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Can You Feel the Winds of Change?

Eric Frederick |

We managers are responsible for developing a plan for the future and selling that vision to our employees and bosses. We’re the laundry experts who are responsible for preparing for an uncertain future. So, what events or factors may influence us over the next several years? Here’s my take.
The economy will likely still be in recession this year. The housing market — a key economic driver — is still in terrible shape, and another major round of real-estate losses could hit this first quarter. A depressed housing market, low consumer confidence, and tight credit will make it difficult to expand or retool operations. Recovery will depend on the federal government. Will it invest in pork-barrel projects or adopt a course of action that encourages businesses to grow?
It seems that healthcare laundries are the most stable places to be this year. While poundage decreased slightly in 2009, the drop was insignificant based on volume lost in the hospitality, restaurant, uniform rental and drycleaning segments, based on conversations I've had with colleagues and industry leaders over the past year. Healthcare facilities will see increased competition from nontraditional sources, and healthcare providers will actively search for best pricing to help improve their weak bottom lines.
While the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed their versions of healthcare reform, the process is not complete. Both must try to merge the bills. Passage is not a sure thing.
If a Canadian-style system is brought to the United States, could large, government-controlled laundries be far away? I simply don’t understand the rush to pass a bill that wouldn’t take effect for three years. It would seem that we have sufficient time to develop a plan for improvement that builds upon the strengths of the best healthcare delivery system in the world.
Will commercial laundries be willing to invest in equipment and facilities to process healthcare textiles, given the Obama administration’s desire to meddle in the private sector? No government program ever comes in under the estimated cost. The need to keep costs down will spur the government to develop tax-exempt healthcare cooperative laundries that will spread fixed costs.
Greater emphasis will be placed on going green in our operations, by generating less trash, making better use of utilities (think water-reuse systems), using easier-to-finish linen (higher polyester content), and finding better uses for our used textiles. I applaud the many efforts that the laundry industry has developed to lessen our environmental impact and see the potential for continued developments.
I see a major industry consolidation over the next several years. Companies that took steps to quickly adapt to our changing economic situation will be in position to take over weaker companies. These “mega-companies” will dominate the marketplace over the next decade. Their influence on trade associations and their programs will be staggering. Trade organizations will either learn to cater to them or be tossed into the trash bin of history.
We saw the tip of the iceberg in the 2009 flu pandemic. H1N1 may become a footnote in history, but the flaws in our healthcare delivery system and the disease’s ability to spread rapidly have been well documented. It’s no longer a matter of if a deadly worldwide pandemic will strike, but a question of when. We need our trade associations to help develop the programs and answers now.
I am ever the optimist. If we pay attention to the way the winds are blowing, we can prosper. We must remain on alert and be ready to adapt when the winds, as they frequently do, change direction.
 

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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