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: So, Julia, weve heard from Miriam on technology. What about your thoughts on technology in the industry?
Julia: OK, keep in mind, I’m young and grew up with technology. My dad has loved computers and technology from probably the time he was in college or before.
Miriam: Oh, yes.
Julia: Where our front-office space is now, it used to be a room that held a giant computer, when computers were the size of a room. He convinced his dad that they needed a computer. I would sit on my dad’s lap, from the time I was little, just trying to play on the computer.
Now, I didn’t grow up with an iPhone or things like that like kids today, but I grew up with computers. I’ve always loved that technology. Roscoe has always been pushing for more technology through my dad. It was, “Let’s bar-code-tape everything.”
Miriam: But even now, you’re bringing it to a higher level. She’s like, “Why are we manually tracking this?” Or, “We need a spreadsheet.” Or, “We need to do this.”
Julia: It does sometimes take a fresh set of eyes to say, “But, why?”
I’m all about technology and tracking. I think it can only make the customer’s experience better to know when the last time you washed their garment was, when is the last time you saw it.
That’s how we can make sure, on the rare chance that anything is misplaced in our system, we can say it was soil-scanned only, but it doesn’t look like it ever left our plant. Let’s replace the item for free. Things like that.
Miriam: Our customers are expecting us to be ahead of the game as well. They’re doing it at their own places. They’re also having better technology, better equipment, it’s going that way.
Even the laundry, they do expect us to have data and provide reports at a snap of the fingers. Or, why can’t I just go online and look at my garment information? Now, we can do that. That’s something we weren’t able to do 10 years ago, but it’s expected. Just like the outside world is going that way, so are we. We just have to make sure we bring our team members with us.
Q: You’ve mentioned equipment advances, so let’s move on to automation changes over years.
Julia: The sorting system is the perfect example, from the older one to our new system.
Miriam: You can even go back as far as 20 years ago when we were manual-sorting. But, even though we were hand-sorting, we had towers that were breaking down the merchandise a certain way to make it more efficient and easier for us to hand-sort. Even then, we were up there in technology on how to manually hand-sort.
You go from manually hand-sorting to a system that took all of our uniforms and sorted them by route, account, the order the route service representative (RSR) makes the delivery, and locker. That machine was able to do that, to sort 1,500 garments within 13 minutes, no matter what you put in there. You could put in four routes or a single route.
You had one operator loading a machine, click a touch screen, and voila, 13 minutes later you have this whole route sorted—from four operators hand-sorting to a one-operator process.
Julia: We got to that point 20 years ago.
Miriam: Now, the future. I’ll let you handle this.
Julia: The fun part. It was the last major step when we consolidated from two buildings into one building about 10 years ago.
We got a new wash floor, new conveyors to move it from the washer onto the conveyor onto the clean sling to be hung, all of this cool technology and advancements, but the piece that we didn’t do yet at that time was the sorting system. What we did this past fall was get a brand-new Kannegiesser ETECH sorting system shipped all the way from Germany in lots of wooden crates. It’s beautiful and shiny.
I was peripherally around during the plant consolidation when I was in college. It’s been a great experience to see the benefits and challenges you have as you put in an amazing new piece of equipment. I think it allows for more checking of garments. We have a way now to scan during sorting to flag something to go to the repair area. It’s wonderful what it can do.
Miriam: It is, but the one thing I will never get tired of highlighting is how it went from being an idea to action plan. Jim always had all of us included, from the birth of the project to throwing stuff out, what do we want. We had meetings. We included IT and production employees.
It’s wasn’t just Jim saying, “I’m buying a fancy sorting system, and I don’t care what you guys want, I’m going to buy what I want.” No, we were a part of it from the planning process. I’ll never get tired of saying that. I feel like the mom of the sorting system.
Julia: You are the mom of the sorting system.
Miriam: We went to Texas. We went to Michigan. We had everybody involved. It was a team effort. When I go out there and I look at it and I see how involved Julia is, it’s like, this is how it’s supposed to be. Yes, we’re still tweaking it, and we’re still doing certain things, but not one of those is like, “There you go, Miriam, it’s your problem. You got the new toy.” She’s the brains.
Julia: I love investigating why this happened or this happened with it. There’s always growing pains when you put in a new piece of machinery. It takes adjustment to fully optimize it within your facility to make sure all the technical specifications are working, everything. It takes a little bit of time.
We’re going through that right now, but I think Kannegiesser ETECH has been good at helping us through that process. The system started sorting garments the first week of December. Before that, Miriam and her whole team were hand-sorting for a period of time or doing a first sort with an old automated piece while construction went on in a different area. Everyone got involved.
Miriam: It was all hands on deck while they were constructing this amazing equipment literally over us or next to us. It was like, “Excuse me, we have to go through here,” kind of scenario. But our customers didn’t suffer. We went back to old-school hand-sorting.
Julia: We kept joking that Miriam was going back to her very first job. She understands the things that her team is experiencing, mitigating that for everyone. I think sometimes we take for granted the team and how much planning we do.
Miss part 1 about Miriam and Julia’s laundry journeys, technology? Click here to read it. And check back Tuesday for the conclusion on teamwork, social media and the future.