ROANOKE, Va. — For years, I have wanted to collect thoughts based on my 40-plus years of laundry experience into a series of articles on the laundry industry and laundry management. This article begins that project. I hope my readers find it enlightening and educational.
The laundry business is a fascinating one with lots of opportunity for growth and development. It doesn’t matter where you start in the business. In 1972, I took a temporary job loading and unloading 600-pound Washex washers in a hospital laundry while I tried to find a job related to my recreational land management degree from Utah State University. I found out too late that the jobs in my chosen field are very limited and almost impossible to get. I saw opportunity in the laundry business and simply decided to stay and see where it led me.
I quickly learned that my college degree had not been a waste of time: A number of promotions over the next 12 months came because I could substitute education for experience. I can honestly say that during my first four years in the laundry business, I worked in every area of the hospital laundry. This well-rounded experience gave me a great base upon which to develop my career.
As I grew in my knowledge of the laundry industry, I realized that the only product that a laundry creates is lint. The amount of lint we generate relates to the quality of the linen we process, the wash formulas we use, the temperature of the dryers, and the manner of finishing. Lint is both a fire hazard and a corrosive material to a lot of the mechanical equipment. The ideal situation is to produce as little of this product as possible.
A laundry is really just a recycling center for soiled textile products. We reclaim the products by washing them and finishing them so they can be reused again by our customers.
I came to understand early on that this “recycling” process is a lot like the various ecosystems that I studied in college. Any change to any of the parameters in the processing system or to the quality of the textile product will have a number of effects downstream in the cycle, which are either expected or unexpected. It’s the unexpected effects that we need to watch for and correct on a timely basis.
Because of the complex and interrelated nature of all the factors affecting your laundry process, no two days seem to work out exactly the same. I have found this aspect of the industry fascinating, and I enjoy making the little changes necessary to keep the process functioning at a high level.
I can remember reading an article about a talk Vince Lombardi once gave on the Green Bay Packers’ basic sweep play. For eight hours, he talked about just that one play and all the adjustments that would need to be made for each type of different defense they might face. His players were so well-trained that the basic play was very difficult for opposing defenses to stop.
I also really enjoy working with people. The laundry industry in the United States has historically been staffed by immigrants to the country. Entry-level positions allow them to gain an economic foothold in the country while they learn the language and assimilate into the country as a whole.
My current laundry employs workers who speak a combined 13 different primary languages. My turnover rate is extremely low, especially when compared with the housekeeping and dietary departments at the hospital we service.
I learned a long time ago that the best way to train a production employee is by the old Boy Scout method of “show and do.” This involves having a trainer working with an employee to demonstrate the job tasks, directing the trainee to do the tasks, and then stepping back in and correcting the technique. This is the most effective way to train, and works equally as well whether the two people speak the same language or have no common language between them.
Recognize that the expert in any job in the laundry is the one who does it for eight hours every day. Working with people and tapping into that source of knowledge is a challenge for every laundry management team member. Helping people improve their production, job skills and language skills, and supporting their efforts to move up in the organization is very rewarding.
If you are up to the challenge and not afraid to get your hands dirty, the laundry industry can be a great career—one that will keep you engaged and challenged every day of every year.