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Respect for the Industry Has to Start with Us

Eric Frederick |

I was talking to an acquaintance recently when he asked if he could see my “Laundromat.”
He and his wife know I operate a large healthcare central laundry, but they have no idea how large and complex the equipment and process are. To them, a large laundry is a Laundromat.
My wife cringed at the question and promptly corrected them. To me, this simply demonstrates how difficult it is for the average person to comprehend what I do for a living.
I’ve tried comparing the size of my operation to what they know, their washer and dryer at home.
We process, on average, 3,125 pounds per hour. It would take their home washing machine 208 hours — or 8.6 days — of constant operation to match what we do in an hour. That normally gets their attention.
When I have visitors, it’s fun to watch their expressions when they first see a tunnel washer in operation. They’re always fascinated by the dryer shuttle and the wonderful automation built into the tunnel system.
Most women fall in love with an ironing system — a feeder, ironer and folder — and are amazed that sheets can be processed and folded (especially folded) that quickly. They always leave with a greater understanding and appreciation.
We’re truly involved in a unique and exciting industry that the public doesn’t even know exists.
When people look at Las Vegas, they see the large hotels and casinos. The glitz is what catches their eye. No one stops to think about the amount of soiled linen and uniforms generated by all those hotels and how they’re processed on a daily basis.
Even the Walt Disney Co., famous for offering backstage tours at its theme parks, doesn’t show off its laundry to the public.
I remember going home to visit my parents for Christmas. Their friends would ask what I’d been doing for the past several years, and I always proudly told them about my job as a laundry manager. They’d smile and then ask what I was planning to do when I grew up. Perhaps if everyone didn’t do laundry, it would get more respect.
I’ve often pondered how our industry could gain more respect. We are essential, and the world as we know it couldn’t exist without us.
I have come to realize that the change in attitude I would like to see has to come from within. We must become proud and thrilled with our industry.
My father was a research chemist, and he had a number of fun and interesting stories he liked to tell about his early days as a bench chemist. He enjoyed my work as a laundry manager because of the washroom chemistry that was involved. My father-in-law was an industrial engineer who was fascinated by the way a large laundry operation was designed for maximum efficiency. It was through their eyes that I came to develop a deep respect for my job.
When I worked in Huntsville, Ala., I met Bill Dixon, a retired NASA engineer. He helped Huntsville Hospital design and build an off-premise central laundry. He was so proud of the facility that he constantly brought people through on tours. To many of the locals, it was as popular as the Space and Rocket Center.
If the laundry industry is to get more respect, then those of us involved in it must do more to respect ourselves.
We are at the forefront of recycling, water conservation, and improving the healthcare of our country. We are an essential part of daily life in the United States. We are a quiet industry that casts a very large shadow.
If we can respect our industry and teach our employees how important we are to the fabric of American life, then the respect we deserve will come our way.
 

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 efrederick@carilion.com.

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