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Right Relationship, Right Chemistry (Part 1)

Stories of success highlight importance of patience, validation

CHICAGO — Relationship building is key to the success of all businesses. Customers and vendors must create a strong relationship built on trust to ensure the relationship continues to run smoothly over the course of time.  

This could not ring truer in the laundry industry.  

The relationship between a laundry and its chemical provider is absolutely critical and should be that of a “true partnership.”

“Building a solid relationship with a chemical supplier in an industrial laundry business is vital,” says Amanda Genthe, CITY Laundering|Clean & Simple in Oelwein, Iowa. 

“It can take time and research to find the right suppliers for any business. Once you’ve found the right fit, it’s important to develop a productive and professional relationship. Each day we strive to provide our customers with responsive and dependable service.”

If that trust and strong bond between the laundry and the chemical provider is not there, both parties are at risk. The laundry is at risk of not being able to properly clean the linens, and the chemical provider is at risk of losing the account to a competitor. It is this partnership that brings increased value to the account.

“It’s not just a relationship; it’s a strategic partnership,” says Kevin Minissian, founder and lead innovator at Norchem, a clean-technology engineering firm based in Los Angeles. “We value our customer’s trust and work hard to show that Norchem can provide value in more than one way to their operation as a whole, start to finish.”

But how does a laundry/linen service provider and its chemical provider create a true relationship, a successful partnership? American Laundry News reached out and compiled success stories from several laundries and chemical companies as examples.

PATIENCE, PERSISTENCE

The route leading to United Hospitality Services’ selection of Ecolab’s OxyGuard™40 wash program earlier this year took plenty of twists and turns over its three-year course. But at no step was there any wavering on key principles—principles that lead to a successful relationship between a commercial laundry and its chemistry supplier, and to wash formulas that best meet the needs of the laundry, whatever those needs may be at the time. 

The circuitous journey began in 2015, before United Hospitality entered the picture. That was when Ivy Linen, located not far from United Hospitality in Atlanta, became the first laundry to pilot Ecolab’s OxyGuard40 program. Ecolab field sales and service managers Jeff Simmons and Mike Quinn provided support to the plant during the trial.

Then in 2016, United Hospitality acquired Ivy Linen. Not surprisingly, United Hospitality’s chemical supplier promptly switched the Ivy plant to a standard peroxide wash program. Not long after, however, customers began to complain: the quality just wasn’t the same. 

Also, about that time, United Hospitality heard a ringing endorsement for the OxyGuard40 program from an unlikely place—a prospect. When United Hospitality called on a Marriott hotel to pitch its laundry services, “They learned that Marriott was using the OxyGuard40 program, and that they were ecstatic with its consistently high-quality results,” recalls Quinn.    

Shortly after, United Hospitality asked Ecolab to bid on its chemistry program.  

That’s when Simmons and Quinn—eager to again support the plant where they had piloted OxyGuard40—began applying the key principles that lead to strong relationships, sound wash program decisions and quality outcomes. 

Principle #1:  Don’t just listen: Really hear what the customer is saying 

It might have been tempting to propose the OxyGuard40 program—after all, it was Ecolab’s latest, most advanced textile care offering and it could provide a range of important benefits, including water and energy savings and quality results. But Simmons and Quinn did their homework and listened closely: United Hospitality wanted better quality, but it also wanted to control costs. 

Instead of proposing OxyGuard40, the team recommended Ecolab’s standard peroxide wash program. Simmons and Quinn were confident it would deliver the quality results United Hospitality wanted. And, pricing was in line with what the plant had been paying. Their proposal resonated—and United Hospitality awarded Ecolab the contract. 

Principle #2:  Partnership, not salesmanship  

Some may believe the deal is done when the contract is signed. But, under Principle #2, the contract marks the starting point in building the kind of successful, long-term partnership needed to arrive at the best wash program for the time. In the weeks and months after United Hospitality began working with Ecolab, Quinn and Simmons made it their priority to build rapport at every level of United Hospitality’s organization. 

“Successful partnerships grow out of relationships based on open, honest communication, shared expectations and regular check-ins to make sure goals are clearly understood and promises are being delivered,” says Quinn. “Authenticity goes a long way, too—admitting when you’ve made a mistake, doing what is promised, volunteering information helpful to the customer and showing loyalty.” 

Principle #3: Solve problems to accelerate customer success 

As United Hospitality overcame quality issues, it won new business—enough to justify a second tunnel washer. Throughout the tunnel’s installation, Quinn and Simmons provided expertise, helped troubleshoot and collaborated with the tunnel manufacturer and United Hospitality on how to achieve efficiencies.  

The plant’s growth—and the added poundage being processed—created new challenges, however. United Hospitality faced added costs and fines as it exceeded—by three times—the municipal water discharge limit. And it recorded higher stain rates as the plant used more energy, making it difficult to reach desired ironing temperatures. 

Simmons and Quinn proposed a solution to address both problems: the OxyGuard40 program. Plant management agreed to test it. The results were astonishing. Through a combination of water re-use optimization and OxyGuard40 chemistry, the plant’s water discharge fell below the municipality’s daily limit. And because the OxyGuard40 program washes at low temperatures and requires less energy, steam was freed up to heat the irons sufficiently. Stain rates—and overall energy consumption—decreased. And the plant saw an uptick in other process efficiencies as well. 

VALIDATION AND VALUES

Faultless Linen is a provider of healthcare linens operating five facilities across Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. As part of its ongoing efforts to continually improve processes and deliver the highest quality products and services to clients, Faultless asked Gurtler Industries, a manufacturer of laundry chemical products based in South Holland, Ill., to perform a survey at one of its Midwest facilities.

Tom Grawe, Gurtler’s technical sales representative who works with Faultless, says the Midwest facility survey was driven by a longstanding relationship between the Faultless Hamilton Linen Denver plant, which produces high quality restaurant and retail medical linens for the Colorado market, and the chemical provider.  

“At their Denver facility, Gurtler implemented new chemical programs and wash technology that significantly improved their productivity and reduced their overall use of energy and water resources,” he says. “Due to this success, Gurtler was asked to look at how they could improve the processes at their other facilities.” 

Grawe says after a comprehensive analysis of needs and a survey of conditions, Gurtler was able to identify opportunities to improve Faultless’ already high-quality standards by implementing an enzyme-based cleaning program along with a low temperature activated oxygen bleaching program. This included an anti-microbial finishing product for better and more consistent product quality and microbial control. 

“Experience in managing tunnel washer technology is important not only to Faultless, but to their clients as well,” says Mark Spence, COO of Faultless. 

“Many of Faultless’ clients have a heightened awareness of infection prevention measures and these clients want assurances that there is consistency and accountability for proper wash technology.”   

When Faultless contemplated the transition to Gurtler, some clients insisted on seeing the chemical provider’s credentials, he explains. 

“They were especially impressed with how many healthcare tunnel washers Gurtler provides services to,” says Spence. “Gurtler also continues to assist on helping Faultless maintain its accreditation.”

“Now, the Gurtler-Faultless partnership has grown to include all of their facilities, and the cooperative commitment to quality, cost management and performance of both Faultless and Gurtler makes the partnership even stronger,” says Grawe.

Jake Gurtler, regional VP of corporate accounts for Gurtler, also believes that companies sharing similar values add strength to partnerships. For example, West Michigan Uniform in Holland, Mich., has a slogan: “Our service is our ONLY contract.” 

“It’s the importance of consistent, clean products,” Gurtler says. “The service and level of cleanliness of garments is their only contracts with their customers. They feel very strongly that they’re only as good as their last customer interaction.”

Gurtler has the same philosophy that it’s only as good as its last service call, shares Steve Tinker, senior vice president of research & development, marketing. 

“Their philosophy with their customers reflected very much Gurtler’s philosophy with its customers, so they felt very comfortable working with us,” he says.

Gurtler says West Michigan Uniform wanted to enhance its quality, and it saw an opportunity with Gurtler Industries. But first, West Michigan Uniform wanted to validate Gurtler by visiting some of the chemical provider’s customers. 

“As a result of visiting customers as references, they said, ‘We see there’s an opportunity; come in and prove it. If you prove yourself, you’re going to get a customer who’s going to be very loyal to you,’” he shares. 

“After about a year of prospecting and validating, they gave us an opportunity to perform, and it was almost instantaneously that we knew that we were rock solid in that account with them.” 

Another way the two businesses line up is that each is a family business.

“We’ve been able to develop a very tight partnership with West Michigan Uniform as a result of the level of service that our local representatives provide and the quality which we’re providing,” Gurtler says.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion, with stories about value alignment and timely action.