parents had been small-business owners but they didn’t succeed at it, so I was very risk-averse,” she shares.
She met her future husband the first day she arrived in Maryland. Don Packard had recently graduated from the Naval Academy and was living in Maryland on temporary duty before reporting to flight school. They were married during spring break of Kristen’s senior year.
“I had to ask permission of the dean at Goucher to marry and then continue to live in the dorms until graduation,” she remembers. “I know that marrying so soon after college disappointed some of my professors, but I count it as one of my greatest blessings.”
After the move to Florida, the Packards settled into married life and concentrated on their careers.
Kristen worked in the apartment development business for over 15 years, turning to consultant work in that industry, and then becoming a stay-at-home mom. After serving more than a decade in the Navy, Don pursued a second career as a CPA.
Then one day he arrived home with a new revelation.
“He told me he wanted to be an entrepreneur,” she shares. “And my aversion to risk kicked way into high gear, let me tell you. But we had been married for over 20 years and I knew, together, we could do anything.”
Now six years, one distribution company and four Laundromats later, she hasn’t looked back.
Packard takes her responsibility as an employer seriously. “My employees’ livelihoods depend on me,” she states. “Failure is not an option.”
When the Packards purchased Automated Laundry Systems, all of the employees stayed on. Since then, they’ve experienced some turnover, but generally the original team has remained intact.
“We’ve also managed to retain all the staff at each of our Laundromats,” she says. “I’m truly thankful we create working environments where people thrive and can take pride in their work.”
Before entering the laundry business, the Packards knew nothing about washing machines. “Other than the one we owned to wash our clothes, that is,” laughs Kristen. Now they can both spout off facts about the Electrolux professional washing machine’s G-force extraction and automatic water-saving features like pros.
“I can also name parts by sight,” she reveals. “Those black plastic thing-ees that look like top hats. That part number is 471-819501. The little round things with the blue part sticking out? Those are 432-832492.”
There was one thing about the laundry industry that took her by surprise.
“It was the first time in my professional career that being a woman was detrimental,” she shares honestly. “In the beginning, I was very offended that parts customers didn’t want to deal with me because I was a woman. Or other customers just assumed I had no idea how to handle their service issue because I was a woman.
“But I have learned to let all that go and just focus on providing superior customer service.”
Her advice to other women who may be intimidated by joining a “boy’s club”: Don’t back down, and don’t be offended.
“My favorite phrase is, ‘How may I help you?’” she says. “When folks realize that you actually have the power to address their concerns, they will eventually respond.”
She is determined to create more value in Automated Laundry Systems’ service department.
“I would like to see Automated significantly expand its service force over the next five years. We currently have three technicians in the field. My goal is 15 over the next five years.”
She would also like to apply her multi-faceted business strategy in various markets.
“When you provide great customer service in the field for routine repairs, then the opportunity to sell machines will follow.”
And, finally, to focus on new machine sale opportunities through a vast network of general contractors.
“Talk about a male-dominated field! Nonetheless, the building industry in Florida is strong and new opportunities are presented every day. I’m especially looking forward to breaking into this ‘boys club.’”
Editor’s note: During Women’s History Month in March, Laundrylux, distributor of Electrolux and Wascomat commercial laundry equipment in North America, introduced a blog series titled Women in Laundry to celebrate women’s contributions in the workplace. This profile is part of that series and is posted here with permission.