All Textile Products Are Not Created Equal (Part 1 of 3)

“How can we tell if we’re getting our money’s worth from the textiles we’re using? What are the characteristics of a high-quality textile after it has been processed a dozen times, 50 times, or more? And can item type — flatwork or garment — actually influence textile durability?”Textiles — Elizabeth Easter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
Quality means different things to different people, depending on their perception of the value of a product under consideration and their expectations of performance and durability for that product.
The quality of textile products should take into consideration five specific criteria:

  • Initial appearance — Color, design, drape, texture;
  • Perceived comfort — Hand, feel, touch, fit;
  • Purchase price vs. lifetime cost (maintenance requirements plus purchase price);
  • Serviceability — Implies fitness for purpose or suitability for use, which also includes durability; and
  • Safety and environment — Flammability, toxicity, allergenicity.

Fitness for use may be the most widely used concept of quality and is determined by those product features that a user can recognize as beneficial.
[NP][/NP]If we apply the fitness-for-use concept to a textile product, for example, a patient gown, it should be an acceptable style, color and design; and it must be free from defects such as stains, material (fabric) defects, open seams, loose (untrimmed) threads, misaligned buttons or buttonholes, defective zippers, and so on.
It must fit properly for the labeled size. And, it must perform satisfactorily in normal use, meaning that an apparel item must be able to withstand normal laundering/pressing and/or cycles without color loss or shrinkage, seams must not come apart, fabric must not tear, and so on.
A similar expectation would apply to fitness of use of towel, sheet or other textile products.
Knitted cotton sheets should be aesthetically pleasing and present the appearance of a well-made bed. In use, they should be comfortable to meet the needs of the customer. And, to be serviceable to the industry, they should retain the aesthetic and performance features for the expected life of the product.
From a customer’s viewpoint, quality is the main ingredient in a product that delights them by either meeting or exceeding expectations. Quality is a reflection of customers’ opinion of the value they see in a product.
Some factors that influence consumers’ perception of quality are:

  • Price — Consumers tend to associate quality with higher price.
  • Technology — This factors in construction or workmanship of fabric and seam strength, colorfastness, shrinkage, and other properties that are affected by the state of technology in the industry.
  • Psychology — A textile product can be reasonably priced and the best that technology can offer, but if it isn’t attractive, isn’t fashionable, and doesn’t meet the aesthetic requirements of customers, then it isn’t a quality product.
  • Durability — The importance of durability varies with categories of products, e.g. towels at poolside may not carry the same level of quality expectations as towels in the suites of a luxury hotel or spa.

As an industry, if you can positively influence any one or more of the preceding factors, then you will be able to increase the quality (and therefore the value) of the product in a customer’s mind and obtain a repeat customer.
Keep in mind that from an industry standpoint, higher and better product quality can be used as a product differentiation strategy in the marketplace.Textile/Uniform Rental — Kurt Rutkowski, Universal Linen Service, Louisville, Ky.
That’s the million dollar question — Are we getting our money’s worth? We operators need to take into account many factors to determine the answers.
[NP][/NP]At Universal, we routinely monitor the “life servings” of a product by taking the number of pieces billed and dividing that by the number of pieces put into service each year by item. We use this valuable tool for analyzing merchandise injections for all core items. We also monitor our merchandise cost as a percentage of weekly revenue. When combined, these two tools ensure that all merchandise decisions are well thought-out.
When purchasing table linens, we monitor them closely for shading, both on colored and white linens. If you don’t watch closely, you could find that the shading of colored napkins is inconsistent from one shipment to the next.
We have also learned over the past couple of years that “white is not always white.” Optical brighteners that are added during the manufacturing process can give the product a beautiful appearance until it’s been processed for several months. But, ultimately, the brighteners will break down and result in different shades of white. We now work closely with our distributors to ensure that optical brighteners have not been added to the textiles we buy.
We would also recommend that you create a color palette that your employees can use to detect severely shaded products that should be removed from circulation.
As a vendor or a customer, we know that price is perceived. At Universal, when it comes to bar mops, we pride ourselves on using the heaviest weight in the industry. When approached by other vendors, we use the “gorilla test.” If we can rip a new bar mop, then it just won’t work for us. For us, this is a selling point, as a better towel reduces the number of towels our customers need each week, and we increase our life servings, thus creating a win-win situation.
You can always buy a less-expensive product, but reducing one’s quality for price is a slippery slope.
Never overlook the importance of your chemical supplier when looking at textile durability. We believe that this vendor relationship is critical. Regardless of one’s product mix, there are many factors to take into account when making the right decision in getting your money’s worth.Does it meet my needs and the needs of the customer?Is it an equal or better product than the one I am currently using?What are the actual life servings?
Once you are able to answer those questions, you can fully determine the durability and “cost savings” for your business.Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this story!


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