Subar Oversees Model Business

July 21, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — As Model Coverall Service celebrates its 80th year in business, it does so with a third generation Subar at the helm.

President Jonathan Subar, son of former Model Coverall president Jerry Subar, and grandson of company founder, Max Subar, appears to have a deep sense of pride in carrying on the family tradition, as well as an innate talent for running a business.

Max Subar started the business, originally known as Grand Rapids Coat & Apron, in 1923 as a small, one-man operation. He lived in Detroit and on a ride through Grand Rapids decided to spend a couple hours touring it.

"He saw a great opportunity to bring linen rental to Grand Rapids," his grandson recalls. "There were none here at the time."

Today, the uniform rental and service company employs 75, processes about 8,000 shirts and pants daily and about 100,000 pounds of laundry weekly, and has 20 trucks that deliver uniforms along 13 routes in most of lower Michigan and northern Indiana.

Model has service offices in Lansing and South Bend, but all production takes place at its 45,000-square-foot plant at 100 28th St. SE.

Approximately half the company's business is in uniform rental and service and the remaining in rental and maintenance of shop towels, as well as floor mats for corporate offices and industrial plants.

Model was one of the first uniform rental companies in the country to use a continuous batch washer for uniforms and floor mats.

In 1996, it was the first company of its kind in Michigan to establish an automated garment sorting system that integrated with the company's barcode/route accounting software. That same year, Model installed a 1,000-pound capacity, long-tunnel washer and a "steam tunnel" that completes the garment drying process and applies finishing touches.

The automated system not only enhanced the accuracy and speed of operations and customer deliveries, but freed employees from a lot of the repetitive motion work.

"Fifteen years ago automated sorting was just a dream," Subar recalled. "We have eliminated all the manual errors that exist in a manual system. The customer gets more accurate deliveries on a more timely basis. And for our employees, it's a much better place to work."

Like many other kids whose family owns a business, Subar worked for Model while growing up.

"I knew it was always a serious possibility for me to get into the family business. It was never forced upon me, and it was always very clear that I would go work somewhere else after college first."

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in finance, he worked a few years as a commercial lending officer for a large bank in Boston.

"I saw a lot of different kinds of companies, saw how they worked — saw what worked and what didn't work," he recalled. "I decided I'd rather spend all that time and energy on making my own business successful."

So in 1986 he returned to Grand Rapids and went to work for his dad. He worked on the plant floor and over time held positions such as a route salesman, service manager and sales manager.

"I've done everything here to some degree over the years, and I think that has kind of given me an advantage to moving into the job of president and being seen as the future of our company."

Subar purchased the company from his father and took over as president 18 months ago. His father serves as chairman of the board — and as the company's own industry guru. Subar credits his father with placing "excellent people" in top positions in the company, many of whom are long-term employees.

For customers, the great convenience of Model Coverall's uniform rental service is that there is no upfront investment, Subar said.

Model fronts several hundred dollars in uniform costs for each individual in each client company. Each individual gets 11 sets of uniforms, of which five are laundered each week Clients pay a flat rental fee each week for a "package" that includes the uniform, its laundering, a patented garment repair system, on-site weekly delivery and a money-back guarantee.

"One of the great things about doing business with Model Coverall Service is that as a smaller, locally owned family company, our customers have direct access to the owners," Subar remarked. "We're able to do things that are unique and customized for each customer.

"Our mission is to satisfy customers on Main Street, not stockholders on Wall Street. Our goal is to be the premier supplier in West Michigan, and to do that we have to focus on what the customer wants, not what Wall Street wants."

Model has 3,000 uniform accounts currently. Some uniform accounts have just one uniform wearer while others have hundreds. Subar said even though the one-wearer account costs a little more than the 500-wearer account, it's still a very economical service. In fact, people are often surprised to discover the cost of the service is about half of what they expected, he said.

Model added safety supplies to its product line and on-site first aid safety and training to its service mix three years ago and currently has about 1,000 of those accounts. It's now a small but growing part of the business, and Subar is considering other ways to expand.

"We're looking to be more and more of a complete source," he said. "We're looking at other things we can offer our customers. We're now in the process of asking customers what more we can do for them."

His vision is to grow Model Coverall into "a one-source supplier of products and services that promote the image, cleanliness, productivity and safety of employees in the workplace."

Possibilities for additional business divisions include carpet cleaning, janitorial supply, snowplowing and lawn maintenance.

The world of uniforms seems to be trending toward more stylish selections, Subar noted. He's seeing increased demand for more color variety, stripes and knits.

"The new styles are all part of the focus on uniforms as image — helping promote, in a very inexpensive way, the image of the company and reinforce other image-related signals a company gives out through advertising. It's becoming more and more important for us to help our customers to be competitive and unique."

Subar said he loves the challenge of his job.

"I get a chance to do so many things — working with all different kinds of customers with different kinds of issues; helping find new products we can bring to the market; and dealing with employee issues to help make this a better place to work. I'm proud to carry on the family tradition."

He wants to give his own five children the opportunity to carry on, as well. And he wants to assure that what he might someday pass down to them is a company that's "strong, diverse, profitable and has a good reputation."

It's a more diverse company today, to be sure, but otherwise the same "model" company Max and Jerry Subar handed down to him.           


: Jonathan Subar
Company: Model Coverall Service
Title: President
Age: 41
Born: Grand Rapids
Residence: Grand Rapids
Personal: Wife, Mirit; five children
Biggest career break: “Having a father who was a great role model for me both at work and outside of work.”
Business and community affiliations: Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; Textile Rental Services Association; supports United Way of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Grand Rapids Public Museum.

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