CHICAGO — Every year, the laundry/linen service industry changes. And every year, veteran employees gain more experience, while young, new staff members come on board.
American Laundry News recently had a chance to sit down and talk with two members of different generations of laundry employees at Roscoe Co. in Chicago to gain insight into their unique perspectives.
Miriam Avila is Roscoe’s operations team leader who has been with the company for 23 years in production and supervisor roles. Julia Buik, while being a fourth-generation family member active in the business (daughter of third-generation owner Jim Buik), has less than two years of full-time experience with the company as a business analyst.
Q: We’ve been talking technology here, and some of it can reduce the need for employees, but what’s your take on the need and value of laundry employees?
Julia: I think the value is in your people. Investing in your people and having a fabulous team.
Despite the fact that we’re automating, we’ve been around over 95 years. We’ve had people who have been here for a long time and who have retired. As people have retired, they’ve been planning. They know we’re going to get this sorting system, so we’re going automate more, so that’s going to reduce how many people we have to work on this, so when this person retires, we’re going to fill that with a temp for now.
Miriam: We strategically did that years in advance. We knew exactly what we were doing. Going back two years, it was, “Let’s find some good, reliable temps we can work with. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up hiring them.” Everything fell into place. Even though we did go through this awesome automation, we didn’t have to lay off anybody.
There are key jobs where you don’t want to have to put a temp in. Our key team members were fully cross-trained across the board. You have to make sure you take care of that area. We reestablished our team members internally to be more efficient and it goes to what people are talented with. If some people are more comfortable working on computers, then those people ended up working in a different area. Some people are not so comfortable working on computers, and those people are now in a different area.
Q: There is one aspect of technology that we can’t ignore: The internet. What is your perception of the internet and social media in terms of the laundry/linen service industry?
Julia: This goes back to what I was saying about my dad always loving computers and technology. I feel like we’ve always been using the internet for things. We keep updating our website.
I feel like we are very focused on trying to make sure we are technologically advanced and staying to the level at least that our customers expect, but we’d rather exceed it.
I’m probably not the best person to ask about social media. I feel like I’m a little bit of a slow adopter. I got on Facebook when they opened it up to more than just college email addresses. I’ll go on Twitter, but I don’t have a Twitter account. I don’t have an Instagram account.
Q: How about you, Miriam?
Miriam: I’m like Julia in that respect. I don’t even have Facebook. I hear some of the team members talk about it, about something that was posted, so now I’m contemplating the idea of thinking about it, only because it has piqued my curiosity of what they’re talking about. It’s another way I can be connected to them and read what they’re posting and saying and doing.
I look at our company’s posts, especially now that we’ve been having meetings on it, and I’ve been reading our blogs. Again, the company’s driving me that way. I’m growing within the company, even in that respect.
Julia: I’ll go on Twitter. It’s a great source of breaking news, I feel like. Twitter has so much more information even before the news outlets have it.
Q: Last question: Where do you see the laundry/linen service industry going in the future?
Miriam: With technology at the rate we’re going, more efficient, obviously. In a lot of cases, you’re always going to have the human factor in there. No matter how fancy or sophisticated you get, you’re still going to have a person at some point, because you still need that personal touch.
At the end of the day, that affects the product that you’re processing through. I just see it helping us run more efficiently and better.
Julia: I don’t know. I went to TRSA’s Executive Management Institute (EMI) this past year, and one of our exercises that we had was brainstorming and thinking about different trends that could happen in the industry as there is more and more focus on reusing and natural resources.
People in my generation care more and more about the environment, and I think Roscoe, and the industry, have always focused on the fact that reusable items—part of that old recycling symbol—are better than something that’s disposable.
At EMI, some of the things we started wondering was, somebody brought up, will the same type of chemistry be in detergents in the future, or, like we see people turn to essential oils, will they start going toward more ideas like that for cleaning?
I would say the future I see is more shaped off of that conversation and related to the importance of reusing merchandise and textiles and using the water as efficiently as we can, making sure people know, all your customers and your wearers, know the care that’s being taken with their garments.