Fishers Laundry was opened in 1899 but it was not the first in Aberfeldy. In July 1895, the Dundee Courier reported a fire in a laundry in Kenmore Street in the house of Alexander McDonald. While Leslie's Directory for 1899 suggested there was no laundry in Aberfeldy, by 1901 it listed three; James Fisher, Mrs. Kippen and Mrs. M'Donald. Jessie Kippen's laundry at no. 21 Kenmore Street was not listed again after she died suddenly of apoplexy in 1903.
Margaret McDonald, the wife of Alexander McDonald, ran the laundry at 6-8 Kenmore Street. By 1911 she was widowed and retired. She died of old age in 1923. Her unmarried daughter, also called Margaret , carried on the business which was still listed in the directory of 1939.
Margaret's descendants believe she carried on the laundry into the 1940s and that it was very much a family concern with unmarried daughters engaged to help (photo left to right Teenie, Johanna and Margaret jnr.). They recall great-aunt Maggie's laundry having a large hot tub with a wringer above and a front room where the ironing was done. There was a fire in the centre of the room where the irons were heated and ironing boards around the sides. The washing was hung on a line in the back garden and then laid it out on the grass to be bleached in the sun.
One of Margaret's sons, Archie McDonald worked in the laundry during school holidays. He was apparently a good scholar and passed most subjects with flying colours. Having watched his mother and sisters toiling away washing everything by hand he designed and built a machine which reduced the heavy labour. It must have been pretty sturdy as it was still going strong when the laundry closed.
Alexander McDonald, the husband of Maggie senior, was known as ' The Spinner' (to distinguish him from 'The Dyer') and worked in the Breadalbane woollen mills. See photos Alexander with wife and family and larger version of laundry.
At age 52, James Fisher, decided to build a laundry on a greenfield site in Home Street. On 13th June 1898 his plans were approved by the Aberfeldy Police Commission and in July they also approved extension of the water main to the proposed laundry.
Having borrowed £500 and spent his life savings, the Aberfeldy Steam Laundry was opened on Friday 3rd February 1899. A report in the Dundee Courier described the opening ceremony, performed by Miss Menzies of Menzies. Unfortunately James was ill and unable to be there but it was attended by all the local dignitaries.
Unlike the other laundries in Aberfeldy, from the outset processes would be mechanized where possible and powered by steam (electricity did not come to Aberfeldy until 1930). Machinery for the new laundry was supplied by Thomas Bradford and Co of Manchester and London.
Unfortunately smoke from the laundry chimney did become a problem with repeated complaints to the local council. In March 1901 the Courier reported; 'a letter from Messrs. Peter Reid, John Smith and S. McCaskie was read to the local council. It renewed their complaint re. the laundry smoke nuisance. A minute of the works committee was read on the subject, recommending that the laundry chimney be raised 20 feet and that the work be commenced within 14 days from that date'. The rather makeshift extension to the chimney stands out in this photo.
This advert in the Aberfeldy News and Visitor List gives some idea of the services it was offering by 1911. The prompt and effective execution of linen sounds a little alarming nowadays!
For the whole of the 2oth century the Fisher family business was laundry. Christened 'Aberfeldy Laundry', it is now known as 'Fishers Services Group'. For us it was known as 'Fishers Laundry' or more commonly just 'Fishers'.
James handed it on to his son Peter. In turn it was passed to my father Hamish and finally to my brother Donald. This photograph is of Hamish, Peter and Donald - 3 of the four generations of Fisher family proprietors.
Some years ago Hamish and Donald sat down with Lesley Brocklebank to compile a history of the business. 'Fishers from The First' was published in 1991.
After this account was published my father died passing on the business to Donald under whose guidance the business expanded and became very successful. In March 2004 a management buyout ended 105 years of Fishers being a family business.
Choosing careers in medicine, my brother Peter and I had no involvement in the business.
This history of Aberfeldy Laundry is no longer in print so the content has been transcribed below.
Forward by Hamish Fisher
This is an account of the four generations of the Fisher family, indicating how their business developed from small beginnings in Aberfeldy, a picturesque rural town set amongst the hills of Perthshire. It is the story of the Fisher Group, built up over almost a century from the roots first put down in Aberfeldy.
I am indebted to my grandfather for his vision in setting up this business in 1900, and to all who assisted me in later years - particularly my eldest son Donald, who so successfully carries on the Fisher Group of companies.
From my early years in the business, I was fortunate in being able to maintain a substantial annual growth. This was not without the many problems of developing a business in a small and sparsely populated area.
Through perseverance Donald has built up a sound management team around him, and I feel sure that with their skill in management, Fishers will long continue to flourish.
The supply and servicing of linen is no longer a mundane job, but a highly complex modern industry relying considerably on both modern technology and business skills.
I must express my appreciation to all who have served Fishers over the years. We have always been blessed with a loyal and competent staff in our laundries. This has undoubtedly contributed to the success of our group.
I am proud to have played my part in developing this business, and wish Donald, his fellow directors and staff continuing success in the future.
Family mottos are often inappropriate. The Fisher family motto ‘Patentia et Spe’ is no exception. ‘Patience and hope’ could never encapsulate the qualities which have inspired the success of one of Scotland’s biggest and best known family businesses.
At the turn of the century, Fishers was but a glint in the eye of a licensed grocer in the north Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. Today the Fishers Services Group has grown into Scotland’s largest laundering and textile service company, with streamlined facilities in Cupar and Greenock in addition to Aberfeldy.
Other qualities, such as dynamism, determination, vision, foresight, tenacity, and, above all, enthusiasm, have been in evidence in the laundry from the first, and are immediately apparent today, in both the Fisher family and their management team.
The Fisher family qualities, and the individuals who possessed them, are the subject of this story. James Fisher, who founded the laundry, Peter and Margaret Fisher, followed by Hamish Fisher and his son Donald, each played an all—important role. It is they who explain the remarkable transformation of a small family business set in the unlikely location of Aberfeldy into a thriving group containing the largest flatwork laundry north of London.
The laundry has grown up against all the odds. No success star shone on its birth. Nor did fortune often smile on its infancy and adolescence. The sweet taste of success was wrought out of struggle.
Fishers is a Darwinian story of survival, of the continuous endeavour to achieve the commercial fitness which alone could bring the company within reach of success.
When the great- grandfather of the group’s present Managing Director, Donald Fisher, turned the key for the last time in his licensed grocer’s shop in Dunkeld Street, Aberfeldy, and set up a steam laundry, he may have had a hunch about the venture’s success. But he could never have foreseen the challenges, predicted the struggle, or imagined the energy required to reach the top rank of laundry companies in Europe.
As an astute businessman, he might not have been amazed to hear that his first week’s turnover in February 1900 of 18 shillings would multiply into an annual multi-million pound turnover or that around 12 staff on the starting date would exceed 475 in 1991. He might have taken the transformation from a simple wash process to today’s continuous computer-controlled system in his stride — readily believed that a modern tunnel washing complex would one day take up almost the entire original laundry at Aberfeldy. He might have imagined the cages of linen arriving hourly from leading hotel chains all over Scotland - replacing the baskets of shirts, socks and silk blouses belonging to the folks up for the shooting season in the early 1900s. Perhaps he pictured the state—of—the-art laundry standing on a 20,000 square-foot facility at Prestonhall, Cupar, giant machinery recycling water and heat and churning out more than two tons of linen an hour. He could even have conceived of the modern management team, now in control of Fishers’ operations.
What the first Mr Fisher could never have foreseen, however, is the story of how it all came to happen. It is not the ‘what’ that is so remarkable, but the ‘who’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.
James Fisher, founder, had a strong feeling for a trend of his times when he started up a steam laundry in 1900. He was by then 53, and could scarcely have expected to live to see the vast expansion of domestic laundries in Scotland — or the devastating decline in the sixties with the advent of domestic washing machines and easy—care fabrics. Out of 300 privately owned domestic laundries in 1945, only some 20 remain.
This is the story, not only of one of those 20, but of the laundry which survived to become by far the largest in Scotland.
The succeeding pages take us behind the success to the forces, both human and circumstantial, which have enabled the Fishers story to unfold. The story follows a pattern created by changing lifestyles in Scotland, from the days of damask linen to those of the disposable serviette, and back.
In the beginning, the customers of the innovative steam laundry started by James Fisher came from the large private houses in Aberfeldy, Strathtay, Pitlochry and Dunkeld. At the outset deliveries were by donkey cart, the first forerunner of the fleet of 35 Fishers vans which service Scotland today.
Later on almost every town had its own laundry, and Fishers’ deliveries were done by horse-drawn lorry. The popularity of laundries reached a peak in the l950s, before the start of the decline a decade later.
Today, there is a different type of heyday, with the growth in Scotland’s tourist industry providing more than a million articles for Fishers’ weekly wash. Fashions in table and bedwear have come full circle, with Fishers today finishing linen to the standards expected in Victorian and Edwardian times.
The methods of doing so, of course, are different. The soiled laundry is sorted into bags which are then drawn up and suspended from the roof to await their cue to commence the wash process. Each bag bears its own electronic tag indicating, for example, that ‘we are pillowcases - wash us as pillowcases’.
Ironing today is a faster and less tedious task, with 800 sheets
per hour securing a top quality finish from one of the streamlined
machines which segregates singles from doubles, and any rejects
into those requiring rewash or repair.
It is no accident that Fishers’ four plants contain some of the most modern laundry machinery in Europe. Since the days of the steam laundry — not unique but certainly ahead of its time — the family has prided itself on reinvesting in the latest plant and equipment. "Profit," says Donald Fisher, "is not what you put in your pocket; it’s what you plough back into the business."
The philosophy, implicitly endorsed by previous generations, has paid off. In 1954 Donald’s father Hamish was the first in Scotland to install an automatic folding machine. After examining the innovation at a demonstration in London, he invested four weeks’ turnover, £2000, in the folder. Most laundries did not make such an acquisition till the sixties, by which time Fishers had stepped up their production and had the capacity to expand.
The new folder was one piece of equipment which gave Fishers the competitive edge. The company was ideally placed to capitalise on the growing tourist trade, and was in an excellent position to cope with the dramatic increase in flatwork when the hotel market took off.
There is no doubt that Fishers’ present position in the premier league is related to the family’s ability to get ahead of the game. At times they showed remarkable flair by doing so without knowing quite how the game was going to develop. A number of positive decisions, good in themselves, appear to have had favourable repercussions far beyond those which could originally have been foreseen.
The move into linen rental was a case in point. When Hamish Fisher took the decision in the 1970s to buy and rent out linen, he could not have predicted the ultimate significance of the move.
It was clear that this would involve a large capital expenditure on
linen, but what was then unforeseen was that the vast scale of
Fishers ’ operation today would not have been workable were the
company still restricted to returning each and every article
processed to the particular client to whom it belonged.
Sometimes getting ahead of the game meant starting from behind, transforming what had begun as a disadvantage into a major asset.
So it was with the siting of the laundry in Aberfeldy. It could scarcely have been predicted that Scotland’s largest laundry group would grow out of a business begun in the small Tayside town. Yet Fishers have capitalised on the starting point and taken full advantage of Aberfeldy’s location to develop its hotel market in the Aviemore area and beyond.
The demise of the domestic market, which spelt death in the late sixties to as many as three laundries per week in the UK, was likewise used as a means of consolidating Fishers ’ position in the marketplace. Hamish Fisher had read the market ahead, faced the harsh fact that there would be no future in domestic laundry, and was already establishing the firm as a major player in the hotel market. The proliferation of household washing machines in the sixties and seventies, firmly planting laundering within the confines of the home, left them virtually unaffected.
Seeing no great growth and therefore no future in their existing trading areas, Fishers decided to break new ground by branching into linen rental - in a new marketplace. Hamish and Donald Fisher targeted Glasgow and Edinburgh, and launched a sales campaign. They recruited a freelance salesman, who distinguished himself straight away by securing the firm’s first-ever Stakis contract — for a new hotel in Gourock — from a Glasgow telephone box. It was an auspicious entry into the major hotel market. Stakis today is one of Fishers’ largest customers.
Around the same time, Fishers had to face threats from on-premise laundries in hotels. Their response was to demonstrate
that the service their group provided was second to none - that the
high standard of finish required to meet present-day standards
could only be achieved by specialist, professional launderers.
During the last five decades, Fishers’ reaction to challenge has been dynamic. It has also been informed by a sixth sense, suggesting whether to persist with a specific strategy, or strike out in a new direction.
The ‘why ’ and the ‘how’ of success are also explicable in terms of Fishers’ talent for getting on and getting things done. And once done, whatever the difficulties, they had to be kept ‘on the move’ — in line with Donald Fisher’s philosophy that "In business you should not be content; you must keep moving".
When Donald took over the management of the Cupar laundry in 1964, he saw his first task as to get it ‘on the move’, and the second, to make sure it stayed that way. His challenge was to raise the turnover while at the same time controlling costs and improving production methods to make the Cupar operation more profitable.
In the early days this meant turning his hand to everything from wash—house duties to accounting. Luckily he had inherited his father’s considerable mechanical engineering talents and could carry out urgent repairs to the machines which had broken down.
Also like his father — with whom he was now in partnership — Donald used the profits which came from Cupar to generate greater growth. It has been part of the Fisher philosophy to finance expansion from profits rather than borrowings. The Cupar plant has expanded beyond all expectations since 1964. So also has Aberfeldy expanded greatly.
Expansion takes us back to the theme of the story: the members
of the Fisher family who transformed the business into what it is
today. Its direction is dictated by years of hard work and hard
thought, and a hard core of key decisions. They are the work and
thought and decisions of Fishers, who first breathed life into the
laundry almost a century ago. There is a sense in which they have
eaten, slept and breathed laundries ever since. They have made it
their business to know everything — and everyone — and their
enthusiasm, so apparent from the first, gives the laundry a special
life of its own.
The laundry, it seems, is always on the move. Since you, the reader, began this chapter - assuming an average reading speed, without interruption, something like one and a half tons of linen has been washed, and 750 sheets ironed at Fishers.
Birth in Aberfeldy
Aberfeldy is situated in the heart of Highland Perthshire. The
area is renowned for its natural beauty, and remembered for its
spectacular views of mountains such as Ben Lawers, famed for
its alpine flowers, and Schiehallion, shrouded in mystery and
legend. Nearby are the dramatic waterfalls in the Birks of
Aberfeldy which delighted the poet Robert Bums, and the
picturesque thatched cottages of Fortingall village.
One day at the turn of the century, a local grocer spent his life savings, and borrowed £500 towards the opening of a steam laundry. Erected on a greenfield site, the laundry was in tune with the latest technological developments of its time. Set amidst the scenic grandeur of mountains towering above Loch Tay, it was fully fitted out with modem, power—driven machinery.
The new steam laundry was officially opened on February 1, 1900 by Sir Robert Menzies, who set the machines in motion.
Although most laundries at this time were traditional hand laundries, the industry was developing and it was no longer unusual for the better-off to have their laundry looked after by a commercial organization.
James Fisher, the founder, must have felt that the new venture
was a promising business proposition. He had already built up a
successful grocer’s, wine merchant’s and seedsman’s business in
the shop he had leased in Dunkeld Street in 1882. Notes on
‘Industries in Aberfeldy 1840—1940’ record that in 1899 James Fisher merchant conceived the idea that a steam laundry would be
not only a paying proposition but a boon to the town of Aberfeldy
and District and he embarked on the enterprise by securing a
greenfield site at Home Street where he erected an up-to-date
building, equipped with all the modern and labour saving
'The opening took place in February 1900 by Sir Robert Menzies of Castle Menzies who took a keen interest in the prosperity of Aberfeldy and formally set the machinery in motion.'
James Fisher became friendly with a Glasgow launderer who advised him on the acquisition of his early machinery - some of which was made in Clydebank. The heart of the laundry was a steam boiler, capable of operating a steam engine which drove the washing machines and calenders — for the ironing of linen. Special hydro- extractors were used for removing water from the newly washed linen.
Available evidence suggests that James Fisher led a busy life,
both in business and as a family man with four growing children.
He became a licensed grocer, and began to bottle and sell his own
beer, which he purchased in barrels. His son Peter recalled having
to bottle beer in the cellar before going to school in the mornings.
He joined the Town Council in 1891 after having stood for election and topped the poll. He lost his seat in 1894, and retired.
It appears that the new steam laundry got off to a slow start.
Local people could not afford the type of service it offered, and
it took a little time for the business to become established with the
Most of the large private houses in the Aberfeldy, Pitlochry and Dunkeld area were let for the summer months to people from all over Scotland - usually for a month at a time. Many had a small house at the rear which the owner moved into while the main house was let. These large houses are the hotels of today. Pitlochry in particular was built up as a tourist resort through this type of development.
The great day for the area was the 12th of August - ‘the Glorious 12th’ — start of the grouse shooting season. All the shooting lodges, castles and estate houses were full to overflowing with guests and staff. Travel to the district from the south was usually by train, and the parties would arrive very often in their special railway coaches. Staff would arrive a few days earlier along with the cars - frequently Rolls Royces — in special railway vans. Most had returned south or gone back to America by the end of September. As the Scottish shooting season increased in popularity, the laundry came to feature more prominently in the fashionable lifestyle offered by the shooting lodges, houses and hotels in the area. This was in keeping with the prevalent economic pattern of the area, where most of the local tradesmen and families were heavily dependent on business created by this early ‘tourist’ market. Once the new venture seemed set to develop successfully, James Fisher discontinued the grocery business and concentrated all his efforts on the laundry.
The garments at that time required a lot of work — in the latter stages involving hand irons, heated by gas. Curtains were usually net, with frills, and special equipment had to be used for the finishing and frilling. Much of the bed linen was pure linen, and all white. Ladies’ blouses were in silk or cotton, and required a high-quality hand finish. The remainder of the laundry basket would be made up of men’s shirts, socks, woollen underwear, heavily starched collars and dress shirts. In these days the gentry dressed in full evening dress for dinner, despite the fact that they were on a sporting holiday and living sometimes in a very remote part of the district.
Hamish can recollect the evenings, during the first World War, when grandmother Fisher had the whole laundry staff at the house mending socks and repairing the clothes of the Newfoundland soldiers — who spent their war years cutting timber in the district to keep the army and the coal mines supplied. This was the start of the extensive felling of timber in the area. The operation continued, however, after the Newfoundlanders went home, providing an important source of employment in the area until around 1930. What was reputed to be the largest tree in Britain was felled on Drummond Hill, and taken by rail from Aberfeldy for show at the British Exhibition in Wembley in 1924.
Grandmother Fisher was a quiet and astute lady, who was well-fitted to take over the running of the laundry when her husband died in 1915.
As the business developed from its initial starting point of 18 shillings turnover in the first week, extensions were added to the laundry. The first, around 1905, extended the facility by a third, and a larger, marine type multi tubular boiler was installed in 1907.
It was not until much later, however, that the importance of Aberfeldy as a location for the laundry came to be recognised. The fact that it was a country area, relatively sparsely populated, rather than a city was significant in the fifties when Hamish Fisher purchased his first folding machine. He did so partly because the ‘personal’ content of the laundry was low, and the table and bed linen, known as flat work, high. Ironing flat work, sheets, tablecloths etc., by a large, steam heated calender or ironing machine was a comparatively simple job; but folding the ironed article was trying, exacting and very labour-intensive. But the acquisition turned out to be timely when it put the firm in an advantageous position for moving into the hotel markets which were to develop in and around the Cairngorm area and of course throughout Scotland.
James Fisher’s family were involved in the business from an early stage. His eldest son Peter came straight into the laundry on leaving school, and a daughter, Maggie, was sent to Gourock steam laundry for management training. Tragically, she died before she was able to put this into practice.
In 1919, Peter Fisher, at the age of 36, took over the laundry. It is remarkable that the business begun in the small Perthshire town in 1900 still stands — and still thrives - on the same site today, employing in excess of 100 people.
Tiptoeing through the twenties
The first son of James Fisher, the founder, was Peter, who inherited the laundry business when his mother died in 1919.
Described as quiet and reserved, Peter Fisher, along with his wife Margaret, who played an important part in running the business, steered the laundry through the somewhat static twenties. During this time there was very little development, and the laundry really remained in something of a ‘caretaker’ state until Peter’s own elder son, Hamish, entered the business in 1933.
The difficulties of the twenties were compounded by rail and
coal strikes, obliging the laundry to operate with neither coal nor
gas. Gas from the local gas works could not be produced for lack
of coal, and so the laundry could not use the gas irons, which still
played a major part in the finishing process. Even the laundry
lighting was dependent on gas, there being no electricity in the
area at that time.
At one short period the old—type flat iron had to be used, heated on wood—burning stoves. Wood at least was in plentiful supply, due to the extensive timber felling operations taking place in the district, and so the boiler - the heart of the laundry — was fuelled with timber for a time.
Other steam laundries in Perthshire must have encountered similar problems. Such laundries were now not uncommon, and in the thirties there were five in and around Perth, in addition to Pullars the dry cleaners and dyers, one in Pitlochry, one in Blairgowrie, two in Crieff, and of course one in Aberfeldy.
One aspect of the laundry which did see some change at this
time was its transport system. In the earliest days, laundry had
been collected and delivered by donkey cart. This was replaced
by a horse lorry and then by the addition of a 2-cylinder Albion A3 truck (right). During the early days of Peter Fisher’ s direction, he would
find himself having to take over the jobs of various members of
staff if they were absent. This meant that he sometimes had to
stand in for the driver, taking the horse lorry to Dunkeld and
The truck proved to be a versatile means of transport — not only for the laundry. Following the closure of the local coaching establishment in Dunkeld Street, the truck, along with its driver, was frequently lent, to serve as a hearse, to the local undertaker. The laundry truck would be draped with tartan rugs, ready to carry the coffin and lead the cortege to the cemetery. The lending of the truck continued for about a year, until a motor hearse was provided by Fraser's Garage.
In 1922 the latest in commercial transport was bought to replace the Albion truck and the horse lorry. The new acquisition - which aroused considerable interest in Aberfeldy — was a model T Ford chassis bearing the platform of the horse lorry and a driver’s cab built by the local joiner (left).
At around that time, Fishers was providing a special economy service for local customers. Laundry was collected in bags by the van man, and washed in a machine with six divisions, enabling the operators to keep each bag of laundry separate. It was not ‘finished’ in the usual high—quality fashion, but returned washed and partly dried, ready for the customer to do her own ironing. The collections and deliveries for this popular service were made by van man George MacFarlane. George and his wife Peg, who was in charge of the hotel packing, were two of the laundry’s most loyal and longest-serving workers. Between them they had 96years ’ service when they retired. Peg’s sisters Chris and Anne also spent all their working lives in the laundry, where Chris became manageress.
When Peter Fisher took over the laundry, his elder son, Hamish, was beginning to take an interest in the family business. Aged only six in 1919, he was too young perhaps for financial interests, but fascinated from the very first by the array of machinery. Even at this stage he was keen to see how that side of the laundry worked, and showed an aptitude for understanding engineering.
As Hamish, his brother Ian, and sister Lena grew up, he saw his mother become more involved in the laundry. She showed a distinct talent for management and by the late 1920s had become a dominant force in the business.
Margaret Fisher, who had worked in a draper’s shop in Pitlochry before marrying Peter, was an accomplished seamstress who made all the family clothes herself. Although she shared her husband’s quiet disposition, she was alert and active, frequently to be found amongst the staff assisting and supervising. When the children arrived home from school, she was often busy packing the laundry into baskets, conversing with the staff and generally overseeing the smooth running of the business.
Women have played a major role in the development of Fishers Services from its foundation up to the present time. In part, this may have been because Fishers is a family business, and the female members have wanted to contribute their encouragement and support. It may also be explained by the high proportion of female staff in the laundry — or by the nature of the work, making it a place where women would feel at home. But perhaps in this respect, too, Fishers has been ahead of its time, and the Fisher women were simply forerunners for the millions of women today who seek supervisory or management positions, many using considerable ingenuity to combine the building of a successful career with bringing up a family.
In early 1930, a new steam engine was purchased at the cost of £148, to provide power for further machinery and for the generation of electricity for lighting and electric irons. It was not until around 1937 that the laundry went over to the public supply which had recently come to Aberfeldy.
In that same year, the first private car, a Wolseley Wasp, was purchased, at a price of £175.
During the economic depression of the thirties, however, expansion was slow. The main source of income was the shooting lodges and hotels — and even then this was not likely to last more than two months. In the shooting season, the laundry was a hive of activity, and long hours were worked. Such business, at that stage, had to be won against strong competition, with several Perth laundries vying for the work. The lead up to August 12 was always an anxious time as the laundry was very dependent on the seasonal business. Where a regular relationship with an owner or tenant had been established, things were more relaxed; but many of the lodges had different tenants each year. Fishers tried to minimise the disadvantages of this by sending an introductory letter to await the arrival of new tenants, followed by a personal visit from the van man or one of the Fishers team. This early form of marketing brought considerable success.
Gradually the business built up. In the 1930s the Perthshire resort of Killin was a thriving holiday village with one large and several smaller hotels. Fishers discovered that both hotel and domestic laundry from the town were being handled on an agency basis by the local railway guard, who was sending the laundry by train to Larbert for processing. Fishers stepped in, and for some time the new business increased the turnover by around £2 per week. It seemed that 23 miles was a long way to travel to collect such a comparatively small sum. But perseverance, and an attractive pricing policy, paid off, and in due course the area became more lucrative. Summer work was particularly good, and since fishing began in Loch Tay in January, the off—season was short in the recognised fishing hotels.
Domestic laundry in the thirties was not dissimilar to that of the turn of the century, although the number of silk blouses was perhaps less. Hotel work, however, was growing, and now included staff uniforms such as starched aprons and caps.
It had always been envisaged that the elder son, Hamish Fisher, would go into the business. He finished school at Breadalbane Academy in the late 1920s and was sent to serve an engineering apprenticeship with Albion Motors in Glasgow. Here he was trained in all aspects of the manufacturing side of engineering, and attended the technical college in Glasgow for training.
A mechanical talent was shared by many members of the Fisher family — certainly by Hamish Fisher and his brother Ian, two uncles who were marine engineers, and by Hamish’s son Donald.
In 1933 Hamish Fisher completed his apprenticeship and returned to Aberfeldy with the engineering expertise which has since played a vital part in the development of the laundry. From that time forward he looked at the laundry — which had been so much a part of his life since early childhood - in a new light.
Strategy for success
Hamish Fisher had been born on 22nd July, 1913. Christened
James,after his grandfather, but thereafter known as Hamish,
he had grown up with the laundry. Although it had long been
expected that he would join his father in the business, the far-
reaching changes which he was to bring about could never have
Hamish’s return from Glasgow in 1933 heralded the start of an era of exciting developments and fast growth, the acquisition of new equipment, new shops, new laundries and the major move from private domestic laundry to the conduct of contract work for leading hotel chains and the tourist trade.
Despite being the elder son of the owner, Hamish did not have an easy, or an auspicious start in business. At Aberfeldy in 1933, the economic slump was hitting hard. The laundry, working only three days per week in winter, did not look like the most fertile breeding ground for the business ambitions of an energetic young engineer.
The work was not always congenial. Coal had to be barrowed from the bunker. The boiler had to be stoked. Although these jobs belonged to the wash-houseman, and later the stoker, there were many occasions when Hamish had to take on the tasks himself. His interest in the engineering side of the business, however, enlivened his approach, and enabled him to see how improvements could be made, and new equipment introduced.
One of his key attributes at that time was the energy with which
he could tackle the challenges surrounding him on all sides.
Although his father was still at the helm, the modernisation of the
laundry was left very much to Hamish. He refurbished water and
steam supplies, and took careful stock of all other aspects of the
operation which could be streamlined.
Slowly, results began to show. By the end of the decade, turnover had almost doubled to an annual £5236. The summer of 1936 showed a staff figure of 18, four more than in the winter months. The number was to go up to 50 by the late 1940s.
In 1935, a new steam engine was installed, capable of driving additional machines and generating electric light for the laundry. Hamish Fisher’s aim was to build up a business which could promote further growth, and provide a vehicle for his own natural drive and enthusiasm.
The next few years saw the setting up of two all-important
partnerships in Hamish's life. He entered into a business partnership
with his father Peter in 1937, and a marriage partnership with a
young lady called Betty MacDonald, a mathematics teacher, in
1940. Betty was a former dux of Blairgowrie High School and a
graduate of Edinburgh University.
By this time Hamish’s brother Ian had gone on to train as a launderer and study electronics, and his younger sister Lena had embarked on a career in hotel management. She joined the Wrens during the war, settled in South Africa for a time, but later returned to Scotland. Later still, in the 1970s, when the company was moving into linen hire, she took over stock control of linen at the laundry in Aberfeldy. Some time afterwards, Lena also worked in the office of the Cupar laundry.
Peter Fisher, who still had a 2/3 share of the business, remained around in the laundry, although Hamish took increasing responsibility for its running and development. At around that time a house in Home Street, now called Shieldaig, was purchased for Hamish, at a cost of £850. Interestingly, in order to secure the purchase of the house, the family had to buy a bankrupt coal merchant’s business which they quickly disposed of.
As a newly married man, Hamish Fisher now had an extra incentive to make the family business succeed. He used all his ingenuity to apply the skills he already had and to acquire those he did not. He joined a number of trade organisations in order to keep abreast of developments in the industry.
In some respects, the actual work of the laundry in the thirties was more complex than it is today. A wide range of personal wear and domestic items was sent to the laundry. Some people sent everything, but sheets and pillowslips, towels and tablecloths, and men’s starched collars made up the most typical family bundle. Vests, pants, socks, sweaters and blankets were all wool, and one of the main problems of the time was the laundering of wool in bulk in such a way as to avoid shrinkage. The fashionable ladies of the day wore silk underwear, which required considerable care in laundering. Also around this time, staff uniforms for hotels were beginning to be quite big business, involving heavily starched aprons and waitresses’ caps, which had to be offered.
Some of the work was simplified by the purchase of an early version of the drying tumbler in 1938. This replaced the old steam-heated drying room, which had previously been used for drying garments.
On the sales side of the laundry, the van rounds were expanded and some selling took place. This brought an increase in business and ensured that short-time in winter was a thing of the past. Hamish Fisher had to plan and manage change on a number of levels. One of his innovative moves concerned laundry marks. In the early days, the identification of garments was done in ink, with a number or initial being written in the comer of each article. This led to problems for anyone unfamiliar with the system. No records were kept, except in the heads of a couple of key people — who were so skilled at identifying customers’ garments that they did not really require marks at all.
Hamish Fisher remembered being fascinated by the way in which some of the staff could instantly identify things. "You would go up to them with a garment with no mark and they ’d say ‘That’ s so and so’s ’. But then you were very much in their hands". Hamish introduced Cash Tapes, and developed a register. This was successfully used for a number of years, until a new method of identification emerged.
By the time the laundry was modernised to meet the standards of the day, war had broken out. Within a few months, it was virtually requisitioned, and Fishers was required to launder garments and linen for the services in addition to fulfilling its normal commitments. Throughout the war, the laundry was operating on a 12-14 hour day, as well as on Saturday mornings.
Much of the service work came from Oban, which had become a Sunderland Flying Boat base. All the hotels in the town had been requisitioned for airmen. Work was also carried out for similar bases on the Western Isles, and for the large naval establishment at Invergordon. Two railway vans were requisitioned for the laundry, one running between Killin and Oban, the other from Aberfeldy to Invergordon, to provide a continuous laundry service for the forces.
After the fall of Poland, the main Polish Hospital was established at Taymouth Castle, just five miles west of Aberfeldy, providing Fishers with additional work throughout the war.
Wartime, however, brought many problems such as the acute shortage of petrol in 1940 which drove the laundry to purchase a horse and harness. Despite the enormous influx of work, no additional equipment could be bought, because none was being manufactured. Labour, at least, was less of a problem, as people were directed into laundry work as their war service.
The end of the war brought a period of further change. After the sudden influx of war work, there was a void. Work had to be found if the laundry in Aberfeldy was to be retained as a viable unit. A strategy had to be developed whereby the wartime increase in capacity could be profitably utilised during the peace.
Hamish Fisher’s first move was to buy up the Perth Steam Laundry, which was about to close. This included a shop in George Street, which provided an immediate central base in the city, and solved the most pressing problems. The move also signalled a diversification into dry cleaning, which proved highly successful. It was generally thought that Fishers were extremely brave in challenging Pullars on their home ground.
Some time later, Hamish acquired another two laundries in Perth which had got into difficulties, van runs were built up, and before long the city became the main centre for work with a large domestic content.
Out of the post-war problems came a period of significant expansion. The company had more than doubled its labour force to almost 50 in the past 15 years. Fishers’ brave move into Perth meant the company was well-placed to take advantage of the demand for domestic laundry.
The recent expansion which had taken place in order to offset the post-war problems of over capacity, and provide an alternative to contraction, meant that Fishers now had extra capacity to cope with the influx of work resulting from poor post-war housing conditions. Many families did not have adequate washing facilities in their homes, and the era,late forties and early fifties, was to become a heyday for domestic laundries.
The pattern was one which would be repeated many times
under Hamish Fisher’s management. He had a competitive
nature, a forward-looking mentality, and liked to be ahead of
everyone else with plant and equipment.
He also had a dynamic way of dealing with difficulties head- on, of devising solutions, and putting them into practice. Hamish’s decisions, however, were never taken lightly, or without due thought, and there was one occasion in the late forties when his careful consideration of a certain situation led to an over- cautious approach, which was almost counter-productive.
Following the successful development in Perth, Hamish pondered the possibility of expansion into the Newtonmore and Kingussie area, where he found there was considerable potential for development. This meant that Fishers could prepare for a dramatic increase in workload if they went ahead. The firm decided to delay, however, and first prepare for the upsurge in work before entering the new market. The result was that when the company did move north a year later, customers were more reluctant to change their allegiance. It took a little time for Fishers to establish its high reputation in the area which by this time not only produced a high volume of dry cleaning and domestic work, but also had a fast growing tourist trade.
Alongside these new moves, business was also building up around Aberfeldy. One of Hamish Fisher’s original concerns had been to find work which would run through the winter, bridging the gap between summer and winter volumes. He succeeded in setting up arrangements to handle laundry for Glenalmond College which became one of the laundry’s largest winter customers.
Hydro electric stations were being built in the Tummel, Pitlochry and Glen Lyon area and work was won from the camps in which many hundreds of workmen lived while this was in progress.
After the war, a new marking system known as Phantom Fast
emerged. Numbers and initials invisible to the naked eye were
stamped on each garment, and read in the laundry under ultra-
violet light. There was a time when part of the population of
Aberfeldy were going around with large numbers on much of
their clothing. Although these were never seen, if the wearers had
been asked to stand up on stage under theatre lighting, the laundry
marks would all have been illuminated!
This system had interesting implications in other fields, and sometimes provided a source of assistance for the local police. Not infrequently the laundry was asked to help with the identification of a suspected criminal, or a body which had been found, through the laundry marks on items of clothing. On one occasion a youth had broken into the laundry at Aberfeldy and stolen several woollen vests before going on to commit another offence in Fort William. One of the vests - which he had been wearing at the time — was sent to Fishers for identification, and the result was that he was identified and charged.
The late 1940s was a very profitable time for the laundry. Turnover had quadrupled in a decade - to £20,961 by 1950. Domestic washing machines had not yet hit the market, people had money but poor housing conditions, and easy—care fabrics had yet to come into fashion.
Many laundries in Scotland did not make the most of this golden age. They failed to reinvest in plant and equipment, or branch into new markets. The result was that out of 300 privately owned domestic laundries in existence after the war, only around 20 remain today.
Meanwhile, Fishers continued to expand. A new market was developed in the Western Isles, where inadequate water supplies made laundering difficult. This trade, covering most of the Western Isles, was conducted by post, with the laundry having a specially arranged daily van delivery from the post office. The service was advertised in the ‘Stornoway Gazette’, ‘the Oban Times’ and the 'Clarion of Skye' , but seemed to be highly popular with islanders and soon gathered its own momentum. Sheets, shirts and other items were sent off COD, and these were later joined by white coats from chemists’ shops in Stornoway and Portree.
The business lasted for many years until the postage costs overtook those of laundry - but by that time domestic water supplies were reaching most homes in the islands anyway.
The connection with the islands, however, is still maintained today. Fishers not only takes care of textile management for Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, but also supplies linen to the luxury cruise ship ‘The Hebridean Princess’, which cruises the Western Isles in summer.
Management at the Aberfeldy plant was becoming increasingly
sophisticated. Around 1950, consultants were brought in to install
a bonus scheme aimed at boosting productivity. The system was
costly to install and complicated to operate owing to the wide
variety of articles processed. Consequently it was never fully
accepted by staff, and abandoned after only a few years.
The early 1950s remained highly profitable. Trade and turnover were buoyant. Wages were better. Hamish Fisher’s interest in engineering was still strong.
A spreader, to prepare sheets and table linen for ironing, was installed in 1952, and marked the start of more substantial ironing runs. This led to increased capacity, expansion, and greater efficiency, and gave Fishers a competitive edge in pricing.
Hamish Fisher could see that the high cost of capital equipment created a potential problem, but he believed that in order to be competitive, the laundry had to keep moving forward. This meant that certain risks had to be taken but those paid off and put the laundry in a strong position.
A major innovation was installed at Aberfeldy in 1954. This was an automatic folder, hailed as a breakthrough in the laundry business, promising the end of hand folding of sheets and table linen.
Fishers’ folder was the first in Scotland. Hamish had spotted it at a laundry demonstration in London, and was extremely impressed by both its operating features and its labour-saving implications. Whereas previously it had required five people to fold a sheet, it now needed only one — to put in the final fold.
Made in the UK, the folder set Fishers back to the tune of four
weeks’ turnover £2000 was a small price to pay, however, for a
machine which brought about such a major transformation. It led
to increased production and greater capacity, paving the way for
the important expansions of the fifties. Fishers were more than a step ahead with the folder, as many laundries did not acquire them
till the mid—sixties. They could now cope with a far greater volume
of flat work, and as the tourist trade developed, this was to be a
significant factor in establishing Fishers as a key player in that
new market. The company started to move into the Newtonmore
area in the late fifties, and the volume of flat work from hotels
Also making its appearance at around that time was the unit dry cleaning machine, which Fishers installed at County Place, Perth, as well as at the plant in Aberfeldy. The machines meant that dry cleaning could now be conducted on shop premises, instead of having to be sent to the factory. They facilitated an improved service to customers, at a time when many people were buying new clothes. The era of easy-care fabrics which would lend themselves to easy home laundering had not yet arrived, and dry cleaning was very much a growth business.
Aberfeldy acquired a new three-roll Manlove ironer in 1956 at a cost of almost £1,000. Towel cabinets supplied by Fishers were also being installed in hotel cloakrooms, offices and factories. These were the small beginnings of Fishers’ textile rental business.
The fifties also saw the next major change in laundry marking.
The Polymark system superseded all previous permanent marking
systems - which were on the whole undesirable for the customer.
Under the new system, a small temporary tape was attached to
garments when they arrived in the laundry, and removed before
they were returned to customers. The task was performed by a
machine which heat-sealed an acetate thread which had been
squirted with acetone.
The system was faster and more efficient than its predecessors. The temporary mark could identify a particular batch of work going through the laundry, making batch control of work much simpler. The Polymark system is still used today in domestic laundry. There are no records to be kept, thus relieving the laundry of a major, time-consuming chore. A sophisticated solution to the identification problem, however, is at the present time redundant. All linen processed in the laundry is now owned by Fishers, and rented out to customers. Identification is thus largely unnecessary.
Strong growth continued throughout the remainder of the
fifties the most profitable period so far in the history of the
laundry. By 1960 turnover had leapt by £36,000 to more than
£56,000 in the space of a decade.
A new shop in South Street, Perth, was purchased for £3000 and fitted out for the same sum again. A second new shop, at St Leonard’s Bridge, was added the following year. The year after that the laundry was further expanded, and so the pattern continued.
Changes, however, were afoot, and were to have a dramatic effect on laundries all over the UK. The era of the domestic washing machine was about to dawn. The main market for laundry would vanish, leaving many well-established companies staring into a void.
Certain factors, however, were already exerting their influence on Fishers’ future. One was Hamish Fisher’s method of masterminding the change from a laundry built up to service a domestic clientele, to a business based on contract work and the tourist trade. A second was his son Donald, alive to all these and other changes since childhood. A third was his purchase, in 1958, of the Cupar laundry, and a fourth was his brother Ian, whose pioneering work on automatic controls was to be seen in practically every modern laundry in the country.
Ian Fisher spread the Fisher fame in his own way. While his brother Hamish was making a name for himself and the family company by building up a successful business, Ian had been developing his talents as an inventor. His ingenuity helped to revolutionise the laundry and cleaning industry both in Britain and abroad.
After leaving school, Ian trained as a launderer in London at the British Launderers Research Association, and made a special study of electronics at the Battersea Polytechnic. His spell in the south roughly coincided with his brother Hamish’s return from Glasgow to take his place in the business at Aberfeldy.
Ian then joined a laundry in Blackburn, where he underwent further training, and became assistant manager. As he moved up the management ladder at other laundries,he became increasingly interested in the invention of automatic controls. He eventually abandoned his current career and purchased a small factory in Halifax.
Using the knowledge he had acquired of the laundry business with which he had been brought up, Ian designed and manufactured automatic washing controls which enabled the industry to control all stages of the wash process electronically for the first time. This made it possible for production planning to take place - which led to increased output and an upturn in profit. Laundry managers could now calculate the exact number of loads which could be processed, and had accurate control of washing materials.
At Fishers in Aberfeldy, the wash-house was equipped with Fisher Controls in 1953. The company was effectively acting as a guinea pig for the industry, although reassured by the fact that if a fault developed, Ian Fisher would travel north to put it right from his base in Halifax, where his company, Process Units (Halifax) Ltd, was now a sizeable electronics business.
Ian’s products, then known as Fisher Controls, could be fitted to traditional laundry equipment, enabling it to control both time cycles and the measurement of supplies. Although Ian Fisher worked with small resources, the demand was such that he was able to ask his customers to pay cash at the time of an order. Within a short time, Fisher Controls were being installed in modern laundries and dry cleaning factories in many parts of the world.
Ian also invented a similar control for dry cleaning machines, with which he supplied Neil & Spencer, then the principal manufacturers of dry cleaning equipment in the UK.
Thus much of the plant in the industry was automated to the standard of the day. Ian Fisher prospered. But his career was cut short in 1959 by a car accident, which killed him at the age of only 42.
Thereafter, Ian’s wife Margaret carried on the business for about 15 years. It was eventually taken over by a public company. His engineering talents were inherited by his daughter Anne, who graduated in electrical engineering from Leeds University. His son Michael also had a technological bent. After working as a sound engineer with Yorkshire Television, he set up his own sound consultancy business.
Without these important advances in automation initiated by Ian Fisher, the developments which followed, undreamed of in James Fisher’s day, may not have been possible.
Into the top league
Striving to follow in the footsteps of a successful father can be a formidable task for many sons. It was the prospect set before Donald Fisher in 1964 when he was invited to take over the running of the recently acquired Cupar laundry.
Donald’s childhood eye had perceived the laundry as a place full of exciting equipment and machinery; but suddenly, at the age of 22, he was confronted with the stark reality of profit, turnover, productivity and budgetary control. The laundry which had so fascinated the child now challenged the adult: he had to make the business work.
The preparation for father’s footsteps, however, had been thorough, in terms of both attitude and education. Donald had watched his family eat, sleep and breathe laundries from within a few years of his birth in 1942.
He spent his school holidays, from Breadalbane Academy and later Strathallan, playing or working in the laundry. He lived in a house only 50 yards from the plant in Home Street, Aberfeldy, and he heard his father bring home problems and issues of importance to discuss with his mother. After school he would get into wellington boots and a rubber apron, ready to help and sometimes stand in for the wash-houseman.
As a child, Donald was well known to all the staff at Aberfeldy, and had to be chased away from the old boilers, as he tried to figure out how they worked, on more than a few occasions. But in his teen years, Donald developed a sense of the laundry as a complex industry: he saw that there was always new plant and equipment being put in and “smelt success a little". He began to recognise the company’s reputation, and to appreciate its strong position in the local marketplace. Unlike his two brothers, Peter and Alan, Donald never had to decide on a career. While both his brothers took up medicine, Peter becoming a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Aberdeen and Alan graduating from Cambridge before going into general practice in Bournemouth, Donald "evolved into the business".
On leaving school, Donald embarked on a two year course in laundry management at Hendon Technical College. Run in conjunction with the British Launderers Research Association, this involved practical laundry experience at Liddles in Edinburgh, and Institute of British Launderers examinations in law, accountancy, business administration and work study.
During the course Donald had a spell at Inglis Green Laundry in Edinburgh, which was large and modem by the standards of the day. He learned a great deal from the managing director, Leonard Collins, and on completing his course in 1961, was offered the post of assistant laundry manager of one of the Inglis Green laundries.
The laundry belonged to House of Fraser, and Donald worked there for three years, becoming relief works manager, involved with implementing production methods, in the expectation that it would be an expanding company, with Frasers buying heavily into the laundry industry. This did not happen.
In 1964 Donald was then offered a proposition which was both a unique opportunity and an awesome task. His father Hamish asked him to take control of the Cupar operation, modernising the laundry which was quite out-of—date by Aberfeldy standards, and developing the turnover — which currently stood at £28,000 per annum.
The laundry had been started in the second decade of the century by a man named Knox. It was run as a hand laundry - evidence of which still stands to this day in the shape of the original wash—boiler.
In 1926 the laundry was bought by William Brownlie. He and his family continued to run it until it was taken over by Fishers in 1958. Although it had been mechanised in the twenties and early thirties, no further modernisation took place after the war, and by 1958, a third of the 40 staff were still hand ironers. At Fishers laundry in Aberfeldy, hand ironing had passed into history.
Donald Fisher’s question to himself was similar to that posed by his father on his return from Glasgow 30 years before: how was such a laundry to provide him with a career?
The wider picture was not encouraging. There were signs that a difficult time in the laundry industry was about to dawn, and indeed the pessimist might have thought that the bottom was about to drop out of it. What had continued as a strong market until the early sixties had reached a peak, and was beginning to be eroded by the advent of the household washing machine. The domestic laundry market was to go into decline.
What followed probably provided Donald with the experience and the marketing abilities which were to characterise his running of the laundry over the next three decades.
There was one critical factor which affected his approach more than any other — and which Donald chose to regard as an advantage: his father was 50 miles distant. His involvement in day—to—day affairs would have been impractical, and therefore Donald was left almost entirely to his own devices.
He knew that he had to run the laundry on a tight budget. He also knew that he had to ‘ get the business on the move’ if it was to give him a career. Satisfied that he had the ability to do so together with the appetite and energy for the necessary hard work, his father had the good sense to give him the freedom to get on with the job. His faith in his son was demonstrated by Donald’s new status as a partner in the company.
A second factor was that despite the disturbing developments in the domestic market, Donald remained reasonably confident that his objective could be achieved. This belief acted as a spur to the conduct of both his business management and various menial activities. He was prepared to work flat out on both fronts to lift the laundry into another league. This meant, in the early days, that he had to be prepared to turn his hand to anything — taking his place in the wash—house, feeding the calender, mending machinery, managing transport, production and office administration, and even developing an accounting system. It did not escape his father’s notice that the range of activities was not at all dis similar to that undertaken by himself on his return from Glasgow to Aberfeldy back in 1933.
There were no sales staff at that time and Donald found that his efforts to raise the turnover entailed direct selling, which he had to undertake himself. If machinery broke down, holding up production, then Donald would have to don an overall and assist an engineer. He could rectify most mechanical problems himself. His father recalled that on more than a few of his visits to Cupar, he would find Donald underneath the machinery valiantly attempting to set it back in motion.
Donald knew that the way forward was to increase the Cupar turnover, without significantly increasing its costs. He kept a close eye on expenditure on wages and energy, and applied simple but effective philosophies perhaps gleaned from his encounters with his father;
- Have clear production methods and ideas in mind, and put them into practice.
- Be cautious - not only about where the company is going, but about how its resources are used to get there.
- Develop both turnover and profit - these and only these can give the company a future.
- Demand reasonable profits, because without profit, in a capital intensive business, you can do nothing. -
- Accept that profit is not what you put in your pocket, but what you plough back into the company.
Slowly, results began to show. Turnover crept up. Costs remained roughly constant. Even the early results had a dramatic effect on Donald. They whetted his ambition, encouraging him to improve on them straight away. He knew that his father was in favour of investment, and shared his belief that this should be financed not by borrowings but by profit.
Meanwhile, major developments were taking place in Aberfeldy. An Engelhardt and Foster continuous washing machine complete with Classomat classifying equipment and a conveyor were installed at a cost of £18,000. This eliminated most of the hard work associated with the older machines, and enabled the laundry to increase its capacity. Hamish Fisher also purchased a second ironer — a twin roll 120" Manlove costing £5140.
A programme of modernisation commenced in Cupar in the late sixties. When Donald Fisher first came to the laundry, the machinery was still driven by belts from an old line shaft, the steam engine having just been removed.
The machines were motorised to dispense with the line shaft. Traditional washing machines were replaced by Spencer washing extractors whereby both washing and water extraction was carried out in the same machine. Whereas the previous washers handled dry weights of 100-150 lbs, these could take a 200 lb load. In terms of working conditions, the modernisation meant that the wash process became less labour intensive, with heavy loads of wet washing no longer having to be removed and barrowed to a hydro-extractor. Those working in the wash—house were relieved of much of their heavy, wet work which had previously necessitated the wearing of wellington boots and waterproof aprons.
Despite the favourable effects Donald Fisher’s arrival was having on the Cupar laundry, it was not to escape exposure to the tidal wave of change which was to shatter much of the industry. The surge in the domestic laundry market was about to cease. Laundries, it seemed certain, had to change direction, or allow themselves to be swept out of the market.
Fishers had just expanded. Now they were obliged to replace the disappearing domestic market if they were to maintain that expansion. The situation was not dissimilar to that which obtained at the end of the war when new work had to be found to replace the extensive war work which had kept the laundry machines going at full capacity.
The foundations had already been laid at Fishers for a subtle shift of emphasis. As domestic work declined the laundry had developed its links with local hotels, and the mid—sixties saw an increasing involvement with the tourist industry. This, they believed, was where the future lay. The plants at both Cupar and Aberfeldy were now fairly well mechanised, and it was clear that the quantity of work required to keep the company developing would not come from the domestic market on which the laundry had always relied.
Because both Donald and his father had pushed forward with the introduction of the latest machinery, Fishers had both the capacity and the equipment to meet the forthcoming growth in the hotel trade. It was at this time that the rot set in irreversibly for many laundries still dependent on the domestic market. As many as three each week in the UK went to the wall.
Fishers’ market in the north area had continued to grow, and an important landmark was reached in 1965. The company secured the contract for their first luxury-class hotel, the 200- bed roomed Coylumbridge, on the outskirts of Aviemore. The move up-market was a strategic one, and would lead to further growth in business from the tourist trade. It also gave Fishers the confidence to build on their success and prepare for the next major milestone.
By the late sixties, 60% of Fishers’ business was based on the hotel and tourist market. The laundry had successfully surmounted the problems posed by the loss of domestic work. Yet this was no time for complacency. Having altered its customer base, Fishers now began to look at the geographical areas the company served.
Already the Cupar plant was servicing the Kirkcaldy and Kinross areas, and Aberfeldy was building up its base in Aviemore. The laundries were largely operating, however, in their original old domestic trading areas — Aberfeldy, Newtonmore, Perth and Highland Perthshire, South Inverness-shire, and North Fife — and it was becoming apparent that future growth could no longer be expected in those.
This realisation might have given rise to despondency, or even despair. Not so. Instead it led to one of the most crucial decisions in Fishers’ history. It was decided to move into new trading areas with a quite new approach to laundry. Fishers was to set out on a path which would lead from the old trading locations of the laundries to a market covering all Scotland.
The move was into linen rental. This meant that instead of laundering linen owned by hotels, Fishers would purchase its own stocks and rent out the freshly laundered linen. This relieved hotels of the chore of maintaining their own supplies and enabled Fishers to provide a cost-effective service package.
The cost of the initial outlay to the company was high. But Hamish and Donald Fisher had done their sums, and saw this as the route offering the best prospects for the future.
It was decided to continue servicing the old ‘domestic’ areas in the traditional manner, allowing the profits from this trade to help finance the new venture. The linen rental business would concentrate on completely new areas, with the Aberfeldy plant selling into the Glasgow market, and Cupar into an Edinburgh market.
In common with most of the key decisions in the history of Fishers, this one was in tune with the wider picture prevailing in the country at the time. It coincided with the formation of hotel groups, such as Thistle, Stakis, Trusthouse Forte and Tennant Caledonian, and therefore with a significant stride forward in the tourist industry, and a greater need for streamlined support services.
The new system relieved hotels of the responsibility for maintaining their linen stocks in terms of both quality and quantity and provided the customer with a positive cost advantage. For the launderer, standardisation of linen meant a saving in operating costs, coupled with complete control of the quality and condition of the materials processed.
Hamish Fisher was introduced at this time to a freelance salesman called Clive Lane. He was struck by his dynamic personality and decided to employ him on a commission basis to launch a sales campaign for Fishers in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas. Hamish’s confidence was not misplaced. Within a short time Clive had secured a linen-hire contract with Fishers’ first Stakis hotel from a telephone box in Glasgow. The hotel, named the Gantock, was in Gourock, and there was some initial concern as to how the laundry could service a customer some 120 miles distant. Doubts were superseded, however, by positive, practical steps. This was the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Stakis, now one of Fishers’ largest customers in Scotland.
The following year, the Aviemore Centre was opened. This brought what, at first sight, might have seemed like a setback. The complex constructed a laundry of its own, and invited Hamish Fisher to train staff and help put it into operation. He agreed to do so, thereby unexpectedly benefiting the laundry. The on—premise laundry at Aviemore was located in the Strathspey Hotel, and through Hamish Fisher’s visit a relationship with Scottish Brewers was formed. This was followed by a key contract for Fishers’ first large Thistle Hotel being won when the newly built King James Hotel in Edinburgh was opened in 1974. The excellent relations with Scottish Brewers and Thistle Hotels were to continue.
The threat from on-premise laundries hovered on the horizon. Hotel groups considered converting to this system, and some did. Fishers took the situation seriously, fearing that the idea could undermine the success of their recently introduced linen rental scheme. They saw these new laundries as competition, and treated them as such. The vulnerability of the newcomers began to show, however, and it was clear that many on-premise laundries were not meeting the high standards of linen servicing required by first-class hotels.
Hamish Fisher still recalls other similar fears, concerning a take-over by paper and synthetic products. The energy crisis of the early seventies meant, however, that the price of raw materials soared and these never became a serious threat. People were becoming, by this time, more conservation conscious.
Although they never became complacent about the competition from on-premise laundries, Fishers found that, sooner or later, their linen rental service was coming out in front. A number of hotels and hotel chains switched back to the benefits of a professional, external service. This was assisted, after the period of polished table-tops, by the gradual reinstatement of traditional standards in table linen, with hotels seeking to restore the values of Victorian and Edwardian times. Fashions in table and bed linen had come full circle, and the demand was once again for linen table napkins and cloths, and freshly ironed, high-quality cotton sheets.
Around this time, some of the negotiations concerning linen rental were being conducted from Aberfeldy by Norman Galletley, who had been appointed plant manager in 1968. He was much older than Donald, and brought considerable experience to the laundry which enabled him to relieve Hamish Fisher of some of the management tasks at what was now an exceedingly busy time for the laundry and to make a contribution to the success of the early linen-hire service. Fishers had also diversified into garment rental, providing and maintaining workwear for industry.
A second important development occurred in the early seventies inspired by the American Space Programme. Donald Fisher had taken a study tour to the States. Whilst visiting laundry and cleaning establishments he was struck by the idea of a cleanroom plant, set up for cleaning garments for the hi-tech electronics and pharmaceutical industries.
The standards of cleanliness Donald had seen in the States were set by the ASTM (American Society for the Testing of Materials) — originally part of the American Space Programme.
The basis of the idea as it applied in practice was not to keep the operator clean, but to prevent the operator from contaminating the products with which he was working.
On his return to Scotland, Donald discussed with his father the idea of diversifying into this business. Hamish Fisher was cautiously enthusiastic. He arranged a visit to ICI at its Runcorn plant to discuss the new development of cleaning dust—free garments. This standard of cleaning in Scotland was still in its very early stages. Further discussions were held with the Universities of Dundee and Glasgow on the setting up of a room which would meet the standards required. For a start, Fishers would have to acquire the right type of garment to offer to customers. The material had to be ‘lint free’ - meaning that no particles had to be shed from the garments.
The decision was taken. Fishers would build a suitable section at Aberfeldy to enable the company to provide the new service. Within a short time, a customer base was developed not only in the new industries settling in Scotland, but throughout England also. Fishers today continues to supply particle-free garments, head wear and footwear for the micro-clean world of these industries - serving both local firms and large multinational corporations. The ultra-modern cleanroom at Aberfeldy handles the cleaning and packing of specially designed protective clothing in conditions where particle count and contamination require strict control.
The linen—hire market continued to grow. Within a comparatively short time, Fishers were employing sales people, and a service team responsible for repairing and maintaining the linen. The Cupar plant had been extended in 1972 to accommodate the move into linen rental, and was continuing to grow. Further extensions were to follow in 1981, 1982 and 1984. Ultimately its growth would outstrip that of the main plant in Aberfeldy and Fishers’ head offices would transfer to Cupar.
Throughout the seventies and early eighties Donald and Hamish worked at full capacity to promote the growth of the company and develop a management team. Although they rarely missed an opportunity to secure an important contract, circumstances were not always in their favour.
At the time when British Transport Hotels owned Gleneagles, they operated a laundry in Edinburgh to service all railway sleeping cars, and the group’s hotels in Scotland. In 1982 three hotels - Gleneagles, the Caledonian and the North British — and the railway laundry were sold off. Although it would have been very much an outside chance for Fishers to take over the hotel work, the company nevertheless experienced a slight disappointment when Gleneagles continued to contract their work to the ‘railway ’ laundry, under its new ownership.
What luck did not do for the company, determination did. Donald Fisher returned home one evening to receive a phone call from an engineer in the laundry: Gleneagles Hotel had been on the telephone, urgently requesting certain items of linen. They had to be delivered that day. In the space of a few minutes, Donald called in staff, and reopened the laundry. Around 1000 articles of linen — ranging from kitchen aprons to table napkins and bath towels — were dispatched that evening.
The situation recurred — sometimes on a Saturday or even very early on Sunday mornings, when Donald was still in bed. Gleneagles always got its linen. So far, the balance of advantage did not seem to favour Fishers. Then one day, in London, Donald received an unexpected message to ring the manager at Gleneagles. He did so, and received confirmation that Fishers was to take over the linen rental contract as soon as possible. Fishers started t0 service Gleneagles officially in October 1983. That month marked an important psychological landmark for the company. The acquisition of contracts for many other hotels was to follow, from that time up to the present day. One of the most recent was the palatial Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.
The expansion of linen hire continued, and Fishers’ market extended further across Scotland. The spread of work into new areas was assisted in 1984 by the purchase of an old-established laundry in Greenock. Known as Caddlehill Laundry, the company was at one time owned by the Tullis family, who were laundry engineers in Clydebank. The laundry was quite small, but well equipped, and with a good management team. The purchase gave Fishers additional capacity, and enabled it to serve Ayr, Oban, Fort William and Argyll, in addition to the Glasgow area.
Back in Fife, new developments were also taking place. One of those was a linen reclamation unit, set up in what had been an old printing works.
Some time previously, Donald had met - and married in 1970 — a young lady called Judith. Judy had gone to Glasgow to train as a singer, but returned to her home in Cupar and took a ‘temporary ’ office post at Fishers - where she met Donald. Like most of the women in the Fisher family before her, Judy took a strong interest in the laundry. In 1985 she set up a new unit for the Fisher group of laundries, and runs this herself. The Cupar unit repairs and reclaims linen, allowing as much as possible to be recycled.
Each year of the eighties seemed to bring further growth. Changes were taking place at the top of the company. These centred upon a gradual hand over of the leadership from Hamish to Donald, and the creation of a streamlined management team.
All this was achieved without the slightest intrusion of any conflict: Hamish Fisher had complete confidence in his son. He believed that Donald had done well. He had thought that it would be hard to pass on the business in which he had spent his working life. He expected to experience a sad awareness of losing something; but it had not worked out that way. He had watched his son’s footsteps follow his, and then set off on a promising path of their own into the future.
The modern marketplace
Few factors have played a more prominent part in the Fisher success story than the company’s ability to change with the times, often despite the difficulties of doing so. In the early 1980s the Fisher family faced the prospect of changes not in plant, equipment or customers, but in the structure of the company itself. The laundry had become too large to continue as a purely family concern; the time had come to embark on the process of building up a strong management team It was through such a structure that the company could best meet the needs of the modern marketplace and accelerate the development of its facilities at Aberfeldy, Cupar and Greenock.
Fishers was fast developing an all-Scotland market, and a reputation for an exceptionally high-quality service. Turnover had continued to rise steadily, and by 1981 stood at £1.5million.
The first moves towards the new management structure were made in the mid-seventies, when it was decided to seek a way of enabling Hamish Fisher to reduce his major commitment to the laundry. Although these moves culminated in the formation of the Fishers Services Board in 1989, this conclusion was not easily achieved. A series of problems concerning both management and succession first had to be overcome. The original idea, when Hamish Fisher reached his early sixties, was that an experienced laundry manager would be appointed at Aberfeldy, to take over some of the responsibility in the running of the plant. It was envisaged that the new manager would play a role similar to that of Donald Fisher in Cupar. In practice, however, the process was less simple. The company met with some management problems, and almost a decade was to elapse before a satisfactory resolution was reached.
During this time, Fishers decided to seek the professional advice of one of the country’s leading accountancy firms on the transfer of ownership of share capital. Price Waterhouse, together with the legal firm of Kippen Campbell and Burt, who have had a long association with the Fisher family, drew up a package of proposals which enabled Fishers to change the company ’s existing partnership structure. In doing so they solved problems which had been hovering for some time: how the question of succession could best be resolved, and how a holding company could make provision for operating companies, offering an appropriate management structure for the eighties and nineties.
The laundry in Aberfeldy was changed from a partnership to a limited company in 1983. The following year, the three laundries at Cupar, Aberfeldy and Greenock were brought together under the umbrella of Fishers Holdings Ltd.
The Cupar laundry was fortunate in securing, in that same year, the services of Graeme Calder as manager. The general management position at Greenock was ably filled by Alec Duncan, who was already in post when Fishers acquired the Caddlehill laundry in 1984. The appointment of Victor Ward as manager at Aberfeldy in 1986 was to complete the management team.
All three men were first-class executives, and each has made a major contribution to the Fisher Group’s success in the modern market. Each is now a Director of Fishers Services as well as general manager of his plant.
Graeme Calder worked with a wholesale food distribution company prior to joining Fishers. Victor Ward had developed his career in the laundry industry. Alec Duncan had originally joined Caddlehill laundry as an engineer, and worked his way up to a directorship.
At around the same time as these appointments were made, Fishers started to upgrade the standards of their management trainees. The group’s first graduate trainee, Ian Hamilton, was appointed in 1984. He is now works manager at Cupar, and has been followed by other graduates who see a bright future in the laundry industry.
The building up of the management team continued with the addition in 1986 of a highly capable accountant, Scott Sandie. Scott is now a member of the senior team - conducting on a large scale costings operations which were once undertaken by Donald Fisher - in whatever spare seconds he could find - on the back of an envelope. Although the bottom line is the same, with profit and turnover paramount, there is a dramatic difference in the size of the sums. When Donald first came to Cupar its turnover stood at £28,500. In 1991 the group’s turnover was approaching £10 million. Staff numbers, too, have soared, with a present 450 staff employed at the laundries, as compared to 85 throughout the group in 1964.
The structure today consists of the Fisher group of companies: Fishers Services (Aberfeldy) Ltd, Fishers Services (Cupar) Ltd, and Fishers Services (Greenock) Ltd. The companies are managed by Fishers Services Ltd on behalf of the shareholding company, Fishers Holdings Ltd, comprising Hamish Fisher, Donald Fisher and his wife Judy. The company has been fortunate in securing the services, as a non-executive director, of James G Crisp, who recently retired as Deputy Managing Director of Brooks Services, Bristol.
Fishers Services Ltd has six directors: Donald Fisher, the three laundry managers — Graeme Calder, Victor Ward and Alec Duncan — Scott Sandie, and a non-executive director, David Kelly. David replaces Ken Hurt, who died in 1988, after making a considerable contribution to budgetary controls and setting up a management structure for a medium—sized company. Such a structure had been very carefully thought out, not least because the Fishers did not want to create a hierarchy with layers. They decided that management should have total responsibility and that customers should have direct access to senior executives in the company.
Fishers believes that it has achieved its objective in terms of management structure: the creation of a good team of directors capable of runing the company in the absence of Hamish and Donald Fisher, and a team of well-trained people at junior management level. Consequently, there is today less dependence on Donald Fisher personally than before. Less involvement in the day-to-day running of the company leaves him more time to deal with board meetings, budgets, and top-level discussions with the company’ s major clients. He remains, however, an energetic force at the top of the company, helping the board to steer the company forward, and providing expert guidance on production and other matters whenever necessary. His personal dynamism and his capacity for getting things done sets the standard for all the company’s operations.
Donald’s concern is to see that the management team grows and develops, that it seeks and finds the right opportunities in the marketplace. His ambition is simple: to see the Fisher Group grow. Alongside the managerial evolution, parallel developments had to be masterminded in the three plants to ensure that their growth kept pace with that of the new high-level team.
Most of those new developments have taken place in Cupar - which is today the largest flat work laundry north of London. In 1988, Fishers opened a new plant adjoining the original Riggs Place laundry. This fully-automated facility has become a showcase laundry, with state-of-the-art machinery. In order to meet the escalating demand for linen supplies, Fishers opened a new purpose—built facility in Cupar in 1990. Looking to the future, the company purchased sufficient ground to enable this facility to be extended if necessary to three times its present size. The latest extension at Aberfeldy will enable Fishers to further develop its industrial garment sector, supplying protective clothing for factory workers all over Scotland.
The old wash systems of the sixties and seventies would never have been capable of coping with the volume of laundry arriving at Fishers today. Continuous wash processes - carried out by tunnel washers - and computer controls have been at the centre of the revolution in laundry technology.
The scene in the modern laundry today shows a level of organisation which is little short of miraculous. Newly arrived linen — brought in cages from hotels and other establishments all over Scotland - is put into bags, each weighing 35 kilos. These are then electronically tagged to instruct the computer how to wash, bleach and starch this particular batch of linen, how to extract water following the wash, dry and then take the load to the ironers. At present the initial segregation of the soiled linen is done by hand, but automatic sorting of incoming loads is likely to be one of the future innovations in the laundry. Research is already underway in the industry to place tiny magnetic tags on different types of article.
The Cupar laundries now have the facilities to process up to five tons of linen per hour. These are stored in bags suspended from the roof of the laundries. Every two minutes a new bag is drawn forward to be emptied automatically into a tunnel washer — and every two minutes a ‘cake’ of wet laundry emerges from the washer, ready for the next stage. During this time a screen displays details of the current contents of each machine. The modern tunnel washers, an advent of the eighties, save energy by recycling heat and water.
The laundry has the latest ironing equipment, with each machine handling as many as 800 sheets per hour. As the sheets emerge from the machine, singles are separated from doubles, and ‘rejects’ are sorted into those in need of a rewash, and those requiring repair. The whole process is entirely automatic.
On completion of the laundry cycle, the linen is packed ready for dispatch to customers according to the directions carried by the electronic tag. Since the linen belongs to Fishers, customers are free to specify their requirements, which may vary according to the time of year, or the level of business they anticipate. The whole operation is closely controlled by computer, and customers are provided with precise information concerning losses or damaged materials.
The new plant at Prestonhall, Cupar, opened in time to cope with extra demands resulting from the Open Golf Championship at St Andrews in 1990, and Glasgow’s year as City of Culture.
Such thinking by Fishers illustrates the close tie between the modem marketplace and the development of the laundry. Client requirements today bear scant resemblance to those of the gentry staying at the shooting lodges in Perthshire around the turn of the century. The fine silks and dress shirts once worn by the smart folk from the south have given way to the latest fashions in table and bed wear favoured by the tourist trade.
Fishers has grown up alongside the hotel and leisure market — meeting customer needs in terms of both service and product. It has placed particular emphasis on reliability, efficiency and the general enhancement of the quality of its service. The linen rental service gives customers great flexibility in adjusting their stocks as required, and the sophisticated machinery employed by Fishers gives a professional finish which would be impossible to achieve in a domestic situation. Items are washed and ironed at high temperatures to meet the strictest standards of hygiene. It will supply whatever hotels and restaurants require, from the banqueting to the bed linen season. The laundry’s role is to ensure that clients have a supply of clean linen — whether tablecloths or towels for swimming pools — according to their type of trade.
The Fishers remark that fashions in table and bed wear have come full circle, with standards returning to those of Victorian and Edwardian times. White tablecloths are once again in demand, with the trend, says Donald Fisher, towards the days of the country house, when they used large quantities of damask linen. As hotels head up-market, the requirement for linen cloths, table napkins and freshly ironed quality cotton sheets increases.
While Fishers’ major clients include Stakis, Trusthouse Forte, Scottish Highland, Jarvis, Queens Moat, Mount Charlotte, Shearings, Swallow, Gleneagles, and the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, the company still retains a strong involvement with British Rail — supplying all its ‘ sleeper’ linen — and with Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. It is in charge of textile management for the luxurious cruise ship ‘The Hebridean Princess’, and has serviced ‘The Queen of Scots’ - a private luxury train which took its passengers through Scotland in the elegance and period style of a bygone age.
Standards may be constant, but methods of achieving them are very different from those which prevailed in the days of James Fisher. The childhood eyes of the new generation perceived a quite different industry from that which was familiar to the young Peter, or Hamish, or Donald.
Today too, the eyes of this new generation belong not to a son, but to the two delightful daughters of Donald and Judy. Jennifer and younger sister Gillian—May, as they approach the time when they will set out on their own careers, see a laundry now almost a century old, in tune with new technology, and with its development intertwined with that of the Scottish tourist industry.
Laundries around the world
While Fishers laundry has been developing into a strong force in Scotland, both Hamish and Donald Fisher have taken time to study the industry in other countries. Both believed in the importance of travel to spot innovative ideas and generally keep abreast of the laundry industry on a worldwide scale.
From the 1960s, Hamish Fisher visited numerous laundries with the Laundry Study Group, and paid close attention to their management, methods and marketing.
In Australia, for example, Hamish found that launderers had a particularly refreshing approach to their businesses. They visited each other’s plant in turn and made a critical assessment of the quality of work, maintenance of equipment, and productivity. This was usually followed by animated discussion in the boardroom. In 1965, the plants were mainly medium—sized and orientated towards the domestic market. There was a friendly yet competitive spirit between the launderers, who shared any new idea which came to the fore. Circumstances, however, are different today, and many of these laundries have been closed or obliged to amalgamate with larger groups.
During their visit to Australia, Hamish and his wife Betty had the honour of being entertained to dinner by Sir Robert and Dame Patty Menzies at the Prime Minister’ s lodge. Sir Robert had a long connection with the Aberfeldy area, in which Castle Menzies, the seat of the Clan Menzies, is located. Sir Robert had visited Castle Menzies, and he and his Lady had been entertained in Aberfeldy by Hamish and Betty during Hamish’s term as Provost.
During a study tour to Japan, Hamish visited a laundry in Tokyo, belonging to the country’s largest laundry group. One of their practices was to start the working week with a religious service held in a special assembly hall fitted with all sorts of electronic equipment. The plant was highly productive, laundering huge quantities of shirts and other domestic items. It also had an extensive dry cleaning department dealing with such items as the magnificent kimonos worn by the wealthier Japanese. The host company had no problem explaining its workings in English: when Betty Fisher complimented the young man conducting the tour on his impeccable English, he informed her that he was studying English at university, and currently completing a thesis on Words worth!
Working conditions in laundries in India in the sixties were much less salubrious. Although the visitors were very warmly received and regally entertained, the surroundings in the laundry left much to be desired.
Laundry equipment from Britain and the USA was to the fore in the smallish laundries Hamish visited in South America. A central part of the business of these laundries was the cleaning and storage of rugs. These were cleaned and repaired as soon as winter was over, and then stored throughout the hot season. In one particular plant Hamish saw tens of thousands of rugs in special storage accommodation.
Hamish also visited laundries in the USA - which in the sixties were not especially well equipped - and in Europe, where standards were extremely high. Much of the modern laundry machinery today is made, in particular, in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Holland.
Twenty-five years on, Europe still plays a central role in the laundry industry. Donald Fisher has recently been appointed secretary of a new trade association - the European Textile Rental Association - formed to deal primarily with matters relating to the EEC, and gain EEC recognition for the trade.
The Association will represent the interests of the textile rental industry to the Commission in Brussels, and participate in drafting legislation which could affect textile renters.
Donald’s post is expected to involve regular meetings in Brussels and close monitoring of legislation concerning the trade, clients of the trade, and environmental matters.
The Textile Services Association, the trade association for the laundry, cleaning and textile rental industry in Britain, appointed Donald its treasurer in 1988. Until 1990 he served as a member of the World Textile Rental Congress, which involved him in regular travel abroad. In recent years he has visited the USA and a number of European countries including France, Germany, Holland and Denmark.
Both Hamish and Donald Fisher believe that the comparative ease of present-day travel has played a vital part in enabling laundries, wherever they are situated, to achieve a remarkable degree of progress in our modem times. Ideas have been seen and shared, creative thought stimulated and practical problems solved.
International travel has had a profound effect on markets, promoting similar developments in Britain and abroad. Perhaps in the future even travel will be overtaken by other forms of contact — facilitated by the modem communications industry. The speed and sophistication of communications systems today is already making it immeasurably easier for laundries to keep in touch, both with each other, and with their time.
Almost a century has passed since James Fisher first thought of building a laundry in the small country town of Aberfeldy.
Time has brought changes to the pretty Scottish village, once a centre for farming, with other industries restricted to a few rural crafts. At the turn of the century, Aberfeldy's inhabitants numbered 1500, many dependent on the summer visitors who came to stay in the shooting lodges and large houses.
Change has been both gentle and generous, neither spoiling the beauty of Aberfeldy, nor much altering its character. Few would have thought, however, that the greenfield site in Home Street selected by James Fisher in 1900 for his steam laundry would be the birthplace of one of the count1y’s largest family companies. Even today the passer-by is likely to go on his way with his mind uncrossed by the thought that the picturesque spot is now a centre for a major Scottish industry.
The most far-reaching changes have taken place not in Aberfeldy but in Fishers embracing management, machinery, the very nature of the business and its marketplace. At its inception the laundry, small as it was, was still one of Aberfeldy’s larger employers; today it is by far the largest employer.
Staff conditions in the present-day laundries bear little resemblance to those experienced by James Fisher’s earliest employees. Even up until the sixties washing was a very labour- intensive, wet job, necessitating the wearing of Wellington boots and waterproof aprons. The machines of that time churned out 100 lb in dry weight of linen, all requiring to be unloaded and transported by barrow to be fed into a hydro-extractor for spinning.
This was heavy work, in surroundings quite dissimilar to those in the streamlined facilities of today, where most of the processes are controlled by computer. Early machinery has given way to modern tunnel washers, management by the family founder to a professional management team.
Dress shirts and silk blouses have been superseded by the sheets, top quality towels and table linen which comprise the textile rental service provided by Fishers today. Modern hotel chains have taken over from the fine houses and shooting lodges as major clients. Fishers has moved from the domestic market of James Fisher’s day to the commercial and industrial market which is likely to continue to provide a future for the laundries.
Fishers will continue to change. Just as it has followed a development path parallel to that of Scotland itself, so it will continue to reflect the growth programme pursued by the country as a whole.
Many qualities of the Fisher family, their management and staff have contributed to the Fishers success story. These, as has been stated earlier, go far beyond the words of the Fisher family motto engraved on the headstone of a family member at Kenmore. ‘Patience and hope’ could not begin to account for the business achievement built by four generations. Alongside patience there has been vision and inspiration, determination and tenacity, and a healthy measure of discontent - a desire to do better. ‘Hope’ has been translated into hard work, practical ability, a positive approach to problems and above all a decision to take advantage of every opportunity offering the possibility of further development. From the days when two or three laundries were knocking on the doors of the Aberfeldy shooting lodges in pursuit of work, Fishers has set itself to stay a step ahead of the competition.
The Fisher family have had the patience to plough back profits into the business, working to ensure the laundry was well equipped.
From the first they worked hard to obtain new customers, acquire other laundries in the area and take their work to Aberfeldy to boost both turnover and profits to support further development. They have had the patience to wait for the right opportunity, find the right people for the job, the right moment to make another move forward.
Each Fisher has invested his hope for the future in the next generation. James took Peter into partnership, Peter placed great reliance on the skills of his son Hamish, and Hamish has long demonstrated his faith in his eldest son Donald.
And so the hope for the future is currently invested in Donald. It is he who must now have the patience to pass on the Fisher inheritance in the right way, at the right time, to the right people. But before that time comes, and before the future hands on the tiller are in sharp focus, there is much to be done. The present must be managed, past success preserved, and the future planned.
This means that the marketplace must be studied, and a strong management team prepared to play a prominent role. The Fisher family believes that the hotel and catering trade in Scotland will continue to grow, and Fishers must reflect its development in the textile services industry.
As standards of service rise, and quality becomes the keynote of the nineties, Fishers is consolidating its position at the forefront of the industry. The group’s micro—clean division at Aberfeldy has just become the first cleanroom in Scotland to receive the award of BS 5750 Part 2 — for its consistency in carrying out quality procedures in processing protective clothing used in the electronics and pharmaceutical industries. The group is committed to upgrading and developing its services alongside those of its customers, and will continue to place an extremely strong emphasis on quality throughout its operations.
In tune with its time, Fishers seeks not only to be a ‘clean’ industry, but to play its part in saving energy and promoting ‘green’ issues. Fishers’ machines are programmed to recycle water, heat and materials. The group’s policies are aimed at preserving the world’s resources.
In some things, however, such as the financial heart of the business, there is no change. The bottom line says the same: that success still rests on the improvement of productivity and the reduction of costs. And that this will be as true in the future as it has been in the past.
Donald Fisher is quite firm about his business objective: for Fishers to continue to expand within Scotland, and to achieve further success.
His more personal ambitions, and those of the older members of the Fisher family, must remain here unwritten. Only time, together with the influence of situation and circumstance, will reveal whether their deepest wishes for the Fishers Services Group will one day be fulfilled.
Page last updated - 11/12/15