The history is a little confusing, but it’s also quite amusing. The easy part is that Whitney Kerridge currently
represents the third generation of her family to own and operate Admiral Cleaners in Annapolis, MD, alongside
her husband Scott.
The tricky part is that Whitney’s paternal grandfather helped come up with its current name before her
maternal grandfather even purchased the plant and renamed his existing chain of
stores Admiral Cleaners.
Neither man knew the other at the time. It was just one of those odd little
kinks of fate that pop up occasionally.
Originally, Whitney’s family
business was started in 1932
by Henry Worcester. Back then
it was known as Morningside
Laundry and it was located
only in Silver Spring.
Over time, Worcester
expanded to include other
locations throughout the state
and passed the business along
to his son-in-law, Jock Hopkins
(Whitney’s father), who in turn
transferred the business to his
daughter and son-in-law
(Whitney and Scott) in 2005.
Meanwhile, in the early
1950s a cleaning plant located in Annapolis was bought during a tax sale by a
man named Charles Elzey, Sr. with
the help of his lawyer, John H. Hopkins IV (a.k.a. Whitney’s father’s father). During lunch at the Lord Baltimore
Hotel after the purchase, it was Hopkins who suggested that Elzey, Sr. rename
his new company to be Admiral
Cleaners after the Naval Academy’s proud tradition in Annapolis.
When Elzey, Sr. died, Admiral Cleaners was passed down to his son who wasn’t interested in pursuing a life in
the drycleaning industry. Elzey, Jr,. sold the business to Henry Worcester in
1959. At that time, all of Worcester’s
other locations were subsequently changed to Admiral Cleaners.
Admiral Cleaners has grown to include 17 locations throughout Maryland and
employs close to 100 team
members (as Whitney and Scott refer to their staff).
“We focus on having a very high level of customer service and quality,” Whitney explained. “I believe it all
starts with hiring. We call it selection.”
At Admiral, they put forth a lot of care during the screening process of new
hires. Both the manager and the
district manager screen the applicant. Unlike many companies, skills aren’t the most important quality that they
“We believe we can train the skills required,” Whitney added. “We hire for personality. Most of the positions
that we tend to be selecting for are customer service representatives. We ask a
lot of behavioral interview
questions. We try and really get a sense of how the person thinks and how they
are going to react in a particular
At one point, the Kerridges surveyed their top team members who excelled at
customer service and they
discovered a common set of characteristics among them: friendly, outgoing,
happy, positive, reliable,
trustworthy, etc. These are now the same personality traits they look for during
their screening process.
“We also ask them: How do we know when you’re having a bad day?” she noted. “There’s only one correct
answer. ‘You won’t.’ No matter what you have going on personally, your customer deserves the best
we can possibly give.”
Sometimes, even the best service might not be enough when a garment is damaged.
As Scott sees it, though,
paying out the occasional claims should be quick and painless.
“We have always viewed claims as part of our marketing budget. We’ve always been generous in the way we
pay claims,” he said. “We try to pay as quickly as we can if we are perceived as making a mistake or we
make one. Our claims are less than 3/4 of a percent of total sales.”
Though they utilize top-of-the-line technology, including bar coding, they still
opt to trust the customers when
determining the value of the claim.
“We don’t try to negotiate with the customers the amount they’re asking. I don’t use the Fair Claims guide,” he
Another way the Kerridges make sure they are keeping customers happy and loyal
is by using a mystery
shopping service every other month.
“You can kind of feel like a fly on the wall and get a real sense of whether it’s a positive experience,” Whitney
said. “It’s a good gage for us. It’s a good way for us to determine training opportunities.”
These days, there seem to be a million ways to offer convenience and great
service to customers, but Admiral
has always stressed those philosophies long before it had access to secret
shopping programs and hi-tech tools.
When Henry Worcester started the business during the Great Depression, the
company was a small route
operation that helped make customers’ lives easier by picking up and dropping off clean clothes.
Worcester, who graduated from MIT with an engineering degree, adapted his
business whenever it made sense
to do so.
“In the 1950s, it became more package plant-oriented,” Whitney said. “Having retail locations was a little bit
more of a newer concept. I think you had more shopping centers popping up and
people were shopping
The family business thrived in the 1960s and in 1971, Henry’s son-in-law (Whitney’s father), Jock Hopkins, was
hired as a manager, though he did foster concerns about joining a family
business where two of his boss’s sons
were also employed. Fortunately, he had no need to worry as Henry wanted the
most qualified person to carry on
the family business.
“He set a pretty strong precedent by firing his two sons,” Whitney noted. “That was the story we heard growing
up. Something like that leaves a pretty strong impression. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to pull your
Scott joined Admiral as the second son-in-law in 1994, the same year he married
Whitney. He had a degree in
managerial economics from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and a financial
“I did not want to come in as the heir apparent,” he said. “I was very hands-on for years. I wanted to learn
every position in the business so that I could earn the respect of the people I
worked with rather than just coming
in and being the boss.”
A couple of years later, Whitney also began working for Admiral. Prior to that,
she had earned an economics
degree from Washington & Lee University. Like her father, she went to work for the First National Bank
Maryland (now called M&T).
She enjoyed leasing and financing rails cars to small businesses enough that it
was difficult for her father to
persuade her to replace an office manager who left in 1997. Eventually, she
opted to give it a try and did not
regret the decision.
“Nothing that we have experienced in this industry and in this business is
boring. It’s never the same day
twice,” she said.
Working out the problems that arise daily is made easier (and also a little
harder) when you work side by side
with your spouse.
“It’s challenging but we both know that the ultimate goal is to run our business
well,” Scott said. “Sometimes
she has a different idea than I do and vice versa, but because we’re husband and wife we work through it
differently than others might, but the good of the company and the employees and
our customers are at the top
of the list.”
The good of the company isn’t the only goal that the Kerridges share; they also care greatly about the good
To that end, Admiral makes a concerted effort to give back whenever possible.
For almost 25 years, the
business has run a Call for Coats program that has brought in close to 100,000
winter garments altogether for
locals who are in need of one.
Two other favorite charitable causes are Change, Inc. and the Providence Center,
two organizations that work
to help people with mental and physical disabilities lead happier, more
In fact, Admiral recently hired three such individuals as team members who now
come in twice a week.
“They do our hanger sorting for us,” Whitney said. “It gives them an excellent opportunity. They are actually
earning a paycheck.”
Giving back to the community is one of the more rewarding aspects of the job,
but sometimes the job itself is
rewarding, as is often the case with the company’s restoration services.
“It can be challenging, but it’s rewarding when you help somebody who’s been through something traumatic
put their lives back together,” Whitney said. “We take it to heart.”
Admiral can relate. The company lost its original location in Silver Springs in
the wake of Hurricane Agnes. As a
result, the company relocated to Annapolis in 1972. Losing a store or a house is
tough, but some jobs are more
devastating than others.
“We’ve got a restoration job that we’re working on now where the son passed away in a fire,” Whitney noted.
“Some people in the industry refer to it as a restoration job, but we try to
refer to it as a loss because that’s truly
what the people are experiencing whether it’s a loss of their normal life for some period of time — they’re
displaced or in a hotel — or it’s a loss of a loved one or pet. That’s why we’re so grateful that we have the people
we have. They are very empathetic and very kind and really just trying to help
those folks through a very difficult