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Expanding Laundry/Linen Service Business (Part 1)

Adding new products, services to lines, bringing on new customers

CHICAGO — Even before the pandemic took a bite out of the economy, laundry and linen services constantly sought to expand their businesses.

Some laundries look at adding products and services. Others, having their sales reps seek and sign more customers.

And some can look at expanding their footprint, adding plants and moving into different regions of the country.

ImageFIRST, a healthcare linen and laundry company headquartered in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, has been growing its business in all the manners previously mentioned—despite the pandemic.

Read on to find out how the company added a key microfiber mop program and continually seeks to help their customers enhance the experience of their end-users.

PRODUCTS AND CLIENTS

The primary way most laundry and linen services expand business is by adding new products and services to their lines and bringing on new customers.

When it comes to adding products, Bill Roberts, senior vice president of sales and marketing for ImageFIRST, says that whenever the company looks at any type of new product or service, it’s based on meeting the needs of its clients.

“We don’t develop anything in a bubble,” he says. “We’ll reach out and speak to a lot of our main clients, the ones that are the ‘movers and shakers’ in the marketplace.

“We’ll reach out to, for example, a large health system and say, ‘You know, we’re thinking about this product. What’s your thought? Is it going to help solve a problem? Is it going to help improve the patient experience?’

“If we can develop products that are enhancing the patient experience, meeting specific needs of our clients, it’s probably going to be a product that they would be interested in.”

Roberts says that ImageFIRST always has new products and services in development, but the company takes its time launching them into the marketplace.

“Our process is not to quickly launch a product and hope for the best,” he shares. “We want to test it internally, test it with several clients and once we know that it’s going to meet the needs of the client and there’s no issues or problems, then we’ll roll it out.

“We want to make sure that when we roll it out, it’s completely baked, so to speak.”

Roberts points out that sometimes the rollout takes place regionally, then expanding from region to region across the country, with a couple of new products or services launched in a year.

What does a cycle of development and launch of a new product or service look like? Roberts points to ImageFIRST’s new Mop Accountability Program as an example.

“There was a large health system, one of our top clients, and they were using our ScrubVAULT system to manage scrubs within their health system,” he shares. “And they said, ‘Is there any way that you can use this technology, which is all RFID-based, and apply that to microfiber mops?’”

The client was asking for radio-frequency identification chips to be placed in microfiber mops, place the mops in a cabinet, and then when a user needs them, they would scan their QR code to check out the item.

“It would show that an individual took out 10 mops, and then because they are RFID-tracked, we can then see if the mops were returned. This unique tracking system holds the individual accountable and significantly reduced loss,” says Roberts.

“It took us a while to develop the technology because it’s a little bit different when you have mops instead of scrubs, but it ended up being a really cool system.”

Mop loss is a big issue in health systems because sometimes staff use the mops and then throw them in the trash.

“Having accountability, showing that a housekeeper took out 15 mops and that all 15 mops were returned is a significant benefit of our program,” he says. “Just knowing that we can get reporting to show you that the mops have been returned, the loss can go from thousands of dollars down to almost zero simply because of the accountability.

“They make sure that they don’t go in the trash, and they ensure they return them. They’re a little more careful.”

Besides loss prevention, he says the Mop Accountability Program has infection prevention benefits.

“If I’m required to clean 10 rooms and I only take out five mops, then how do you clean 10 rooms with five mops?” says Roberts. “It’s showing that you’re using the same mop on multiple rooms, which is not following infection-prevention cleaning protocol.

“There is accountability on the user if you clean 15 rooms, we need you to show that you took out 15 mops.”

ImageFIRST worked with the health system on the model and is in the process of rolling it out nationwide.

Roberts says that the time from concept through development to rollout of a new product or service can take anywhere from six months to two years.

“Our Mop Accountability Program, because we’re using UHF RFID technology and detailed reporting and then making sure that it’s working … it was a very involved process,” he points out. “Probably from start to finish, it’s been about a year.

“Could we have launched it sooner? Yes, but then it’s not 100% that it’s giving us the data we need. Our customers really want to make sure that you test it and verify and make sure that all the bugs are worked out.”

Even when a laundry/linen service sees a need, develops a product or service, and works with a client to create it, sometimes the end result doesn’t work out, Roberts says.

“Probably 50% of the ideas aren’t going to meet the needs of a client or drive enough revenue,” he shares. “It takes a lot of time, and it’s very expensive. Plus, there’s all the marketing and sales behind it. So, if we can’t generate enough revenue and benefit from it, we’re not going to roll that out to our client base.”

When it comes to gaining new customers, Roberts says it’s all about improvement.

“When we approach sales, we look at how can we improve the patient experience?” he shares. “How can we improve the engagement of staff members within a hospital or medical practice? And how can we meet the needs of healthcare facilities?

“If you keep that in mind, you’ll be successful in sales, but you also have to think a little bit differently. It’s developing products that are going to help improve the patient experience so that you can help the health system or that outpatient facility differentiates itself from its competitor.”

Roberts says it’s also important that a company’s products and services make it easier for customers to do their job.

“If you can hand a patient a gown that looks beautiful, it’s pristine and it’s individually bagged, it makes your job easier,” he points out. “And when that patient opens it, it’s like, wow,  the experience continues on from the moment I walked in the door, and everything that we do is around that experience.”

Because of COVID-19, Roberts thinks that infection prevention product needs and wants will be high for some time.

“I think since COVID has happened, people’s awareness or sensitivity around infection prevention has increased,” he says.

“That’s one of the areas that we’re constantly thinking about, how do we make sure that infection prevention on linen is at its utmost? And how do we help that hospital reduce their infection prevention concerns and worries?

“There are several products and services that we have in development that we are pretty excited about. So, hopefully, we’ll be launching some new products toward the end of the year going into next year.”

Check back Thursday to learn about expansion by moving into new markets and building facilities or acquiring existing operations.