OPL 101: Invest in Benefits, Not Features

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Bill Brooks |

How to determine what is worth paying for in laundry equipment

RIPON, Wis. — Based here in Wisconsin, I can tell you we are definitely a “pickup truck state.” Of course, based on truck sales, the same can be said of a lot of areas in the United States.

These vehicles are popular and come with a wide range of options—off-road package, crew cab, full box, tow package, plow, and the list goes on. 

If money isn’t an issue, we all will go for the fully loaded model, right? Sure, I may not own a boat or camper, but, yeah, I’ll take the trailer hitch and tow package. The last time I needed to transport full-size sheets of drywall or plywood was 10 years ago, but, darn right, I want the full-size box.

So, what does all this truck talk have to do with laundry? Well, it’s a similar story for on-premises laundry (OPL) operations. Managers would gladly take all the advanced features and functions if the price wasn’t an issue. But as we all know, price most definitely is an issue in this industry.

The question is, what is worth the laundry paying for, and what features might not ever deliver returns for the operation or will take decades to recoup the up-front investment?

PRICE VERSUS COST

In discerning what features are worth paying for in the laundry, managers first must look at return on investment (ROI) and the difference between price and cost. Price is the sum required to purchase a piece of equipment. Cost is the amount tied to operating the machine—essentially the ROI.

For instance, a manager could elect to purchase the lowest-priced washer-extractor on the market and save money up front. However, it’s likely that, due to a reduced feature set, the washer will cost more to operate over its lifespan. Costs can include utilities, labor and linen replacement.

By contrast, a higher-priced unit may deliver far more in features. It may use water more efficiently. It may have a higher g-force spin speed to remove more water and reduce drying time and gas usage. Overall, faster cycle times will help the laundry increase throughput and reduce labor costs (the most significant cost to operating an OPL). 

The result is that the higher-priced washer may actually cost less to operate. Lower operating costs shorten the time period to deliver ROI, thereby paying for the machine faster.  

When planning a purchase of new laundry equipment, managers should understand this concept of price versus cost to effectively evaluate what features may make sense for their operation. Operating costs and ROI are key concepts to consider.

LOW-VOLUME LAUNDRIES

Perhaps the easiest way to take a look at features worth paying for is to size up specifics for a couple different laundry operations. Let’s look at a low-volume laundry. A 70- to 80-room (or less) hotel may fall into this category. Perhaps employees have responsibilities besides processing laundry loads. 

In most larger operations, I would recommend high-g-force extraction. However, for a small-scale operation that isn’t focused on delivering large throughput numbers, but rather just completing the task each day, a mid-level g-force of 200 is likely adequate. Opting for this lesser feature will help the laundry save money up-front without sacrificing a great deal in costs.

This same strategy would apply for fire departments, where care and quality of the technical fibers in the personal protective equipment (PPE) is the most important focus. So, high g-force is not a feature to pay for. However, advanced programming to dial-in wash programs is the way to go. Quality care is non-negotiable. 

That low-volume hotel laundry will see better ROI by trading the super-high g-force in favor of investing in a tumble dryer equipped with over-dry prevention technology. While the 200 g-force will mean a bit more drying time, moisture sensing will ensure no wasted utilities, drying to a set moisture level and stopping the unit. The additional value to the operation is better quality and longer linen life. 

While there may be a variety of functions not useful for a smaller-scale laundry, a laundry management system could be an additional tool for managers. At the very least, the end-of-cycle alert text message could keep employees productive, versus checking on load progress. Management also would gain visibility to how the laundry is running. Again, this may be more of a “nice to have” feature, but certainly worth considering.

HIGH-PRODUCTIVITY LAUNDRIES

In heavy throughput operations, time is money. For these laundries, operating with the demands of having to complete high laundry volumes per shift, small savings in cycles can deliver significant savings in labor dollars. This is why managers may want to explore a variety of features, perhaps well inside the machines, that can have a broad impact on costs.

While a low-volume laundry may be able to concede g-force, for a high-throughput laundry, ultra-high g-force of 400 is mandatory and definitely worth paying extra for. Compared to a 90-g-force unit, dry time can be cut by 10 or more minutes, or more than an hour a day. Again, this is where features can be directly linked to lower operating costs. 

Another of those features is fill valves. Managers should talk to their equipment distributor about the size and number of fill valves on the washer-extractors they are considering. Most value-line units are equipped with two, half-inch valves. This is pretty standard. However, upgrading to a higher-featured machine could bring four, three-quarter-inch valves. Is such a feature worth paying extra for? 

Well, consider that for a 65-pound machine, the difference in fill time is roughly three minutes, given five fills per cycle. In a busy on-premises laundry doing 10 loads per day, that’s about 30 minutes of time savings.

On the drying side, moisture sensing is another must-have that will deliver lower operating costs and time savings. Labor and utility savings can be in the thousands of dollars. In consideration of this feature, managers should have a look inside the machine and a conversation with their distributor. 

The feature is worth paying extra for, and has an ROI of a few months, provided the system accuracy is high. Accuracy is a product of sensing area—the greater the sensing area, the greater the accuracy. So again, have a look inside the machine; don’t base buying decisions solely on marketing claims.

Leveraging technology to manage the operation will prove beneficial as well and is worth the additional cost for a larger operation. For busy laundries that are running multiple shifts, it is impossible for managers to be on-site at all times. Laundry management systems bridge this gap and act as a check that all those machine features the operation invested in to trim costs are being properly utilized. 

What good are cost-saving features if you never reap the savings? Today’s technology helps managers ensure processes are being followed and efficiency levels are reached.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like the truck analogy, laundry managers have seemingly endless options for the equipment they trust to help them manage the throughput load. But not all features will bring immediate value to all operations, or the payback period is far too long. This is why it is so important to work with a distributor who truly understands a laundry’s unique needs. 

After all, if you live in Florida, you don’t need that truck salesman selling the snow plow package. Same deal in our business. That small-scale laundry may never truly benefit from four fast-fill water valves. But for the laundry running two or three shifts, those time savings are significant.

Do your homework; work with a quality, full-service distributor; and get the truck ... laundry equipment that fits your needs.

About the author

Bill Brooks

UniMac

National Sales Manager

Bill Brooks is the national sales manager for UniMac, a provider of on-premises laundry equipment. He can be reached at bill.brooks@alliancels.com or 920-748-4437.

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