Peter Blunden is about to become better know across Canada in the dry cleaning and laundry industry. The president and owner of East Coast Laundry Systems, based in Halifax, NS, recently scored a major coup - the Canadian distributorships for Renzacci, a large equipment manufacturer in Italy.
“Most manufacturers know of us, as we have been in the industry for 46 years,”
Blunden explained. “The manufacturers are constantly developing their distribution
networks. When I was first approached with these opportunities, it was apparent that we
had a mutual understanding of what it takes to build a national market, so agreement
was quick and surprisingly easy. Negotiations were simple and agreeable from both sides. We had a strong desire to expand geographically across Canada so it was just natural.” Blunden reached a similar deal with Fimas finishing equipment, another large Italian manufacturer.
In recognition of his vision and achievement, Blunden was chosen as this year’s
Canadian Industry Person of the Year by Fabricare Canada.
“I am very honoured to be considered and definitely thrilled to have been selected,” he said. “Everyone appreciates recognition, especially when it’s reflective of your life’s work.”
His philosophy for success is simple: “I have always enjoyed working, meeting people
and doing my best.”
Growing up in Business
Born and raised in Halifax, Blunden studied business at Dalhousie University and worked his way up to his current position. Much of what he knows about the industry he’s learned on the job. “I grew up in a family of business. My father was second generation in the family business and my sons are now fourth generation.” Son Greg, 32, is sales and marketing manager at East Coast Laundry Systems, and James, 29, works in installations. “My father owned and operated a family building supplies business, Brookfield Bros., and a family construction business. I was not allowed to work in the family business until I was 13 years old, a family rule, so my first job at age 11–12 was to have multiple paper routes,” Blunden said. During his student years, he worked every summer and part-time during the school year.
“When I joined the family business, I started in shipping and receiving, loading and unloading trucks for deliveries, as well as customer service with building materials in the lumberyard and at the sales counter. Later, while studying Commerce at Dalhousie University, I assumed my elder brother’s job and created the advertising layouts for the company. Next I worked as a carpentry apprentice for Blunden Construction.”
BETTER SALESMAN THAN CARPENTER
At this point in his then-fledgling career, Blunden had a brainwave. “A couple years in I designed and constructed a mini version of a house in cutaway layers to show all the products included in our package homes. I sold a couple of custom package home at a trade show and then my oldest brother, who was our general manager, told my dad I was much better suited for sales than carpentry.” His father agreed. “I’m a very social person and my eldest brother was
bang right on, so my life as a salesman began,” recalled Blunden. “I went on the road
around the Halifax area, selling building materials to home builders for a couple of years.”
Later, Blunden had a “burning desire to do something entrepreneurial on my own,” so he started a teen disco with his best friend. “We had a lot of fun and learned a lot about business. We were hugely successful for several months and then hugely unsuccessful shortly thereafter. That’s when I learned that you win some and you lose some – business is ever changing. We paid off all of our debts and moved on.” Blunden learned valuable lessons and indeed, he did move on. “It was during the wrap-up of my first entrepreneurial adventure when I met my future wife, Marge, in Halifax when she was finishing
her business degree at Saint Mary’s University. She was soon to move to her home town of Sydney, NS, to work in her family business so I chased my bride to Cape Breton, accepted a job offer to work with her and her father’s housing development business, and later the family laundry machinery business.” It was another good move in his personal development.
“Marge’s father, Ted Latimer, became a great mentor to me. He was a natural salesman.
He developed his businesses because he saw a need and knew how he could fill it. He
taught me to surround myself with good people, good quality products and good service,
and the rest would follow. He was right.”
A HONEYMOON AND A CLEAN SHOW
Married in 1981, Blunden and Marge honeymooned in the Bahamas and attended the
Clean Show in Atlanta, GA, on their way home. Trade shows became a way of life for
them. “We have been to several European Expo Detergos, both in Frankfurt and Milan,
plus every Clean Canada show and every Clean Show since 1981.”
One of his specialties is installing on-premise laundries; he rises to any challenge.
“Our most challenging installation to date would have to be the removal of a
complete laundry, including a tunnel washing system with ironers, folders and dryers and
so on,” Blunden said. “This installation required removal through the centre of a hospital,
without scratching the floor, the removal of windows and craning two stories up to
load trucks to haul 250 miles, place equipment in storage and then rebuild all of the
equipment two years later and re-install it into a new facility in Cape Breton, and make it
EAST COAST SUCCESS
Servicing all of Atlantic Canada is a challenge in itself. “We have a small population
base of only 2.6 million in Atlantic Canada,” he explained. “It’s a territory separated by water, islands and isthmuses that can take one to two days to drive from one end to another. Our sales and service departments drive many hundreds of thousands of miles every year.”
East Coast has five factory trained service technicians with extensively stocked service
vehicles, enabling them to fix most problems when they arrive, using parts from the truck. East Coast also has two parts advisers, three sales persons and two office staff, for a total of 12 experienced employees, most with more than 15 years, some with 30-plus years.
Until recently, East Coast, which already represents several major equipment manufacturers
(including Pellerin Milnor, Huebsch Originators, Chicago Dryer, Energenics, Forenta, Hoffman/New Yorker, Metropolitan Wire and Techstar Carts – most for over 40 years), focused all of its business to serving Canada’s four Atlantic provinces. “Growth for every company is essential. If you’re not growing, you’re shrinking,” Blunden said. “We have approached growth with both vertical and horizontal integration plans. More than 25 years ago we added dry cleaning to our laundry equipment business. “Our biggest and most aggressive market development is our expansion of our distribution geographically,”
he said. “With the addition of good experienced smart salespersons, Greg Blunden and Kory Orchard have enabled me to take on this huge expansion plan to take East Coast Laundry Systems from ‘Coast to Coast’ all across Canada.” Business, and life, has been good to Peter Blunden. “This industry has been extremely kind to us and our family. We have met so many wonderful people and have traveled to so many places over the years. We have also been fortunate enough to experience many sales promotional and development travel trips for sales awards with various manufacturers. This enabled us to make ‘friends for life’ from our business associates and our customers.”
MORE THAN STAYING AFLOAT
Away from the office, Blunden’s passion is sailing, which he learned from his father-in-law and from his wife Marge. “Ted was an avid sailor all his life,” said Blunden. “His father was a lighthouse keeper and he grew up on an island and sailed back and forth to school. He passed his passion for sailing on to his three girls and then on to me.” Blunden, in turn, has passed
his love of sailing on to his two sons. Blunden is a past Vice-Commodore of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron and recipient of the Cruiser of the Year award for 2017. “Sailboat racing is like life, you win some and you lose some but you always do your best, adjust your sails to steer your course and have fun. “I mostly cruise,” he concludes. “You know the definition
of cruising is ‘fixing your boat in exotic places with no parts.’ Sometimes it sounds just like laundry service in a remote outpost in Atlantic Canada.”
-This article was written in Fall 2017 Fabricare Canada Magazine by Wilma Blokhuis