CHICAGO — For John Green, director of textile services for Emerald Coast Vacation Rentals in Destin, Fla., evaluation of new textile products and services for laundry and linen operations is a two-step process.
The first step is customer service.
“In the scientific community, the first step is always ‘identify the problem,’” says Green. “Always listen carefully to a customer and identify their needs correctly. Too many people these days sell products and services that they want to sell, not what a client needs.”
Correctly identifying a customer’s needs, and fitting those needs with a proper product or service, promotes a healthy customer relationship, he says.
“That is, I think, one of the things this industry typically does well, and the resulting longevity of customer contracts is the proof,” adds Green.
For example, he says his company has a small-batch customer, a chain of chiropractic/massage clinics. The typical load size is 60 to 100 pounds per location, per week. In addition, Green says the product used is not white, as the customer perceives white as too clinical.
“They were using a green flannel fabric when I took their contract, and asked my opinion,” he says. “I’m reluctant to recommend a microfiber product for anything, for a number of reasons, but for this particular customer, it seemed to be the best fit.
“I won’t complain about not being able to process this through finishing machinery, as it’s such a small batch. The color lasts longer and brighter, the life of the product is longer, and the end-user feel is much better in our Florida climate. Even though this product is not a usual sell, or convenient for me as a provider, it was the best fit for this particular customer.”
Tom Peplinski, operations manager for Golden West Betterway Uniforms in Oakland, Calif., looks at products in much the same way as Green: add new products based upon meeting existing customers’ needs, rather than adding new products to entice potential new customers.
“This approach has worked well for us, as we can evaluate a product through an existing customer’s use and then present it to other existing customers as a growth item,” he says.
“We have been surprised at times, believing a product would be the next ‘Big Thing,’ only to find out that it flopped with our existing customer base. Trendy, new products can end up prematurely shelved.”
That brings up Green’s second step: the actual product evaluation. He says the most important part of this step of product evaluation is research.
“No matter what the product is, you can never know too much about it,” says Green. “Ask questions about production facilities and processes. Find out the exact composition of the product.
“Developers are very good sources of information, if you can find them. Those are the people you can ask the ‘why’ questions. Why is the composition exactly what it is? Why is the solution the best? What other fibers or formulas were rejected, and why? Find people who use the product and ask them their thoughts.
“This is the age of information, all of these answers should be available to you. Ultimately, be it a material, or a chemical, you will be selling it to the customer, and will be responsible for its impact on the end-user.”
Peplinski says there are five things he considers when looking at a new product:
- Training of employees on ordering, storing, cleaning, pricing, invoicing and maintaining the product.
- What are the positive features and benefits, along with what are any potential pitfalls of a new product?
- Will the product solve a customer issue, or is it just new style and flash? “We stay away from adding new products because they are trendy today,” he says.
- What is the industrial longevity of the product? Will it withstand all of the handling?
- Can it be stored without degrading? “I speak from experience on the degradation of a shelved product,” adds Peplinski.
Part of the research process for Green includes sampling. He recommends testing a product thoroughly before implementing it into a business.
“Think of the label on a can of, well, anything, where it reads, ‘spot test in an inconspicuous area,’” he offers as an example. “Manufacturers are almost always sending sample products. If that sample sits on your desk while you look at it and research it, then you’ve missed the point.”
In the case of linens and terry, Green says to sleep on a set of sheets for a few nights, and dry off with the towel. He acknowledges that such product testing is not as fun as testing out new technology, but it is information that can’t be gained any other way.
In the case of chemicals, Green recommends testing cautiously.
“I’ve always been one to experiment outside the box in this department,” he says. “Shop rags are great loads to test new chemicals on, without damaging anything of value.”
Again, Green says the more a service knows about a product, and how it works, the better knowledge it will have when examining a customer’s needs.
“This is a process that should never stop, as new products and processes are introduced all the time,” Green adds. “While you may not need a certain product at this time, not knowing about it will limit your arsenal of solutions for potential customers.”
Looking for more advice on product evaluation? Read what a consultant expert has to say by clicking here.