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Business Interruption Planning in a COVID World (Part 1)

How COVID-19 changed laundry contingency planning

LAS VEGAS — Recent headlines define the laundry list (pun intended) of major challenges for any business leader to contend with. Any single item would be concerning, but these challenges are all occurring at the same time in this pandemic economy.

How business owners and leaders are addressing these challenges will fill MBA courses for decades to come with what worked—and what did not.

The headlines are also affecting textile rental and professional laundry markets. Global supply and logistic problems are impacting all market sectors, from machine parts to textiles, finished goods, chemicals and more.

Labor shortages are affecting every market sector. Signing bonuses are being offered to hourly wage positions; minimum wages are rising 20%-30% or more in some areas. Business bankruptcies are at an all-time high, especially in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Losses due to bad debt have had ripple effects for vendors.

The scale and scope of the combined issues facing businesses in this pandemic economy are challenging leaders. In fact, the subtext to the headline issues is the large number of leaders who are stepping down from their organizations. Historically, leaders in turbulent times are not the same as those in stable or high-growth markets.

Entrepreneurs or family business owners are the exceptions to that rule in most cases and the laundry industry is populated with family companies that are laundries and suppliers alike.

This time, we’ll look at how business interruption planning changed when the pandemic happened.


When I was managing laundries a few years back, we developed and then practiced business interruption scenarios, and we used an “all events” plan to address how we would approach nearly every type of problem.

The old paradigm was to plan for each contingency separately, but by adopting an “all events” approach, every scenario we faced shared the same core elements and approaches. The differences in each event response were related to whom might be involved or the resources required.

We practiced scenarios and even faced several real-time events over a few years. We experienced flooding that caused water use restrictions, set up mobile field evacuation centers, delivery truck accidents, labor strike actions, sewer line breaks, including epidemic outbreak response for both major and minor events (influenza, measles and Ebola).

Following every event, we would convene an “after-action” investigation where the first and most important rule was brutal, clear honesty. One of our team leads was a former military field surgeon and medical investigator and he encouraged blunt, respectful discussion. I found these after-action meetings valuable, and our takeaways always made the next event response go smoother.

One common element in all that experience is that most events are isolated geographically to a location, building, city or region. A baseline condition assumed there would always be support beyond the localized event to be able to reach out to. Suppliers, vendors, specialists could be called on to send supplies or manpower if needed.

That all changed in March 2020.

COVID 2020

There are moments in any event where you become aware that most of your experience and planning are no longer relevant, and the events around the 2020 global COVID response have reset our thinking in almost every way. Challenges are combined to become an avalanche of challenges, and they are sent with critical life-threatening mandates. 

Every part of our industry has been affected and depending on the type of laundry you operate, or industry you serve, these are extraordinary times.

  • How do you plan for a 3-6 month plant shutdown?
  • How do you lay off 80%-90% of staff, when you have never had a layoff?
  • Machine parts and textiles are available, but they are competing with global transportation to arrive at your plant.
  • You need to invest in worksite protection (masks, temperature checks, plexiglass barriers, revised worker schedules and more).
  • How do you hire new and returning workers to scale with production, when production is less than 30%.

These challenges and more are facing all types of businesses in our industry. While the problems are substantial, applying an “all events” disaster response framework can provide a roadmap or path for your organization to follow.

First, as each new challenge presents itself, have a core team who perform a “triage” of the event and determine what is critical, what is fatal and then create an essential priority of events to address.

Second, define short-term deliverables, empower your team with authority to act and create a communication plan that reports honestly and often. Focus on the quality of the information presented.

Third, be prepared to have hard conversations regards what your team is learning.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion with a case study and dealing with COVID challenges.

Business Interruption Planning in a COVID World

(Image licensed by Ingram Image)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected] .