Admiral Cleaners Celebrates 75th Year in Business
The year 2007 marks Admiral Cleaners' 75 th anniversary, a significant milestone for any business, especially a family-owned and operated business. What makes Admiral's longevity even more noteworthy is that its evolution as a family business happened more by circumstance than design.
One of the oldest dry cleaning and laundry companies in Maryland, today Admiral is also one of the largest in the state with twenty-two locations. Built on a commitment to customer service , Admiral is a full-service operation providing traditional dry cleaning, laundry and alteration services, drive-through services, and free pick-up and delivery.
“As a family business, we understand that people are extremely busy these days,” said Whitney Kerridge, chairman and vice president of the company. “That's why customer service and convenience have always been and will continue to be our primary concerns.“ Ms. Kerridge and her husband, Scott Kerridge, president of the company, are the third generation to operate Admiral Cleaners.
Admiral traces its history to Silver Spring, Maryland, where Henry Worcester, grandfather of Ms. Kerridge, and a partner started the company in 1932. As was customary for those times, the company was a route operation, picking up and delivering to a residential clientele from its plant.
In the late 1950s, Worcester shifted his focus to the Annapolis area and more “modern day” operations where customers brought their clothes to a retail location. He purchased three dry cleaning businesses in Annapolis: Marketplace Cleaners, West Street Coin-op and Admiral Laundry and Cleaners on Taylor Avenue. He also sold his Silver Spring-based route business, but kept the plant. The business thrived during the 1960s, adding several more locations.
It was also during this time that Jock Hopkins, son-in-law of Worcester and a long-time resident of the Annapolis area, attended Washington & Lee University with his eyes on law school. But upon his graduation in 1967, Uncle Sam had other plans for him. He applied to the Navy's Officer Candidate School and subsequently spent three and a half years stationed in Pearl Harbor. While there, he also attended the University of Hawaii where he got an MBA since they didn't have a law program. When he returned home, he landed a job at First National Bank of Maryland.
“I hated being cooped up in an office all day.” Hopkins said. “I missed being active and I missed being my own boss.” It was at a family dinner just a few months into his tenure at the bank that Hopkins' father-in-law, who had just lost his general manager, suggested he come to work at Admiral.
“I really hadn't thought about getting into the business before. Nobody grows up saying I want to be a dry cleaner…they say I want to be a lawyer or a doctor, but not a dry cleaner.” Hopkins said. In 1971, Hopkins left banking and began learning the business.
That same year, rains from Hurricane Agnes destroyed the plant in Silver Spring. This prompted the move of the company's headquarters to Annapolis in 1972. A few years later, Hopkins was named president. In the late 1970s, the company changed its corporate name to Admiral, Inc., conducting business as Admiral Cleaners.
The Kerridges became involved in the business during the 1990s in much the same way Hopkins did. “My daughter, Whitney had been dating Scott Kerridge for some time. Scott had graduated with a degree in managerial economics from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and was working at Alex Brown. Like me when I was his age, he was unhappy with his career choice,” Hopkins explained. “He asked if there were any openings at Admiral and, knowing how hard it is to find good management people in this industry, I jumped at the chance to bring him on board.” Scott and Whitney married that same year.
Whitney had followed in her father's footsteps to a certain extent by attending Washington & Lee University and, upon graduation, getting a job at First National Bank of Maryland. “But I hadn't contemplated joining the business,” Ms. Kerridge said. When the company lost its office manager in 1997, Mr. Kerridge suggested that they ask Whitney to take the job. “It took some convincing to get me to leave a career in banking to come into the business,” she said.
In 2001, Mr. Kerridge was named president of Admiral and in 2005, the Kerridges officially took over ownership from Hopkins who retired as chairman of the board after more than 30 years with the company.
Over the years, Admiral has grown by acquiring key locations convenient to its customers and expanding its services to address their needs. Admiral was the first dry cleaning company in Annapolis to offer a drive-through service, providing a convenient and quicker way for its clientele to drop off and pick up their clothing.
This focus on the customer is also the reason Admiral returned to the route business in the latter part of the 1990s, literally coming full circle. The company currently operates six routes providing its busy customers with the ultimate convenience of pick-up and delivery at the exact same price as if they dropped off their cleaning themselves.
According to Admiral's customers, it is this commitment to service that is key to the company's success. “Admiral is the Nordstrom of dry cleaners,” said Ellen Allen, who has been an Admiral customer for more than a decade and a route customer for the last six of those years. “I love the free pick-up and delivery service,” she said. “I'm so busy with my business and my family…it's one less thing I have to worry about and you can count on it like clockwork. Plus, Admiral takes great pride in its work. You can be assured that everything will be done to your satisfaction.”
Kirk Jay, another long time customer, agrees. “Admiral stands behind its work. I've been going to Admiral since I started wearing suits and can tell you that if there is ever a question or problem, which is rare, they'll straighten it out.” Jay adds, “The counter staff is always so friendly and nice. In fact, I've been a customer for so long that they know my car and usually have my cleaning ready and waiting for me when I walk in the door.”
“Admiral is a great company,” said David Clokey who started working with Admiral 11 years ago as a counter employee and is now vice president of operations and general manager of operations in Anne Arundel County. “They took a chance on me and pushed me to excel. They are really good people who deeply care about their business, their customers and their employees. I plan on retiring from Admiral!”
“We fully recognize that we would not be where we are today without the loyal patronage of our customers and the support of our staff and for that we are truly grateful.” Ms. Kerridge said. “We are proud to represent the third generation of family ownership of Admiral Cleaners and look forward to many more years of providing our customers with the family-friendly service and quality they have learned to expect from us.”
Admiral currently employs 155 individuals throughout the state of Maryland. Of Admiral's 22 locations, eight are in Anne Arundel County, three are in the Westminster area of Carroll County and 11 are in the mid-shore and Salisbury areas of the Eastern Shore. Of the company's six pick-up and delivery routes, three are in Anne Arundel County, two are in Carroll County and one is on the Eastern Shore.