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Helping Pandemic/Recession-Proof Operations (Part 1)

“After the past year, I want to do my part on the floor to help maintain business. What ideas and suggestions do you have to help pandemic/recession-proof my laundry?”

Textiles: Cecil B. Lee, Standard Textile, Cincinnati, Ohio

Pandemic-proof? This is an interesting concept considering I have always believed that the healthcare laundry business was recession-proof.

Considering COVID-19 is a once-in-a-century event, healthcare laundries were able to survive surprisingly well while hospitality suffered horrendously, to say the least.

The hospitality industry also suffered after the Sept. 11 catastrophic event and for months afterward. Events could also occur that dramatically affect volume in the healthcare space, so do your own SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis.

Nevertheless, to position your facility for survival you should invest in your people and your product offerings. Examples include:

  1. Invest in your people. Continue to cross-train such that losing people is not so impactful. Invest in their development and training to attach personal ownership or allegiance. Review the operating hours to maximize efficiency.
  2. Meet with your people and work to have them understand the business you are in. It is a “necessary” service that does not go away.
  3. Review your building safety procedures and methods such that the employees feel safe. They need to feel as safe as you do. They are responsible for safety as much as you are.
  4. Diversify your product and service offerings so that your laundry is in the game. This could include surgical products, smaller healthcare customers, long-term care laundry business including personals, washing cubicle curtains and offering warm-up jackets for hospital employees.
  5. Inventory at proper levels; do not live on the edge. This would include linen, chemicals, supplies, maintenance parts, backups (things that can shut you down—air compressors, boilers, etc.) and the like. Do you have emergency inventory?
  6. Improve automation such that you can do more with less. This is two-fold allowing for growth and getting by during an emergency. We work in a labor-intensive industry, and my goal was always to make the job as easy as it could be. Teaching techniques is as important as adding equipment.
  7. Evaluate your management team and make sure they are as hands-on and optimistic as you think they are. The management team has more contact with the employee than you do.
  8. Evaluate the product going out the door and make sure it looks, feels and takes care of the customer as you wish.
  9. Evaluate your customer service contacts. The idea is to maintain relationships and service such that customers will want to come back after a downturn.

For the hospitality industry, I believe the challenge is a tad tougher due to the issue purely being a loss of volume. However, each point above applies here, also.

The goal is still to be efficient and for the employee to accomplish a lot with little through organization. If you must cut staff, you want them to want to return as business returns.

Position yourself to be successful when the unexpected occurs.

Consulting Services: David Graham, Performance Matters, Fort Mill, S.C.

Happy summer, ALN readers! We all need some time off, and I hope you are putting aside time to do just this. After the pandemic, you must recharge. I find this topic another great and relevant challenge to address this time around.

I must start by saying that nothing is recession-proof. The best we can look to do is minimize events that can cause injury to our businesses. I bring to you the following:

A. Make everything that senior leadership does a year-round event—Look at your business environment as a non-expiring event.

For example, set monthly goals in your five key performance indicators (also known as KPIs). Make these KPIs visible to all and provide weekly feedback on your results.

An example of a specific plan would be as follows. Our overall overtime goal is 20 hours or fewer per week for all hourly team members or zero OSHA recordables for the month. If you achieve victory in three of the five KPI goals, at the end of four measured weeks/a month, you celebrate with a raffle and a luncheon.

A well-orchestrated effort creates continual feedback and a quiet pressure on the team to hit those goals. Nobody wants to miss that celebration event. You should find two things occurring:

1. People are not necessarily motivated by a pizza or taco party, nor are they necessarily motivated just by a chance for a $25 gift certificate. They are motivated by the fact that you are out of your office and conference room, showing that you are one of them!

2. Those who do not respond to the challenge of victory are probably a naysayer and a drag on your team. Some people are plain, old quiet, but others contain a desire to destruct (a cancer). Identify these cancers and no matter their tenure, you want to redirect them.

As your team grows, they will begin to “self-police” internally, so you are freed up to encourage success and watch the naysayers become a part of the team

B. MBWA (Managing by Wandering Around)—Once again, your physical presence on the floor or in your route room means a great deal to your team every day! Even if you have nothing specific to do, you are having an impact simply by being visible.

This does not come naturally to leaders who must show that they are in a class by themselves. Do you want to be known as an elitist or a person of the people? Easy choice to me, plus I have found I learn so much more about what is really going on by hearing it and seeing it at every level.

C. Smile!—Nobody can wake up feeling great every morning, but even if you are having a bad morning, then talk yourself into a phony smile. If you cannot do that, then send out a proxy to handle those chores for the day.

When you are away for meetings or have time off, send that proxy with the same marching orders. Those orders are to show the team you truly care every day. Once started do not stop. You have created an addiction among your teammates that must be satisfied daily.

Have a great summer, my friends!

Commercial Laundry: Phoebe Ellis, Lace House Linen, Petaluma, Calif.

We have a new daily mantra at Lace House: “Manage our own business.”

Coming out of the pandemic and trying to manage business has been very tricky for all of us! We have always been 100% customer service focused and while trying to maintain this goal, we have had some very challenging conversations with customers.

We are just now recognizing how the labor and materials shortages are seriously affecting our industry as customers are reopening and the demand for clean linen is so high. We are a mixed plant servicing hospitality (rental and NOG: not our goods), food and beverage (rental and NOG), industrial, uniforms, beauty, dust control and food processing, so we are eliminating several lines of business to focus on our larger distribution industries and items.

Also, we are consolidating product lines/napkin and tablecloth offerings because we are not able to maintain an adequate inventory of so many options.

We used to say “yes” to everything and to all customers, but now we are taking a step back and deciding what works best for Lace House. We are trying to keep our employees satisfied and engaged so that they will continue to want to work at Lace House, but we also do not want to overwork them to avoid burnout.

Some employees are working six days a week just to get the material processed and delivered, but it is not a sustainable business model.

As an owner/operator, I am more mindful than ever about managing a smart, efficient business and that we are realistic about how much linen we can process and deliver each day. Our focus is to keep Lace House vibrant while continuing to provide excellent customer service which is the daily balance.

I am hopeful that by early 2022, the supply chains and the labor market will level off so that we can re-think our business and growth strategies. But for now, we are managing our own business each day and not trying to manage our customers’ businesses for them.

Each morning, I take a deep breath when I am in the plant, helping our managers to make deliberate decisions that will alleviate stress and shortages, and each night when we turn off the boiler, I am grateful for our customers, employees and the support in our industry and that we have successfully navigated another day.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion with ideas from experts in healthcare laundry, equipment manufacturing and chemicals supply.

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