Mary Speckhart always knew her future was with her family’s manufacturing company, White Conveyors. So, she studied engineering, just like her dad.
A few years after graduating, she got the call: Her services were needed at the company.
Just not where she expected.
“(My father) asked if I’d come in and help, and I was thinking I could work in engineering,” Speckhart said. “Then he said, ‘I need someone to do my accounting.’”
She served as the company’s vice president of finance and administration, an odd twist that provided a complement to her engineering background and allowed her to see the financial side of the business. It worked out well — preparing her to ultimately take over as president in 2014 and become the latest generation at the helm of the Kenilworth-based business.
The company, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, originally started when it was awarded a patent for the Consec-U-Veyor, a garment storage device most recognizable at dry cleaning businesses. Having installed more than 75,000 conveyors around the world, the business now has expanded from servicing laundromats to the hospitality industry and hotels.
“That’s where we’ve grown in the last 20 years … our uniform distribution,” Speckhart said. “Anywhere where you have people and you’re trying to gain control of your garment inventory, where you’re in charge of employee or customer garments, we provide the tools to help you manage that inventory.”
To that end, the company strives to understand the workings and needs of each business it services, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all solution.
“We start with our salesmen going in and speaking with the operations person to see how they run their business,” she said. “We’re not going to tell you how to run your business; we want to know how you manage it so that our tools can help you with efficiency.”
Sometimes, that task can be a large one, including one client in Canada that processes 30,000 garments a day.
Stephen J. Speckhart (grandfather): One of the original founders, with Hugo Weiss
Bernard S. Speckhart (father): Chairman
Mary Speckhart: President
Stephen Speckhart (brother): Vice president of engineering
John Speckhart (brother): Vice president of administration and treasurer
Other times, it’s a long-term relationship: White Conveyors has worked with Kohl’s for nearly 20 years.
“Kohl’s department stores was a huge company for us during the boom of their growth in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” she said. “Since all their garments are hung, we provided most of the conveyors for their backroom storage.”
Two decades later, the company is still servicing and replacing those machines when necessary.
“My father joined the business in the 1950s and, with that, came the innovation from static rails like hanging things on Z-racks or poles to the conveyor system to help the dry cleaners move their garments around faster and use up more usable space,” she said.
That technology has stood the test of time, even as innovations continue and computer automation is added to their products.
“Every conveyor we make is based off that same framework, and we’ve modified some frames as we’ve automated the system,” she said.
Biz in brief
Company: White Conveyors
One more thing: In the 1960s, the company started getting into other industries such as the printing industry, where its machines helped companies organize the dyes used in newsprint.
“We have the computer that we’ve added to it with barcodes and RFIDs (radio-frequency identification devices) that scan the garments so the computer can recognize where they are and automatically sort them.”
It’s a history Speckhart cherishes.
“When I was little, I used to come to the office with my dad, and my grandfather was a machinist, so he’d be out in the factory working on my father’s designs,” she said. “I used to love the comradery and respect they had for each other and all the employees.”
It’s a feeling that still permeates the family business, according to Speckhart, who says that “everyone is like part of the family.”
That feeling is one of the reasons why the company frequently hires from within.
“I’m very fortunate and have a lot of staff that has come up the ranks,” she said. “Our current international salesman actually started with us 35 years ago as a welder and our operations guy came from the R&D department working side by side with my dad.”
She still has a strong relationship with her father, Bernard, who serves as chairman.
“I loved working with him and still do,” she said. “I still go and sit with him on a regular basis to talk about the business. He’s still interested.”
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