RIPON, Wis. — Spend a little time with a veteran equipment manager at a college or professional sports organization. Not just someone who’s been in the game seven or eight years, but the guy who has been around a couple decades.
He’ll talk about the good ol’ days when laundry was about zeroing in on a couple soil levels, maybe a couple programs—one for towels, one for uniforms—and the results were just there.
Today, athletic facility laundry is anything but a blunt, generalist exercise. The combination of high-tech fabrics, unique soils, higher-power detergents and laundry chemicals have made the laundry room less of a utilitarian space and more of a laundry science room.
Little things can have a big impact in this environment. Add to the equation the fact that “looking your best” means something entirely different today than it did 20-plus years ago.
IN LIVING COLOR
Obviously, professional sports are big business, with major college athletic programs also drawing major dollars in jersey sales each year. It’s imperative that when those teams take the field or court, uniforms present an image of excellence. OK, sure, that’s always been the goal for years and it hasn’t shifted … or has it? It seems that the stakes are much higher.
On that 50-inch, high-definition TV many of us have hanging in our homes, we can practically see if a blade of grass is out of place. Colors are crystal clear and pop off the screen.
If the advent of color TV put extra pressure on the laundry to ensure the Lakers’ purple and gold were sharp and not faded, high-definition TV has turned up that pressure even higher. That Alabama crimson has to jump off the screen every sunny Saturday afternoon, and the Packers’ green and gold has to look perfect that week after sloppy, snowy conditions at Lambeau Field.
The stakes are high for the on-premises laundries serving major universities and professional sports teams.
Ever look at the tags on a pair of football pants or jersey? Again, technology is in play here more than people might expect. Often, the NFL jerseys alone are made with more than a half-dozen different materials.
Gone are the days of that simple polyester uniform. Today’s jerseys feature high-tech, moisture-wicking fibers; mesh fabric for venting; thermal fibers (for cold weather); and a variety of other advanced materials, such as Spandex and Lycra, that are strong, lightweight and provide excellent flexibility. Those lightweight pants also feature a tighter weave, which further complicates removal of grass stains.
The bottom line is that these are expensive pieces of equipment—a full NFL uniform costs roughly $700 and college uniforms upward of $300—that are not going to hold up through the season if they are washed in general-cycle programs. Today’s athletic jerseys, shorts, etc., require a much more customized approach. This is necessary from pro sports all the way down to high school programs
A CORNUCOPIA OF SOILS
Equally challenging in the pro sports realm is the number of variables at play. The dirt a player slides on at Yankee Stadium may be a completely different type than that of the infield at Wrigley Field. Even the field paint isn’t standard across leagues.
Equipment managers require cycle flexibility to ensure quality results, often needing to get those results quickly in time for the next game. Again, despite all these challenges, failure is not an option. The white of those Yankee pinstripe uniforms has to be perfect every time the team hits the field (and runs across that high-definition TV screen).
WHAT’S IT ALL MEAN?
So why do I bring all this up? Equipment managers have always been challenged to turn gear around fast with top-quality results. The results have to represent the names (team, league, manufacturer and player) on those uniforms in the best possible light. But now the stakes are even higher and the challenges much greater. Fine-tuning cycles, something that seemed like overkill years ago, is absolutely a necessity today.
But this really isn’t unique to equipment managers and sports teams. The needs and challenges they face are the same as those of laundry managers in hospitality and long-term care, as well as commercial laundry operations and dry cleaners. Just ask a laundry manager at a hotel property about the types of stains they are tasked to remove on a daily basis; I’ve heard of everything from shoe polish and crazy hair dye colors on towels to bed covers loaded with pizza sauce.
And if you think special care and fine-tuning cycles is important only for those athletic uniforms, think about firefighter PPE (personal protective equipment).
This gear uses even more high-tech fibers that require specific wash formulas in everything from water temperature and the amount of mechanical action to water level and when and where chemicals are injected (below the water line; never directly on gear). Failure to adhere to specific wash instructions will damage fibers and endanger the safety of the men and women who wear PPE.
The bottom line is flexibility today is a prerequisite to longer linen life, safety, better use of utilities, and a higher-quality look and feel.
SMALL CHANGES, BIG IMPACTS
Often, it can be a struggle to shift from laundry generalist programs to upgrading to more flexible equipment and a tailored approach
Cycle flexibility is as important as the specific laundry chemicals being injected in the wash wheel. You only need to chat with your chemical company representative to learn just how specific they want to be on things such as temperatures and water levels.
In the past, 30 water levels might have sounded like a feature that would never be needed, but your chemical representative likely will thank you for the flexibility. It enables them to be significantly more precise in the water/chemical ratio. The benefit is quality.
But it goes further. Even just dialing in water levels, when multiplied by the number of cycles per day, month and year, can produce substantial savings for the operation.
Having the flexibility of a spray rinse can also not only save water vs. a bath rinse but, again, improve quality as it eliminates any residual chemical in linens or uniforms. Being able to adjust fill levels, remove cycle steps that might have been needed in the past but not with upgraded linens and uniforms, adjust cycle times, and utilize a spray rinse can help laundries reduce cycle times as well. This is a fact most equipment managers love.
Sports uniforms are just one example of the types of changes that shape our industry and force laundries to adapt to new cleaning methods. Having equipment flexible enough to meet these challenges is just the first step, however. This is a team effort.
The better quality, fast cycle times and utility efficiency savings only come through all the players combining for the win. Laundry managers, linen manufacturers (jersey manufacturers), chemical company representatives and laundry equipment manufacturers all must come together to develop the best solution. With each player contributing their expertise, managers can be assured of the best quality and most efficient use of all resources—utilities, chemicals, labor. That’s a winning combination.