Bill Morris in Building Operations on May 19, 2017
To celebrate our 35th anniversary, Habitat is telling the stories of multi-generational family business that have flourished along with the co-op and condo movements. This is the story of Automatic Industries.
Bob Savino, son of Queens, worked as a heavy-equipment operator during the borough’s post-World War II building boom. Pushing all that dirt to make way for new apartment buildings put Savino in touch with a lot of developers and landlords, and those relationships spawned an idea: instead of having tenants take their dirty clothes to the nearest laundromat, why not bring the laundromat into the building?
And so, in 1971, Automatic Industries was born. Working from home with his wife, Angela, keeping the books, Savino built the business on the foundation of those relationships with landlords, installing and servicing coin-operated washers and dryers in thousands of apartment buildings across the city. By the time she was a teenager, Denise, the youngest of the three Savino children, was answering the phones and helping collect coins on weekends. While her brother Robert became a doctor and her sister Ellen a lawyer, Denise decided to join the family business full-time after earning a degree in marketing in 1990.
“We were having a growth spurt back then,” Denise recalls, thanks to the burgeoning co-op movement. “So I had to hit the ground running. My dad was running the service side, so I spearheaded bringing in new business. My dad was accustomed to dealing with one individual, the landlord, but it was a different culture with co-ops. A lot of co-op boards were starting to take control from sponsors and had more interest in their vendors. Boards appreciate the service you give, that you have a strong back office. And I like dealing with the end-user.”
“Landlords didn’t care about the equipment, quality, service,” adds Bob, now 78 and semi-retired. “The boards are much more personally involved.”
Denise – now Denise Savino-Erichsen, mother of two, and president of the company with its 29 full-time employees – says another major change has been keeping up with evolving technology. It’s not just that plastic smart cards have phased out all those coins, but the use of credit and debit cards has become commonplace, as have systems for notifying residents by text or email when machines are available. And since laundry contracts usually call for a split of profits between the building and the vendor, Automatic furnishes boards with credit-card statements so there’s no question about the accuracy of accounting.
“We’re competing against national companies,” Denise says, “but boards appreciate that when they call us, someone picks up the phone. They appreciate that they know the mechanic, that it’s a familiar and knowledgeable face. If there’s a problem, boards appreciate that the owner will come out to the building.” Those buildings include not only co-ops and condos, but colleges, public housing developments, hotels, campgrounds, and marinas.
Will Automatic Industries soon become a three-generation family business? Anything’s possible. Denise’s son, Cooper, is studying finance at Fordham University, and her daughter, Ashley, still in high school, has staged co-op open houses and attended more than a few board meetings with her mother. “But it’s not something you can force,” Denise says. “It has to be something they want to do – a passion.”
Though washers and dryers inside apartments are becoming more common, Bob Savino, for one, isn’t worried that the demand for Automatic Industries’ service is going to dry up. “Until they come out with disposable clothes,” he says, “people are going to have to wash their laundry. I’d say our future looks good.”
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