Plymate family celebrating 90 years in business

Four generations of Plymates and two disastrous fires have created one healthy company based firmly in Shelbyville.

Todd Plymate, current president of Plymate Incorporated, calls the fires “God’s way of doing long range planning for us.”

Following a remodeling of its downtown production facility in 1967, Plymate Cleaners suffered the first of two devastating fires. That forced the local business to its current location on the city’s southwest side.

In 1988, a second major fire drastically altered the business focus of the company to what it is today – workplace apparel and floor mat programs.

Originally a dry cleaners, the company grew into a commercial laundry business, added linen and uniform business, purchased and developed coin-operated laundries and then saw the opportunity to expand into industrial business at a time when Shelbyville was landing foreign businesses.

Glenn Plymate would not recognize the business he founded today, 90 years later, run by his grandson, Todd, and granddaughter, Terri Plymate Warnecke. But he would be proud of the family business that they have cultivated and the customer service they provide in a business where independents battle for market share.

Nor would he envision a third- and fourth-generation of Plymates, Terri’s son, Ben Warnecke, has been with the company over three years now, leading the charge.

All three never considered working for their grandfather’s business. Todd Plymate landed at General Mills in Minneapolis working in mergers and acquisitions. Terri Warnecke spent 10 years teaching in the Indianapolis Public Schools system. And Ben Warnecke moved to Colorado for school and, eventually, work.

“I had no intention of coming back here,” quipped Todd. “I went to graduate school and was working for General Mills. I thought I was hot stuff and the last thing I thought I would be doing was working here. And that’s 40 years ago.”

James T. Plymate, son of Glenn Plymate, suffered a disabling back injury in 1978 and that brought Todd home. It also brought his youngest sister, Tracy Plymate Holt, into the business.

“People of my generation and older probably still think of Plymate as a dry cleaner,” explained Todd. “We don’t do any dry cleaning. We got rid of the dry cleaning. We did linens for the hospital. We had coin-operated laundrymats.

“One thing that was apparent to me was we can’t be good at all of these. So we focused on the industrial side of the business, uniforms and floor mat rental.”

Plymate didn’t go all in on its current focus, though, until that second fire in 1988.

Todd was playing tennis one weeknight when his wife pulled up to tell him there was a fire at the business. He could see the flames and smoke as the car pulled off Interstate 74.

“It was gut wrenching,” said Todd. “We had worked so hard. We were rolling on the food and beverage side and a little bit on the industrial side. I remember I had reached a time where we had this thing working the right way and then, ‘Boom.’ I literally cried.”

No employees were hurt but they were left in a perilous situation. As it turns out, it was those employees that brought renewed faith in the business.

“It was amazing what happened,” said Todd. “We had a lot of single parents working for us. The plant was not functional … it wasn’t for three months. So we went to Indianapolis and leased facilities there. We used them at night. We bussed our co-workers up to the facilities. We had these single parents and nobody quit during the process.

“That spoke volumes to me. I had a lot of respect for the co-workers before, but these guys really cared. It was clear that I was going to come back. I wouldn’t have been shocked if half our work force left with what we were asking them to do. It was like an epiphany. We’ve got something special going on here.”