Nonuniform Shelf Cart Styles Force One to Adapt

Eric Frederick |

For years, various linen companies have irritated me by insisting on using their own color-coding system for scrubs, instead of a universal color code.
I realize one of the advantages to this system is that it makes it harder to switch business from one company to another. I learned a long time ago to live with this situation and actually had come to accept it as normal. A recent incident involving linen carts stirred my memory about this lack of standardization in the laundry industry.
We recently acquired a large account (5 million pounds annually) that had been serviced by another laundry. In preparation for this account, we had to purchase a large number of carts.
I prefer the carts with the wire shelves for the transportation of both clean linen and soiled linen. I find they’re easier for the customer to unload and more ergonomic for my employees to load. Over the years, I’ve had a tendency to buy carts from just one company. And this preference was based on a personal relationship with a key management person.
In buying shelf carts, my No. 1 concern has been that the wire shelves from one cart company don’t properly fit into another manufacturer’s cart. I have a number of older shelf carts in my system that have different size shelves for the bottom and the top. Making sure that the correct mix of shelves is in each cart can be a nightmare.
The newer carts from this same company are close but not identical to the top shelves of the older style. Keeping these shelves straight has been a challenge. The manufacturers don’t offer any assistance or systems that I’m aware of to make this problem any easier to solve.
We’ve placed colored dots on the insides of the carts to designate the location of each type of shelf, and we use identically colored electrical tape to mark the shelves. This system works well until there’s a shortage of a particular style of shelf, then employees will make do with whatever they can find.
To our surprise, when the first pickup of soiled linen from the new account arrived, it was in the carts from the other laundry. As I unloaded the 53-foot truck, I realized what a problem purchasing shelf carts from different companies could create. It appeared that the other laundry had purchased carts from just about every manufacturer.
Our customer had given up trying to match the wire shelves to the correct carts and was using one shelf per cart to help hold the soiled linen in place. Extra shelves were thrown on top of full carts so they could be returned to the laundry. I’d never seen such a mess in my life.
I realize that there’s no way that the various manufacturers of carts are going to get together and agree on a standard mold and a standard shelf size. Just like scrubs, there’s a perceived competitive advantage in being different, and some of the newer companies will realize that they must be able to copy some of the existing cart styles in order to break into the market.
We laundry managers are therefore forced to make decisions based on what’s available in the marketplace. Some managers may decide to avoid shelf carts altogether and use only bulk carts in order to avoid the shelving issues. Others will decide to buy shelf carts from only one company in order to avoid this potential problem.
Manufacturers may develop color-coding systems for their carts that will make it easier to get the right shelf in the right spot. There are shelf carts on the market in which the shelves pivot but can’t be detached from the cart. My experience with these carts isn’t good.
I’m afraid that, much like the color coding of scrubs, we’ll be forced to adapt to what the manufacturers are willing to supply us.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at


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