Local Companies Starting to Land Contracts with MGM Springfield
The Trickle-down Effect
Rebeca Merigian says the slip was found, and promptly given to her, many years ago by a long-time customer, a description she quickly categorized as an obvious understatement.
Indeed, the date at the top is 1940, and thus this item, now displayed under glass, is a time capsule as much as it is a pick-up slip for a two-piece suit.
Start with the phone number at the top; there are just five digits because that’s all that were needed back then (ask your mother; actually, make that your grandmother). The name of the company was Park Cleaners & Dyers Inc. (the ‘& Dyers’ was dropped a long time ago because those services were discontinued). The address is Kensington Avenue in Springfield (the company moved to Allen Street in 1955). Even the slogan is different; back then it was ‘Dry cleaning as it should be done.’ Now, it’s ‘Family-owned and operated since 1935. We appreciate your business.’
Yes, much has changed since Edward Takorian, an Armenian who somehow escaped the genocide of 1915 and came to this country soon thereafter, went into business for himself.
There have been many ups and downs, said Merigian, Takorian’s great-granddaughter, who started working in the business on Saturdays when she was 9 and bought it from her mother three years ago. She noted that the company was started at the height of the Great Depression and has endured many other downturns over the next eight decades, and also the early death of her father. Not so long ago, there were more than 20 people working here; now there are four, including Merigian’s son and nephew.
But that number will be rising soon, thanks to what would have to be one of the biggest developments since that suit was picked up a year before the U.S. entered World War II — a contract with MGM Springfield, the $960 million resort casino that will open in about four months.
Park Cleaners has been awarded a contract to clean the uniforms for all 3,000 employees at the casino, and for the dry-cleaning of hotel guests and the MGM Springfield management team as well. Merigian couldn’t put a dollar figure on the contract, but she could certainly put it into perspective.
“I’m hoping that this will double our business,” she told BusinessWest, adding that the contract could give her the means to perhaps double the current workforce and pay the kind of benefits that are currently beyond the company’s reach. “My goal from this is to be able to provide health insurance for my employees who have been with through a lot of the challenges; I want to give back to them and provide more benefits and incentives so we can grow.”
Several other area businesses now have contracts with MGM or are in the process of finalizing one. Most will not be as life-changing as the one received by Park Cleaners, but they are all significant in some way.
Take Agawam-based Yankee Mattress, for example. The company was originally asked to supply mattresses for all the rooms in MGM’s Springfield hotel, an order that Nick Noblit, the company’s general manager, admitted was too big to handle at this time. But the company will make California kings for the larger, high-roller suites, an assignment that will give the company additional business and some hopefully effective marketing material.
Meanwhile, Holyoke-based Kittredge Equipment Co. has secured one of the bigger contracts — this one to provide kitchen appliances and supplies to the many businesses that will do business at the casino.
There have been other contracts signed, and there will be many more agreements inked in the weeks to come as the countdown to the grand opening continues, said Courtney Wenleder, vice president and chief financial officer for MGM Springfield. She told BusinessWest that, as part of its host-community agreement, the company is required to apportion a percentage of its receivables to local companies.
But the company is striving to do more than just meet that obligation, she said, adding that MGM is looking to take the company’s philosophy regarding diversity and apply it to its vendor list. And this translates into extending opportunities to women (Kittredge is also woman-owned), minorities, and small businesses in general.
“MGM has a commitment to diversity and partnering with local vendors,” she explained. “It’s all about building the community together; there’s a symbiotic relationship — if the community does well, we do well, and vice versa.”
For this issue, BusinessWest looks at how the trickle-down effect from MGM Springfield, which began with local contractors taking part in the construction of the complex, is gathering momentum in the form of contracts to supply everything from knives and forks to marketing services. And while doing that, we’ll also shine a spotlight on some intriguing local businesses that have, by and large, flown under the radar.
The Rest of the Story
Wenleder told BusinessWest that many factors go into MGM’s decisions about which vendors to do business with and what might give a certain enterprise an edge over whatever competition emerges.
They range from quality of service and customer satisfaction, obviously, to whether, as noted, the business is minority- or women-owned. But there are some intangibles, and sometimes a little luck, that comes into play.
To get that point across, she relayed the story about how MGM Springfield now rents several apartments downtown, and they’re used, among other things, to house company executives visiting Springfield for extended stays.
MGM CEO William Hornbuckle is one of these executives, and on one of his stays, he slept so soundly and comfortably that he took note of the label on his mattress (Yankee), later commented to those at MGM Springfield’s headquarters about his experience, and essentially initiated steps that would eventually lead to the company getting a contract.
“Bill commented about what a great night’s sleep he had on that mattress, and that pretty much secured their position,” Wenleder recalled with a laugh, adding that it wasn’t all that simple, but that bit of serendipity certainly got the ball rolling.
And the mattress contract serves as a good example of how MGM is trying to do business locally when it can and when it’s appropriate, said MGM Springfield General Manager Alex Dixon.
He noted, as Wenleder did, that there are times when MGM will simply add the Springfield casino to some existing contracts it has in place to provide certain products and services to the company’s existing properties.
Playing cards and dice would be good examples of this, he said, adding that MGM already has manufacturers providing those products. And, for the most part, there is no local company that makes such items.
But even with those products, there may be some opportunities for local businesses, he went on, noting, for example, that most playing cards are destroyed soon after they’re used, and MGM Springfield will use a local company to handle that work.
“We want to recognize what’s available in the local market and then tailor our supply chain to match what is happening in the local community,” he said while describing the company’s broad mindset when it comes to vendors.
Overall, MGM has a process in place when it comes to vendors, said Dixon, adding that the company actively solicits information from companies interested in doing business with it. The owners and managers of such ventures are invited to attend outreach events (they’re posted on the MGM Springfield website, for example), and through such events, companies become part of a database the company refers to when it needs specific products or services.
“Whenever there’s a business need, we want to find out if there are vendors, preferably local, who can help us to fulfill those needs — that’s step one,” he explained. “But informally, being members of the community, you really develop relationships.
“It’s no longer ‘hey there’s this great local brewer,’” he went on, while explaining how these relationships are created. “Now it’s ‘that’s Ray Berry from White Lion; maybe there’s an opportunity there.’”
In other words, familiarity breeds opportunity, and examples abound of how companies ranging from local caterers and computer hardware providers have come onto MGM Springfield’s radar screen — and are now doing business with the company.
The contract with Yankee Mattress is a good example of this phenomenon at work, said Dixon, confirming that the company was first presented with a proposal to furnish every room in its hotel now taking shape on Main Street.
But Noblet said such a large order would have necessitated additional hiring and other steps the company wasn’t ready to take.
But the contract to supply mattresses for the larger suites is a welcome addition and positive development for the Agawam-based company, which has been gaining traction in recent years as word-of-mouth referrals about its products proliferate.
This is another family business, started by Nick’s father, Joe, who is still active in the venture. The elder Noblit worked for a major mattress manufacturer for several years before deciding he could make a better product, and at a lower price, himself. And he did.
Yankee was launched in 1999, and it has grown and evolved other the years, said Noblit, adding that it started with a storefront and adjacent assembly area in Agawam, and now has four stores in the region.
Those outlets carry a host of lines with those huge tags that are supposedly illegal to rip off, including the top-of-line Black Collection, with models including the York, Fairhaven, Merrimac, and Nantucket.
There is a strong residential component to the customer base, obviously, said Noblit, but also many commercial clients as well, including several area B&Bs, hotels, and inns, as well as some healthcare providers, a few private schools, and a host of area fire departments.
“We custom-build those to be stronger than average — because there are some big firefighters out there and it’s important for them to have something durable,” he explained, adding that word of mouth has been the best marketing tool when it comes to adding new lines to the customer list on the company’s website.
If one were to peruse that list, the name now at the very top is MGM Resorts International, an indication of how important this contract is, not size-wise, but from a marketing and branding standpoint.
“Most hotels have a contract with a major manufacturer, and across the board, they do business with this manufacturer, and they make all of their beds,” he explained. “So for MGM to consider someone outside these big manufacturers that are nationwide, that’s significant.”
But if MGM Springfield found Yankee Mattress thanks to Bill Horbuckle’s good night’s sleep, most of the other vendors have had to find the casino giant.
And ‘find’ means going through a process of introducing one’s company to MGM Springfield through one of a number of vendor meet-and-greets, for lack of a better term, that the company has staged, including one at last fall’s Western Mass. Business and Innovation Expo, staged by BusinessWest.
Through these outreach sessions, MGM is making it much easier for companies to find it, said Wenleder, adding that MGM Springfield has a three-person purchasing team (a manager and two assistants), and one of their primary responsibilities is to go out into the community and find local vendors.
“Even though we’ve been doing a lot of communication with people when it comes to local purchasing requirements, some people aren’t hearing that message,” she explained. “We have people on the ground physically reaching out to these vendors.”
Merigian said she started attending such outreach sessions not long after MGM was granted the Western Mass. license in 2014, recognizing the casino as a rare business opportunity.
“I had my sights on it from the beginning,” she told BusinessWest. You never know how it’s going to work out with companies renting their own uniforms or owning them, but either way, I knew I would like to be part of it.”
So much so that she took steps to become a certified woman-owned business, understanding from those very first meetings that MGM had a strong interest in doing business with businesses led by women and minorities.
There would be more meetings to come over the next few years, she went on, adding that these sessions were beneficial on many levels.
“It really gets you tuned into your business,” she said, using that phrase to indicate everything from capabilities to long-term goals to what it will take to reach them. “It was an educational experience on many levels.”
The volume of work is large — most all of the 3,000 employees will wear some kind of uniform, and this contract covers all that and more — and thus MGM will likely be the largest customer in Park’s long history, said Merigian, although Park did have a contract with MassMutual for a quarter-century and still has one with the Defense Department (Westover Air Reserve Base).
“We don’t have specific numbers, but know it will be high volume,” she said of the business to start coming her way in a matter of weeks as employees are added to the payroll in waves. “But we’re ready for it, and we can feel the excitement.”
Indeed, after her father’s death, the company had to withdraw from the MassMutual contract, and it downsized considerably, said Merigian, adding quickly, however, that “we’re ready to go; we’re ready to get back to work.”
At Kittredge, meanwhile, the MGM contract is another important step forward for that company, said Amanda Desautels, an outside sales representative now working with MGM to outfit the restaurants that will be doing business at the casino.
“This is a significant contract for us,” she said, noting that Kittredge will be supplying MGM with everything from appliances to bar equipment; glassware to silverware, and adding it to a client list that includes UMass Amherst, the Max restaurant group, and Mount Holyoke College, among many others.
The company, rapidly approaching its centennial (it was launched in 1921), started as a supplier of typewriters and cash registers and has evolved into a $50 million equipment and supply giant that now employs more than 70 people locally.
At its warehouse and retail facility in the Agawam Regional Industrial Park, one can find everything from industrial refrigerators, freezers, and stoves to dishes and glassware to individual carving knives. Desautels joked that the company provides everything that goes on the table, around it (furniture), and even under it. “If you have a wobbly table, we have table levelers.”
It also has certification as a woman-owned business (Wendy Webber succeeds her late husband, Neil, as owner and operator), a designation that has opened many doors for the company and no doubt played a role in securing the contract with MGM.
“Being a woman-owned business has created many opportunities for Kittredge, and MGM is obviously one of those,” said Desautels, noting that the addition of MGM to the client roster is significant in many respects. “It’s exciting to be doing business with a company like MGM that shares the same values we do, such as diversity and the importance of their employees.”
As she posed for a few photos for BusinessWest, Merigian gathered her son, Andrew Takorian, and insisted that he be part of the picture.
Figuratively speaking, he has been for some time now, working at this establishment — like his mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him — while still in grade school.
He represents the fifth generation to carry a business card that says ‘Park Cleaners’ — or Park Cleaners & Dyers, as the case may be. The company has gone through a lot of change and evolution after the past eight and half decades, and many important developments.
Perhaps none were as big as the contract inked with MGM Springfield, which comes at a critical time and represents a huge opportunity for growth and security.
It’s just one example of the trickle-down effect that is now underway, and already changing the local business landscape in profound ways.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]