SADDLE BROOK, N.J. — It’s important that an operation be able to keep track of goods: where they are, whether they are clean or soiled, and at what point in their life cycle they are. It’s important that the laundry and the customer know the status of each piece, because linen loss is costly, and service can be negatively impacted if stock levels aren’t kept where needed.
The earliest linen inventory systems involved manually counting goods. Then came barcodes, where items were tagged and could be tracked using a hand scanner.
Today, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has taken linen tracking and inventory to another level. Chips are attached to goods, which then can be scanned, not one at a time but in batches.
A cart filled with RFID-tagged linens can be pushed into a scanner, and even in a mass of goods, each individual item can be scanned and the operation’s management system then updated as to the location and status of each piece throughout the operation, from soil to shelves.
However, it is important to remember that any system, from fully automated RFID to manual soil counting, is only as good and effective as it is properly implemented. Recognizing this fact, those using the systems must train both laundry staff and customers.
Regrettably, it is not uncommon for a company to invest in the latest and greatest technology with the assumption that it will solve their problems, only to be disappointed with the results. Without proper planning, training and implementation, the new system will not reach its fullest potential.
There are steps a laundry operation can take to train both employees and customers to achieve maximum results with a linen inventory tracking system.
First, utilize your vendor. All inventory tracking systems serve three main functions: to reduce linen loss, to assure accurate deliveries and to assure loss billing integrity. However, options and complexity can vary greatly from one system to another.
Work with your vendor to identify which options are best for your operation, but be careful not to “cherry-pick.” Although some of the available features may not apply to your operation, you are investing a significant amount of time and money in your new system, and you should take advantage of every option possible.
Once you have identified the extent to which your new system will be best utilized, ask your vendor to provide a training program. This should include initial on-site work with your current team, as well as a program that can be used with future team members.
All those involved should understand their roles in making your new system successful. Production operators need to understand the equipment and hardware, service managers and route service representatives (RSRs) need to understand the reporting, and your customers must know the system’s benefits to their operations.
Any new equipment or system, especially those that are technology-based, can be intimidating to production operators. Thorough training and demonstration will help to alleviate this concern. Be sure to explain why you are introducing a new system and provide regular feedback.
Similarly, service managers and RSRs must not only understand how to run or analyze the new reports, they also must be comfortable educating and explaining the new system to your customers. Your service team should study the information and role-play various customer scenarios using sample reports.
Customer pushback should be expected, and the service team must be prepared to address this. It is also a good idea to do a trial period of a month or more to identify any concerns before introducing the system to your customers.
Your customers must understand the value of your new system. It is not likely that increasing loss charges will be well received; however, with proper explanation, most will understand and accept that inventory loss and overstock does occur. Be prepared to use your new system to quantify this loss and build your professional credibility.
Before you start, you should identify your target. What will make this new system successful? If your current replacement costs are X%, establish an ending replacement goal (as well as a deadline) that is consistent with your expected return on investment (ROI).
After setting your ending goal, establish interim, incremental goals so that you can track your progress. It is very important to measure your progress. If you don’t achieve an interim goal, determine the root cause as to why and make adjustments. Do not wait until your final deadline or it may be too late.
Lastly, implement “simple, repeatable processes” when administering your new system. Office administration or service management should run the reports regularly on the same day of the week or month. Similarly, the results should be reviewed with your RSRs or customers according to a predetermined schedule. Establish a routine and your customers will grow to appreciate your ability to communicate loss and usage effectively.
Linen inventory tracking technology is advancing, making tracking and inventorying easier than in the days of hand counting. However, we must remember that people are still involved in the process. The latest and greatest technology won’t be of much use if both employees and customers aren’t trained on the system.
Technology combined with training can greatly enhance your linen inventory tracking.