ROANOKE, Va. — This year has reemphasized several very important lessons.

The first lesson is that it is the nimble and easily adaptable organization that survives and even prospers in a time of crisis. Those organizations that are not open to change or new products suffered greatly during the past year. Those textile care providers who were able to provide reusable barrier protection gowns found this portion of the business soar while the rest of their business suffered.

Many healthcare laundries have felt they were immune to problems caused by recession or a worldwide pandemic. The healthcare business was considered a safe harbor in times of trouble, but the lesson from 2020 is that this is a false sense of security.

When the government mandated that all non-essential surgeries and procedures be canceled to ensure adequate beds for potential COVID-19 cases, the laundry volume from this industry plummeted. Healthcare systems faced unexpected revenue shortages and almost all areas saw their work hours reduced.

This is the first time in my lifetime that this has happened, but I cannot say that it will be the last.

The broader the products offered by the laundry department, the less the impact will be. The healthcare laundry that provides mops, cleaning cloths, walk-off mats and the processing of cubicle curtains will be better off than the laundry that does not.

The laundry that has learned how to process, package and deliver reusable isolation gowns will be better off than the laundry that does not. The laundry that processes and prepares linen for use in the surgical suite will be better off than the laundry that does not.

We have learned through other emergencies that global supply lines can be easily interrupted. We saw this again when the rapidly increasing demand for masks and disposable isolation gowns could not be met by overseas suppliers.  

What implications does this have for other textile products? The majority of our textile products come from faraway places. A global pandemic that interrupts the normal supply chain can have devastating effects.

Next year, we will see many products that were made overseas once again be made in the United States. Critical products like essential drugs will be moved back into the country, and this will cause a rapid rise in the cost of these products, but it is an essential move for national security.

What will happen to the textile market; how stable is your supply line? This is the time to double-check the security of your textile products.

We learned that when you must reduce worked hours, cross-training is essential. Large laundry facilities have many specialized jobs, while smaller laundries have staff that does a wide variety of jobs. Effective cross-training is essential to survival in a sudden market downturn.

As I write this article the result of the 2020 presidential election is still unclear. COVID-19 cases are on the rise and a vaccine is still somewhere in the future.

Will we face another lockdown in various areas of the country? I do not know. Will business return to pre-COVID-19 levels soon? That is also unclear. When will life get back to normal? That is anyone’s best guess.

Going into 2021 it is essential that we learn from the past, stay flexible and try to adapt to the numerous changes that may take place in the near future.