Luxury Hospitality Linens Boost PR, Daunt Caretakers

Bruce Beggs |

CHICAGO – When Westin Hotels rolled out its Heavenly Bed® in 1999, it turned out to be the opening salvo in the “Bed Wars,” marketing initiatives launched by the major hotel chains to separate themselves from their competitors.
Today, the deep-pocket mattresses and high-end textiles that are at the heart of this branding trend create unique management challenges for hoteliers and for the laundries handling and processing these high-dollar linens.
“It didn’t take long before the competition caught on and the public relations frenzy that followed was really very substantial,” says Matt Alexander, a laundry consultant with the Columbia, S.C., firm of Pertl & Alexander who has worked with several hotel clients.
His overview kicked off a special Luxury Linens Seminar hosted by the Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA).
“A luxury bed takes on many different forms. It typically involves a deep-pocket mattress and white, high-end textiles, including 250-thread-count (tc) sheets and higher. Some of our customers are using 500tc sheets currently, and they are presenting some serious challenges from a processing perspective.”HERE TO STAY
Other hotel brands trying to gain guest loyalty through luxury bedding packages in recent years have been Hilton, Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Sheraton, Hyatt and Hampton Inn.
“We’re seeing most of these companies moving toward 250tc and higher sheets,” Alexander says. “We’re seeing triple sheeting, duvet covers, pillow shams, lots of pillows. These are all things that have really had a dramatic impact on the amount of pounds processed.”
Perhaps there’s an overbranding of bedding, he says, but it indicates the way the hospitality industry has embraced high-end bedding and high-end textiles as a principal component of their brand and of their customer service.
“When we see this kind of emphasis and this kind of effort, it tells us that these beds and these textiles are here to stay. This is not a passing fashion.”
Committing to this effort carries a huge price tag for the hotels, Alexander says, not only in buying the bedding and textiles but also in terms of processing, inventorying, storage and item-appropriate equipment. Radisson is reported to have spent $20 million, Holiday Inn $53 million, Marriott $190 million and Hilton $1 billion worldwide on luxury bedding.
“We expect to see continued investment in the future as we’re having real challenges keeping up with that,” Alexander says.
What are the results of these campaigns to date? Hotels are seeing great publicity in the mainstream press, strong hotel rates, more satisfied customers and … struggling operations.
“In operations, we’ve had a big impact on what it takes to deliver the product, what it takes to specify, to purchase, to process and to preserve that product, because of its great expense.”PUTTIN' ON THE POUNDS
The impact on poundage going through the laundry has been “tremendous,” Alexander says. In the 1990s, prior to the bedding initiatives, operators supporting a typical full-service hotel were seeing 10 to 15 pounds per occupied room. Now, 20 to 30 pounds is a common number, and some resort locations are processing 40 to 50 pounds per occupied room, he adds. “That’s a number we just hadn’t seen until the last six or seven years.”
So, where are the extra pounds coming from?
— Triple sheeting. “We’ve obviously added a third sheet, where we only had two.”
— Duvet covers. “Covers that are laundered at every checkout create a big impact. Previously, laundries were only processing bed covers occasionally.”
— White, exposed linens. “White linens require a higher level of quality control than the beige ones.”
— Wider, oversized sheets. “The advent of California king and deep-pocket mattresses have created a need for wider sheets, which weigh more than their standard counterparts of yesteryear.”
— More pillowcases.
— Heavier towels.
Not only are there more pounds to be processed, there are many more pounds that require special handling, Alexander explains.
“You have delicate satin stitching you have to handle with care,” he says. “You’ve got embroidery with intricate designs, down comforter inserts for duvets, color banding, 300tc to 1,000tc sheeting. There’s extra-wide sheeting to handle thicker mattresses; pillows, pillows and more pillows; thick, plush cotton toweling with banding; and thick, plush bathrobes.”
Hotels and commercial laundries alike need to modify their production standards. “When we’re trying to drive a higher quality of service, it’s often not practical to achieve the same level of production that we did before. In many cases, we need to slow things down, slow the ironer down, hand-fold certain items.”
There’s a distinct need for extra-wide ironers. “When you’re processing a sheet that’s in excess of 120 inches wide, it doesn’t work very well on a 120-inch ironer. And the entire flatwork finishing training needs to be updated to handle it.”
Modified washing formulas and retraining staff become new priorities. And don’t forget to stock up on Advil, Alexander says, to treat the headaches caused by extra scrutiny that comes with significantly increased costs of production and linen replacement.
“So many of our clients have struggled tremendously to keep up with the changes,” he says. “The new bed package rolls out and there are problems with equipment they didn’t know they had before because the product is more delicate. Suddenly, there’s mechanical damage they didn’t experience before.”
And there’s a need for better quality assurance programs because there’s an expectation of better delivery and better presentation.
The additional poundage also requires more physical space for processing and storage. Housekeeping departments need more storage space in linen rooms, in the maid’s closet and in the maid’s cart.SIGNIFICANT DECISIONS LOOM
Hoteliers are faced with significant decisions related to the processing and storage of these luxury linens, Alexander says.Should we expand or renovate our laundry?Should we consider outsourcing our laundry?Where do we find more space for the extra linen?Will a commercial laundry take care of our expensive, new linens?
If outsourcing is the solution, then finding the right partner is crucial for both hotel and commercial laundry, he explains.
A hotel seeking an effective laundry partner should look for:
— Experience in handling luxury linens.
— A wash cycle with the right time, temperature and mechanical action.
— Extra-wide flatwork finishing systems.
— Extra-wide towel folders for bath sheets.
— A first-class quality assurance program.
— A seven-days-a-week operation.
— Written procedures and standards specific for the handling and processing of luxury linens.
A laundry seeking an effective hotel partner should look for:
— Ongoing and robust linen inventory procedures.
— Management personnel who are educated about luxury linens.
— Dedicated linen resources for inspecting and handling linens.
— Appropriate storage and handling procedures in place.
— A commitment to achieving and maintaining appropriate par levels.
— Adequate, clean and well-maintained storage areas.
— Stable relationships with other suppliers.
“As the work gets increasingly complicated and the costs skyrocket, anyone who can step into the gaps created by this shift to luxury linens in the hospitality industry should find substantial reward,” Alexander says.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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