RIPON, Wis. — The laundry room is a back-of-the-house operation in the world of hospitality. Front-of-the-house offerings such as pools, spas or restaurants all add to the guest experience.
The laundry? Often, it’s viewed as more of a cost center than anything. But what about when a guest turns down the bed covers to retire for the evening and finds sheets that are stained? Or what if the towels they pull off the rack have a coarse feel against their skin?
I’ll argue that few things are more front of the house than the linens the laundry puts out each day. Small missteps or process breakdowns in the laundry can have far-reaching impacts on the guest experience and those all-important online reviews of the property.
Quality is non-negotiable; superior finished results must be achieved with each day, shift and individual load.
SETTING A SOLID FOUNDATION
Like any laundry operation, the hospitality industry needs to start with fast, efficient laundry equipment that will deliver the desired results. Flexibility is key. Managers need to be able to adjust to any changes to linens or laundering standards that arise in the future.
From there, it’s about working closely with the equipment distributor, chemical company and linen supplier to set a tailored approach to processing linens to achieve the best results. The final piece involves consistent training procedures to ensure all staff members understand how loads need to be processed each shift.
But even with a solid foundation being put down, there are no guarantees that procedures are being followed. With the heavy demands placed on hospitality laundries each day to hit throughput numbers, often shortcuts are taken and new employee training is reduced. The end results can be inefficiency and poor finished quality.
MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE
Between ensuring consistent, high-quality, finished results, staff efficiency and an overall low per-pound processing cost, hospitality laundries have ample reason to monitor the operation. But a manager can’t be onsite 24/7 to oversee each shift.
Now think of all the variables that can impact finished quality and overall laundry room efficiency, such as underloading machines, utilizing incorrect programs, overdrying loads, leaving loads sit in the washer or tumble dryer, and many others. Unfortunately, most of these missteps are invisible. Management may only get indications—through poor quality or increased overtime—that there is a problem, but likely will not be able to identify the root cause of the issue.
This is where washer-extractors and tumble dryers networked to laundry management systems have become invaluable tools in helping managers identify any process issues—essentially making the invisible visible.
SETTING A BASELINE
Today’s laundry management systems enable managers to receive daily reports on operations, and, in some case, even view the laundry equipment in real time.
For years, hotel general managers have been getting daily reports on everything from occupancy and housekeeping, to food and beverage revenue and overall profitability. For hands-on managers, laundry management system reports arm them with the detailed information to better understand the laundry.
We like to use the phrase that you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Technology is finally giving management the tools to make informed decisions. I always caution that such systems are not “spying devices” or “gotcha” software to call out employees for not doing their jobs. On the contrary, I think if used correctly, laundry management systems aid hotels in setting baselines, grounding employees in expectations, setting of goals and identifying areas to retrain or adapt processes.
In essence, when a team is focused on specific goals and expectations, it removes ambiguity, which creates overall better job satisfaction and less employee turnover.
WHAT METRICS MAKE SENSE?
As with any similar system, a laundry management system can provide a variety of information. It is up to each manager to determine what data is most meaningful to them (or the general manager).
Reports can include processing costs (per pound), utility costs, time between cycles, efficiency, labor expenses, productivity (pounds), capacity utilization by shift, and expenses. Individual machine information can be pulled as well, with details such as error codes, cycles run and operating times.
Again, the data can be overwhelming, so start small and build out. It’s important to arrive at a cost per pound of laundry processed. This is a great starting point and one your distributor will help you compare to other hotels for a baseline expectation. In addition, for operations with multiple properties, this number will enable managers to see which laundries in the hotel group are measuring up and which ones are falling short.
Efficiency is another key performance indicator (KPI) to focus on. Hotels install specific capacities of equipment to ensure the operation is able to keep up with the demand for fresh, clean linens. Failure to do so can lead to increased par levels, as well as additional shifts being added or overtime costs. Management needs to know the equipment is being used to its full capacity. Low efficiency percentages (40-50% or below) can be an indication of an issue.
USE THE DATA
Like the efficiency and capacity you paid for in the equipment that you want to fully utilize, the same holds true with these advanced laundry management systems. Their value rests in how much they are used. It’s not enough to look at the numbers each day. Remember that the actions behind those figures are impacting the quality of the linens guests receive as well as the bottom line of the property. Failure to use the data to improve the operation means more wasted dollars and lower quality.
Creating an action plan is a simple as regular monthly stand-up meetings. Share the reports with staff to create transparency and a team atmosphere—all are working toward the same goal. Communication is the key to success. Again, when staff is grounded in what the standards and expectations are, ambiguity is removed and job satisfaction (retention) goes up.
Often, correcting issues in the laundry only requires minor process changes. For instance, the fix for low efficiency numbers can be as simple as retraining staff on just what a full load in the washer-extractor looks like, and reducing the time between cycles.
Let’s face it, in terms of efficiency, laundry equipment likely isn’t going to make giant leaps in water and utility conservation. However, technology and the tools to better manage the operation as a whole will drive the next level of efficiency.
Laundry management systems and the data they provide essentially give managers of hospitality laundries all the details on elements that impact quality and costs. Make no mistake, those cost savings are real dollars. Recently, one of our distributor partners worked with a facility to break down data that showed a cost per pound of 27 cents. With some tweaks to processes, the laundry was able to bring the number down to 21 cents per pound.
The laundry was processing about 16,556 pounds of laundry a week. With those 6 cents per pound savings, that’s about $1,000 in savings a week. Now, add the impact that those process breakdowns could have had on linen quality and guests’ perceptions of the property. While it’s hard to put a dollar figure on that quality story, there’s no doubt it has an impact.
Without a laundry management system in place, it’s unlikely the manager would have had insight that there was even a problem—until guest reviews declined, and by then it may have been too late.