April 24, 2017 (LINCOLN, NEB.)— Throughout the 1900’s, Norfolk entrepreneur George Dudley had a knack for using his business skills to make everyday life easier for Nebraska citizens. He’d owned and operated a successful buggy “transfer line” service for years, and later that century, would become an original founder of Norfolk’s first merchant-owned credit bureau. As new developments in America’s automobile industry allowed for less reliance on public transportation, Dudley had a new idea: this time, to help Nebraskans grow efficiency in their daily chores. It inspired his company’s transition from a buggy service to a laundry business in 1916, when Dudley Laundry Company became northeast Nebraska’s first linen service company. The business, once called Servall, is now known as Appeara.
“At the time, there was no Whirlpool, no Kenmore, or any laundry machines…there were only washboards and tubs. So the need was definitely there for the ladies of the house, and for local businesses,” said Appeara President Bob Dudley.
Dudley says his great-grandfather’s ability to “shift gears” to meet Nebraskans’ growing needs was the first step toward a century of growth for the company, which now serves 1600 customers within a 180 mile-radius around Norfolk. In the 1920’s, Dudley utilized and advertised for Chipso detergent, created by Proctor and Gamble and coined as the nation’s first laundry detergent designed for industrial washing machines. During that time, Dudley incorporated one of the industry’s first energy-saving devices into his business model. Using a heat reclaimer allowed workers to heat cold, clean water by capturing energy from hot wastewater. A pit collected the hot water, which also contained a separate, cold water pipe. The equipment allowed the cold water’s temperature to rise from the energy pulled from the hot, dirty water.
By the mid-1920’s, George Dudley hired his son, Darrel, to work for the company, who also established the textile rental company, Servall Towel and Linen Supply. Darrel succeeded his father as president of Dudley Laundry Company in 1951 and began a pattern for the company’s long-term success.
“My dad, my dad’s dad, and his father…they were exceptional at realizing they needed to turn over the reins to help our company grow. To make it work, one generation has to back out and allow the next in line to have skin in the game,” Bob Dudley said. “From 7th grade on, I was coming to the laundry. I was either painting or pushing a broom. By high school and college, I was doing service work and running a truck. For me, it was a natural progression. It was in my blood.”
Dudley earned a business degree from UNL and returned to Norfolk permanently in 1983. For the next 15 years, he worked alongside his father, George (the grandson of George, the founder) to learn specific industry knowledge. Dudley began his term as company president in 1998, several years before the company changed its name to Appeara.
Appeara’s strong roots in customer service have been embedded in the family’s business model for decades, which began by serving area households and restaurants whose closest access to a laundry service was hours away in Omaha. The company also incorporated internal efforts to grow workforce benefits, including Dudley’s first health insurance plan for employees in the 1940’s. It’s just one aspect of the family’s ongoing philosophy to keep valuable Nebraskans in their company.
“My dad remembers that his mother would take lunch down to his father, who as the owner, would stay over his own lunch hour to relieve the washman,” said Dudley. “Dad just said that’s what you did when you were the owner: provided relief for your “head” man so he could have his lunch at home.”
Dudley’s adaptation to industry changes in equipment and technology continues to evolve. Over the past 13 years, Appeara has added 10,000 square feet in renovations, including an automated wash aisle, fire sprinkler suppression, and overhead storage for uniforms. Last year, the company installed radio frequency chips in all washable materials to increase accuracy and efficiency while sorting garments from Appeara’s 400-pound wash loads.
“Businesses that have grown and diversified throughout multiple generations are a testament to the hardworking and innovative families who call Nebraska home,” said Governor Pete Ricketts. “Their stories remind us of our people’s commitment to grow Nebraska over the past 150 years. By leveraging technology and retaining their talented workforce, the Dudley family has found ways to build their business in order to sustain many years of success.”
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) is highlighting homegrown, long-standing companies to celebrate the state’s diverse business community in 2017, which marks Nebraska’s 150th anniversary of statehood. Economic longevity within Nebraska’s communities parallels a statewide trend in population growth and workforce participation. Nebraska reached a record-breaking job creation level of 1 million non-farm jobs in 2015. Last year, Nebraska’s population grew to 1.9 million for the first time in history.
“As we celebrate our state’s sesquicentennial, we are proud to honor century-old companies like Appeara who have contributed to our state’s long-term economic growth,” DED Director Courtney Dentlinger said. “The company’s continued success serves as a great example of the historical role our businesses play here in Nebraska. Through hard work, community pride and innovation, businesses like this foster a unique ability to build a legacy for future Nebraskans in our workforce.”
“Almost all of the people we hire are Nebraskans,” Dudley said. “This state has provided us with a strong base of great workers with a great work ethic. This fits into our company’s philosophy to hire people with integrity,” Dudley said.
For additional information about Appeara’s products, services and service area, go to http://www.appeara.com/. To learn more about Nebraska’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2017, please visit https://ne150.org/.
“Businesses that have grown and diversified throughout multiple generations are a testament to our hardworking and innovative families who call Nebraska home. Their stories remind us of our people’s commitment to grow Nebraska over the past 150 years.”
-Governor Pete Ricketts