If there is a theme throughout the 130-year history of Huebsch, it is that change is a constant. To survive and thrive through four generations of local family ownership, Huebsch has focused on innovating and staying connected to the local communities it supports.
The Early Years
Huebsch was founded in 1891 by John and Joseph Huebsch, the young sons of German immigrants. They saw an opportunity in the booming lumber town of Eau Claire, WI and founded a commercial laundry service company to support the community’s need. Their entrepreneurial spirit yielded success as their employees grew to over 100 with a network of trains and horse-drawn wagons serving a 50-mile radius of Eau Claire. Customers included logging camps that used baskets to deliver their laundry to pick-up points in the small communities throughout the Northwoods.
The business was incorporated as Huebsch laundry company in 1902. The oldest of the eight Huebsch brothers, John Huebsch, acted as the head of the family. As the enterprise grew, the younger brothers assumed positions of responsibility and the company’s reach grew to include the communities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Winona, MN, San Francisco/Oakland, CA, and Milwaukee, WI.
Only John’s branch of the laundry service business in Wisconsin continues today including its expansion back into Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN in 1993. Jim Vaudreuil, great grandson of John Huebsch, is the fourth generation President and CEO.
The Pandemic of 1918
In reflecting on the history of Huebsch at a time when there is a global pandemic happening, it’s hard not to turn the page to 1918. Huebsch was already a thriving laundry business of 27 years when an influenza pandemic spread throughout the world. In October of 1918, when an estimated 21 cases of the Spanish Flu were documented in the Eau Claire area, Huebsch made the decision to start making face masks. John Huebsch was quoted in local news sources as saying, “If one individual is saved from the disease, the effect will be repaid.”
102 years later, Huebsch is still servicing the Eau Claire area and is again experiencing a viral pandemic. With the initial shortage of personal protective equipment, Huebsch developed a plan to make masks for employees once again. 5,000 fabric face masks were made, much more than was needed for their employee base to use at work and home. Huebsch sold the additional fabric masks to support the needs of its customers with a portion of sales being donated to local food pantries. In addition, approximately 1,000 face masks were donated directly to homeless shelters within their service areas. Along with the production of fabric face masks, Huebsch also supported the Mask Beez community face mask initiative in the Eau Claire area. When no one could find face masks early on in the pandemic, the Mask Beez organization stepped in and started sewing. Huebsch picked up, provided the initial laundering, and then delivered back to the medical community 19,239 fabric face masks for the public to use.
At that time, face masks for medical use were also in short supply. Huebsch acquired a small supply of KN95 masks through its overseas suppliers and donated them to county agencies for distribution to first responders who were experiencing the shortage of necessary personal protective equipment.
Vaudreuil stated, “My great grandfather’s sentiment rings true today. If finding ways to supply our community with face masks saves even one life, it is worth it.”
Huebsch continues to be an industrial laundry focused on its customers. Huebsch is unique in the industry with its use of a lean customer-focused cellular uniform production process. This means the production floor is broken up into smaller “cells.” Each of those cells washes, dries, hangs, and mends uniforms in small batches allowing each account to stay together throughout processing. For the customer, this means Huebsch can ensure more accurate uniform delivery. The Huebsch production facility is also HACCP certified for the laundering of food processing uniforms.
Within the last five years, Huebsch made a significant commitment to sustainability with a 100kw solar installation at the Eau Claire facility. This solar panel system provides a significant portion of the energy needs for the Eau Claire facility. It allows Huebsch to co-generate energy and contribute to overall community sustainability as well. As a member of the Laundry Environmental Stewardship program, Huebsch focuses on reductions in chemical usage as well as water and energy conservation to protect the environment. Huebsch was recognized by the Textile Rental Services Association with the Clean Green Innovation Award for the solar initiative and commitment to sustainability.
In addition to supporting its customers with uniform and floor mat rental service, Huebsch also supports its communities in Western Wisconsin and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area through volunteerism and charitable giving. A full list of organizations Huebsch supports can be found here.
“Giving back is at the heart of what we do at Huebsch. The hometowns of our employees and customers are our hometowns too,” said Vaudreuil. “That’s what it means to be a local family-owned business.”
While many things in the world are uncertain right now, Huebsch feels confident as it looks to the future. Through 130 years, Huebsch has continued to support its customers and communities despite challenging situations during World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the pandemic of 1918.
“Change is a constant,” said Vaudreuil. “The ability to adapt, innovate, and stay connected to our local communities over time is what keeps us going strong.”
Huebsch continued to grow in 2020 despite the pandemic and has plans to expand its current facilities in Eau Claire, WI and Eagan, MN.
Vaudreuil, who has been in the industry for 40 years, is optimistic about the future despite all the current challenges. He said, “I’m bullish on our future, and I am confident Huebsch will continue to grow and thrive.”