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November 12, 2009 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-11-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BUSINESS & PROFESSIONAL

entrepreneur

Cleaning Up

In an increasingly competitive
business, the Schumers bring
high-tech and a daughter into
General Linen and Uniform.

Bill Carroll
Special to the Jewish News

W

ashing vesh (garments)
today isn't exactly like
beating it with a stick
on a rock near a river
like they used to do in the old days,"
said Bill Schumer, president of General
Linen and Uniform Service (GLUS) in
Detroit, one of the largest privately held
textile rental companies in Michigan
and Ohio.
He and his wife, Irene, company vice
president, explained how their local,
independent linen and uniform busi-
ness has become highly technical and
is now facing several challenges, such
as fierce competition from national
companies, the sluggish economy and
persistent pressure from customers to
trim prices, similar to vendors in the
automotive industry.
But the company has faced many
obstacles in the 90 years since Bill's
father, Harry Schumer, started doing
laundry for customers on Detroit's old
Hastings Street, and the firm, which
calls itself "The Can Do Company," has
survived all of them. Now, it's a $12 mil-
lion-a-year business.
GLUS has 170 employees, a 37,000-
square-foot laundry plant open around
the clock on three shifts and 20 route
trucks. It processes more than 300,000
pounds of laundry a week for about
2,000 customers in Michigan and Ohio,
with a branch office in Toledo.
GLUS also owns Varsity Linen of Ann
Arbor and Klean Linen of Detroit.
Bill and Irene Schumer attribute their
growth and success over the years to
high-quality work and being responsive
to customers. "We go that extra mile;
we turn ourselves inside out to get the
work done perfectly and in a timely
manner," declared Irene.
"We've had the 'Can Do Company'
motto for many years — and it's not
merely a slogan; it's meaningful," added
Bill.
It started in 1913 when Harry

44

Noverr ber 12 . 200 0

Schumer, at 15, was working for a
coffee-roasting company in his native
Poland and, in a fit of anger, hurled
a large bag of coffee at a customer
when he became incensed over the
man's anti-Semitic remark. Harry was
quickly spirited out of town and fled to
America.
After a stint in Chicago, he moved to
Detroit, acquired a partner and began
renting towels to businesses, using
hard work and his gregarious personal-
ity to grow the business.
Harry Schumer incorporated GLUS
in 1919 in a building at Palmer and
Rivard streets, north of Eastern Market
and east of 1-75. It is the site of the
company's current laundry plant, which
expanded through the years. The GLUS
main office and warehouse opened
seven years ago in a historic building
at Piquette and Beaubien, off 1-75 and
1-94, the site of Henry Ford's first plant,
where the famed Model T car and mov-
ing assembly line were conceived. The
high demand for the car forced Ford to
build a larger factory in Highland Park.
An only child, Bill Schumer seemed
destined for the family linen business,
but he wasn't too enamored with the
idea. He got an economics degree from
the University of Michigan, intertwined
with a stint in the U.S. Army Reserve,
which included a posting at Gen.
Douglas MacArthur's headquarters in
Japan after World War II.
Returning to civilian life, he obtained
a master's degree in Soviet studies at
New York's Columbia University and
even sought a foreign service career.
"But the U.S. State Department people
weren't too encouraging to Jews; I was
met with a lot of hostility. They were
dubious that a Jew could work with
other countries in the Mideast."
Harry Schumer gave his son an ulti-
matum: "If you don't come into the
business, I'm going to sell it; there's
no one else in the family to take over."
Recalls Bill Schumer: "So I joined the
business as a vice president. It was
humorous in a way because Soviet

Bill Schumer works with a wrapping machine at General Linen and Uniform Service.

studies weren't much of a help in the
linen business." Harry Schumer died at
age 78 in the 1970s.
An ardent Labor Zionist like his father,
Bill met Irene at a Zionist event in New
York and they have been married for 65
years. After having three children, Irene,
85, a former social worker, also joined
the business and works side by side
with Bill, 86.
Their children are Dr. David Schumer
of Seattle, Debbie Tuchman, a New
Jersey attorney, and Sharon Schwartz
of Bloomfield Hills, who recently
became the third generation of the
Schumer family to work at GLUS. The
Schumers have 11 grandchildren.

Third Generation

Married and the mother of three of

those grandchildren, Schwartz has
been a teacher for 22 years at Hillel
Day School of Metropolitan Detroit and
is now on a leave of absence to learn
the management ropes at GLUS. "It's
sort of ironic because my parents now
need me in the business to help keep it
going — the same way my grandfather
needed my father back then."
Schwartz has been added to the
company's executive committee, which
runs GLUS on a day-to-day basis. She
is selling the company's services with
a team of 10 district sales representa-
tives, plus route delivery personnel,
calling on customers. Other commit-
tee members are the Schumers; Terry
Nix, vice president and general man-
ager, who also is committee chairman;
David East, vice president-operations;

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