CHICAGO — It would be nice to have a crystal ball that could reveal what the laundry and linen service business will look like in 10-20 years.
Technology hasn’t advanced that far, yet.
So, the best avenue available is to talk to those with experience in the industry, who have seen where it’s been, and can offer an educated look into the future.
American Laundry News reached out to many experts in the industry. Interestingly, the laundry operators contacted deferred to equipment manufacturers, distributors and consultants when it comes to prognostication about the future. So that’s where we went for insight.
Following are some of the laundry and linen service industry forecasts from David Carter, vice president, North America sales, for Pellerin Milnor Corp.; David Graham, senior consultant, Performance Matters; David Netusil, manager-sales support and marketing for Jensen USA; Joel Jorgensen, Continental Girbau vice president of sales; Keith Ware, vice president of sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc.; Mads Andresen, CEO of Inwatec, for which JPE Inc. is the exclusive representative in the United States and Canada; Joe Gudenburr, president of G.A. Braun Inc.; and Bill Brooks, UniMac national sales manager.
How do you think the changes to come will affect the business side of a laundry? How will marketing, sales and management be impacted?
GUDENBURR: The fundamentals of business never change as it pertains to costs, profits, quality and service. The changes will be in how the advancements in products and in the processing areas alter how these fundamentals are presented to decision-makers.
Marketing plays a key role in every industry, and as I think most know, a great deal of marketing can be pomp and circumstance with minimal substance. The hope that I would have is that our industry focuses on science and substance as it markets, and as it makes business decisions. Doing so will always have a positive impact to the bottom line, and to the health and welfare of the business.
BROOKS: Distributors will become less of equipment sales and service organizations and more focused on providing total laundry solutions. So instead of just selling a $20,000 piece of equipment, they will become a partner, helping on-premises laundry managers run a $200,000 operation and drive efficiency.
CARTER: Higher linen quality, consistent scheduled linen deliveries, additional customer services offered to accommodate customer site linen management services.
NETUSIL: This question takes us back to the expected minimum wage increase. Laundry operators will be required to work smarter, not harder. For those who plan to remain in the industry, they will be wise to take the appropriate steps as soon as financially possible toward minimizing their FTE count and their resource usage, thus maximizing their profit margins to ensure their solvency.
The era of outsourcing and consolidations is upon us once again. The large independent and national/corporate operators who are operating with large daily production volumes are processing at much lower costs than a smaller independent can because they have already taken the steps to minimize their FTE count and resource usage. Therefore, they are able to offer unmatchable price levels and service.
In 10-20 years, millennials will be in ownership and management positions. Online marketing and sales is the go-to method for this generation, so we have to be ready now with tons of online information for their use. This is their first stop in researching options and alternatives, and they make their decisions quickly. They are used to instant gratification due to the available mobile technology.
WARE: Laundries will need to be more integrated with their customers and their needs. Having linen rooms that know the exact inventory at any one time can reduce handling, lower inventory costs and improve servicing the locations that need the product. Hopefully, the reduction in inventory, usage and costs to the end-user will help result in laundries being able to charge for the services provided.
Marketing and sales will need to be more results-based than services-based. Customers will want the laundries to be more integrated into their service model, rather than just a supplier of products.
ANDRESEN: Inventory control is the major focus area today, and as technology and data management improve, businesses will be better and better at managing their costs. The technology offers many possibilities, and the skilled laundries will understand the cultivation of their core areas.
I assess that future laundries will become highly specialized. You should not just be good at washing workwear; you must be very good at washing a specific type of workwear.
What other changes do you see for the laundry of the future?
WARE: If only we had a working crystal ball. Unfortunately, due to the high costs of development, the industry is not on the cutting-edge side of technology, nor the R&D of automation and AI. But the industry will need to search for solutions in other fields and incorporate those findings into the equipment and processes of the future.
While tremendous strides have been made, the industry is 10 or more years behind other large-scale manufacturing companies in terms of automation and the reduction in labor and costs. As labor and utilities become more critical in the cost of operating laundries, new solutions will be developed to generate tremendous returns.
GUDENBURR: As an industry, we need to make certain that the services that we provide to the textile, healthcare, hospitality and industrial markets remain competitive and “must have” in nature. Additionally, we have to continue to look for ways to expand our reach and possibly the portfolio of solutions that laundries offer to their end-users. By doing so, we avoid or minimize commoditization, and afford processing facilities the ability to remain profitable so that they can continue to fund strategic investments.
What we can’t do is become complacent, or assume that what we do today will be acceptable or competitive tomorrow.
BROOKS: All laundries will be operating within best practices due to the expansion of technology and data. So, from that giant five-star hotel, to the small local hotel, to the fire department, to the long-term care facility, all will be able to produce exceptional quality.
The process will become virtually foolproof, which will mean longer linen life (because it is being handled correctly every time) and better management of labor (with lower costs).
CARTER: Government regulation will increase significantly, influencing wash times, water consumption per pound, etc.
ANDRESEN: Compared to just five years ago, there is significant development in the laundry industry. Previously, companies were somewhat conservative in investing in and utilizing new technology, but that’s definitely not the case anymore. You could say that the future has begun.