Company History | UniFirst

How we started

Our mission to serve the people who do the hard work has been an integral part of who we are since our founding in 1936.

EXPLORE OUR TIMELINE

Established 1936

The year was 1936 and Aldo Croatti had a vision: to serve the men and women who put in a hard day’s work. He founded a laundry business to clean clothes of factory workers and others in the heavy-soil business. With UniFirst, he created an entirely new concept: uniform rental services. This business concept gained popularity because it delivered on a key customer need: helping businesses work safer and smarter while presenting a better business image. Aldo’s vision spurred the growth of an entire industry.

Since then, UniFirst has evolved into a leader in the uniform rental services industry. Today, we serve over 300,000 customers and outfit over 2 million workers across a variety of industries—from automotive to transportation and warehousing, construction, and everything in between. We proudly serve nearly half of Fortune 500 companies and their hardworking employees.

Timeline

1909-1916

Carlo and Emilia (Drudi) Croatti – parents of UniFirst founder Aldo Croatti – immigrate to the U.S. on board the S.S. Canopic of the famed White Star Line from Rimini, Italy.
Aldo’s mother, Emilia, is an entrepreneur whose multiple businesses include a restaurant called Café Luna, an olive oil business, and an ice-cream cart pulled by a pony. She also takes in boarders to help with family expenses. (Aldo often would lament that his mother “died of hard work.”) Aldo’s father, Carlo, works at “The Shoe” in Beverly, MA, which is the largest factory in the world at the time.

1917

UniFirst founder, Aldo Croatti, is born in Beverly, MA, the youngest of six children.

1936

National Overall Dry Cleaning Company is started in a converted horse barn in Boston, MA. The small business focuses on cleaning the coveralls of workers in area factories and heavy-soil businesses. Its equipment consists of a single washing machine and a delivery truck.

1937

The new concept of “uniform rental” is introduced as a small part of the overall business. It will be the vast majority of the business in the future.

1940

Aldo Croatti becomes General Manager of National Overall Drycleaning Company, after his father-in-law, who had held the position, dies. Annual revenues were approximately $250,000.

1941

Aldo becomes President and controls the majority of the Company.

1943

Aldo’s first child, Ron Croatti, is born.

1947 – 1949

The Company re-engineers its laundry Plant in Boston, MA to modernize and streamline operations. It also creates a standard clothing rental “package” including an Eisenhower (Ike) jacket, shirt and pants, cleaning maintenance, pickup and delivery…for a low weekly fee. These combination Uniform Rental and Service programs quickly gain popularity and become the growth driver of the business. This rental package concept is soon copied by other industry suppliers.

1951

Committed to expanding the Company’s market reach, National Overall acquires Springfield, MA competitor, Interstate Uniform Service Company, and runs it as a separate business.

1955

Aldo’s daughter, Cynthia Croatti, is born.

1956 – 1966

Steady growth continues, warranting many new facility openings. New operations include a dozen Branches (serviced by Plants) throughout New England and as far west as Pittsburgh, PA, and new Plants in New York, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The company also enters the highly specialized nuclear garment cleaning business through the establishment of two Nuclear Decontamination Plants in Santa Fe, NM and Pleasanton, CA. The Company is the first private Industrial Launderer to be granted a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to process nuclear contaminated garments.

1961

UniFirst is the first to deliver uniforms on hangers. Ron Croatti graduates from high school and works summer jobs with the Company.

1966

Interstate Uniform Service Company begins self-manufacturing shirts and pants at a new plant in Puerto Rico.

1968

Interstate establishes a new Nuclear Decontamination Plant in Bremerton, WA.

1969 – 1982

Expansion goes well beyond the northeast area, heavily influenced by the nuclear garment cleaning business. The Company opens many new Plants and Branches throughout several U.S. states, converts numerous Branches into full-service Plant operations, and acquires competitive businesses in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland.

1977

The first specialized Cleanroom facility opens in Nashua, N.H.

1983

Interstate Uniform Service Corporation undertakes Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange, Stock Symbol – IUS.

1984

Company name changes to UniFirst Corporation, Stock Symbol for NYSE trading – UNF. UniFirst acquires 12 competitors during the next 8 years, expanding into west coast markets.

1986

Ronald Croatti becomes Chief Operating Officer (COO); UniFirst acquires Texas Industrial Services and Unitog of Canada, Ltd. – adding 32 facilities in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and throughout Canada. Acquisitions increase business volume by more than 33% to $85M in annual revenues.

1989

Forbes magazine names UniFirst to its list of “200 Best Small Companies in America.” Steady growth continues, acquiring businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada. UniFirst opens a new garment Manufacturing Plant in Cave City, AR.

1991

Ron Croatti becomes Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of UniFirst Corporation. “Customers for Life” retention program is launched, commemorating Aldo’s 50th anniversary with the Company, as well as his passion for customer satisfaction.

1992

As an extension of the “Customers for Life” program, the first Aldo Croatti Award is given to the route service representative who retains the highest amount of customers for the entire fiscal year… UniFirst’s highest honor.

1994

UniFirst enters the European market establishing Euro Nuclear Services (ENS) in the Netherlands. Aldo Croatti receives “New England Entrepreneur of the Year Award” from a coalition of Inc. magazine, Merrill Lynch, Ernst and Young, and NASDAQ. UniFirst acquires additional businesses in California, Oklahoma, and Oregon; it opens a new garment Manufacturing Plant in Wilburton, OK to complement the Cave City, AR operations.

1995

Ron Croatti becomes President of UniFirst.

1995 – 1997

UniFirst continues to add U.S. and Canadian facilities by acquiring businesses in California, Michigan, Calgary, Vancouver, and Ottawa; and sales and service offices in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Louisiana, Ontario, and Edmonton. The Company wins major Department of Energy contracts for nuclear garment services and construction is completed on a nuclear laundry plant in Coevorden, Holland.

1997 – 1999

UniFirst opens the industry’s most advanced, state-of-the-art centralized Distribution Center in Owensboro, KY. Aldo Croatti receives the “Key to the City of Owensboro, KY” from its Mayor, Raymond Morris. The Company acquires Green Guard First Aid and Safety, a route service first-aid products supplier to businesses across the U.S., and continues U.S. and Canadian expansions.

2000

Cynthia Croatti becomes Executive Vice President of UniFirst.

2001

UniFirst founder, Aldo Croatti, passes away at the age of 83.

2002

Ron Croatti becomes Chairman of the Board. Cynthia Croatti is featured in the Wall Street Journal. The first Founders Day is celebrated. It is a day where the entire UniFirst family takes a break from day-to-day duties to pay tribute to Aldo and commit to embracing Aldo’s Core Values: customer Focus, Commitment to Quality, and Respect for Others.

2006

UniFirst undergoes a “rebranding” to solidify its corporate identity and better communicate all it provides to customers. A new Company logo is introduced. UniFirst’s rebranding initiative includes new decal designs for the entire corporate fleet.

2008

Ron Croatti is honored by ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to celebrate the Company being listed on the Exchange for 25 years; and the Company reports a billion dollars in annual revenues for the first time.

2009

UniFirst is named to Forbes magazine’s list of “400 Best Big Companies in America,” Selling Power magazine’s list of “The 50 Best Companies to Sell For,” Apparel magazine’s list of “Top 50 Most Profitable Clothing Companies,” and The Boston Globe’s list of “Top Performing Companies” for the 20th consecutive year. The Company also won the “Stevie Award” for the “Sales Department of the Year – Services” category.

2011

Ron Croatti, UniFirst President and CEO, is featured on the hit CBS-TV series “Undercover Boss,” which airs on Sunday, January 9, 2011. A total of 13.5 million viewers watch the episode which contributes to record sales in 2011. Annual revenues set a new record at $1,134,123,000.

2012 – 2013

UniFirst converts all Plants to utilize only “green,” biodegradable wash detergents and tests all-electric and hybrid delivery vans for its fleet.

2014

UniFirst is named to Selling Power magazine’s list of “The 50 Best Companies to Sell For,” Apparel magazine’s list of “Top 50 Most Profitable Clothing Companies,” and The Boston Globe’s list of “Top Performing Companies” for the 25th consecutive year. Glassdoor ranks UniFirst as one of the “25 Best Companies for Career Opportunities” and Ron Croatti is selected as the “Executive of the Year” for the large companies category by Best in Biz Awards.
UniFirst sets new financial performance records for revenues ($1.39B), profits ($120M), and new sales ($2.25M/wk.); and becomes the number two provider in the industry for Uniform and Textile “Rental” surpassing Aramark.

2017

UniFirst Chairman, President, and CEO Ron Croatti passes away at the age of 74 after serving 26 years as the chief executive (over 50 years with the company) and taking annual revenues from $100 million to over $1.5 billion. The UniFirst Board of Directors names Steven Sintros as the next president and chief executive officer (CEO), and appoints him to its Board.

 

UniFirst is featured on ION TV’s “World’s Greatest!” international television show as the “greatest uniform service provider.”

2020

UniFirst sets new financial performance records for revenue ($1.8 billion) and for new sales. Barron’s names UniFirst on its “Most Sustainable Companies” list, Forbes recognizes UniFirst on its “America’s Best Large Employers” list, and Newsweek ranks UniFirst on its “America’s Best Customer Service” providers list.

2022

UniFirst reaches $2 billion in annual revenue, achieving a record in its own financial performance.

UniFirst Today

UniFirst continues to be one of the largest workwear and textile service companies in the world; renting, leasing, and selling uniforms, protective apparel, career wear, and facility service products to businesses in all industries. The Company serves customers throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe (Netherlands, Germany, and U.K.); and annually produces millions of garments and other items in five manufacturing plants located in the U.S., Mexico, and Nicaragua.

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