North Dakota’s protective clothing and work-wear industry has a boost from the oil boom.
The amount of business has increased one local laundering service’s workload and enticed another to move to the area. Clothing and shoe stores in the area have expanded to carry the gear workers need.
AmeriPride’s Bismarck operation is one of the fastest growing company wide, mostly due to business from the oil and gas industry, Communications Director Ben Saukko said.
“Those branches (near an oil field) are growing exponentially more than the company as a whole,” he said.
AmeriPride started operating in Bismarck in the 1970s and opened its laundering plant in 1982, General Manager Rick Siebels said.
G&K Services, a Minneapolis-based uniform service company that offers much of what AmeriPride does, has had locations in North Dakota since 1996 but just moved to Bismarck about two years ago.
Washers that can handle between 500 and 1,000 pounds of greasy uniforms, door mats, towels and aprons tumble nearly 24 hours a day at AmeriPride’s plant in south Bismarck. Siebels said the company’s 140 employees clean and supply the fabrics used by businesses across western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
The company provides uniforms, laundering services and paper goods to a number of industries, including auto mechanics, medical clinics, restaurants and coal mines.
Looking at the bags, bins and the overhead conveyor belt, one sees lots of coveralls. In the last three years, the oil and gas industry has become a significant part of Ameripride’s customer base, Siebels said.
Whenever a customer hires a new employee, AmeriPride takes the employee’s measurements to find a uniform to fit. The company carries fire retardant clothing and other protective gear specifically needed to work in the oil industry.
If an employee’s uniform needs mending or the employee needs a different size, AmeriPride takes care of that. Everything is folded, pressed, packaged and delivered to the customer’s work site by one of the company’s 50 trucks, Siebels said.
The plant runs two shifts, Monday through Friday, processing about 80 loads of laundry a day on average.
AmeriPride has been in business in North Dakota for quite some time. When oil production boomed it brought new challenges for the company.
To deal with the heavily greased uniforms of many oil field workers, AmeriPride’s chemical and detergent supply company, Ecolab, had to come up with a special formula to get clothes clean, Siebels said. The company was used to dealing with greasy mechanics’ uniforms but nothing like what the oil field brings in.
“Sometimes they just get saturated,” Siebels said.
AmeriPride has had service center locations in Minot and Dickinson for 30-plus years where workers could drop off their soiled uniforms for cleaning. In the last year, the company built two new service centers in both those locations to meet increased demand. A store to sell a safety clothing line was opened in Williston in the last year.
“We needed to expand because of the Bakken,” Siebels said.
The Bismarck laundry plant got a facelift, too. In June, 9,000 square feet was added.
“It was tight,” Siebels said.
The company moved its rug-laundering into the expansion and may end up having to get even more space by adding on again or moving to a new location.
“We’re considering all options,” Siebels said.
G&K has been renting its space at 1414 S. 26th St. in Bismarck, said Jeff Huebschen, director of investor relations. The company is of negotiating a purchase agreement with the city of Bismarck for a tract of land at the Northern Plains Commerce Centre, according to city records.
Huebschen said the Bismarck area has been growing for a number of years and G&K saw an opportunity to continue expanding its presence in the market.
“We think there are a lot of good opportunities to grow business there and we’re making investments to do that,” he said.
Huebschen would not comment on the amount of business or loads of laundry the Bismarck location has brought the company. He also would not say how large the company’s service area was, citing competitive reasons.
Red Wing Shoes in downtown Bismarck expanded to 2,100 square feet last summer. Manager Troy Barber said the store was remodeled with an industrial look to match its new line of industrial work wear.
Red Wing has been in Bismarck for 44 years but hadn’t carried work clothing until recently. In addition to shoes, the store now carries fire retardant clothing and personal protective equipment to cater to the oil and gas industry.
“It’s doing well for us,” Barber said. “It’s right about where I projected it to be.”
Only six out of the 500 Red Wing stores nationwide carry the clothing line. Besides Bismarck, the new Watford City location also carries the clothing. When the new Dickinson and Williston stores open, they will, too.
Barber said the company is still getting a feel for how the work clothing line will sell. It will be carried only in stores with a proximity to the oil and gas industry.