ROANOKE, Va. — Back in 1972 when I first started working in the laundry industry, I had a number of long talks with two seasoned veterans: Henry Palmer and Bill Hendricks. They painted a wonderful picture of the industry and the opportunities that were coming available over the next five years.
They did such a good job that I decided to take my bachelor of science degree and make management in the industry my chosen career. Now, many years later, I thought I would give some advice to the younger generation about the skills they will need to succeed.
The laundry industry continues to consolidate into larger, more complex laundries with ever-growing geographical service areas. This trend will continue until the cost of transportation requires smaller laundries with smaller service areas.
So, in this environment, what skills does a good plant manager or linen service director need to succeed?
They must be articulate. Their ability to communicate verbally and in writing is extremely important. The world now runs on written proposals and reports. Often, you are reporting to someone who does not understand the laundry industry and you must be able to take “laundry speak” and be able to put it into plain English.
You will report to people with an MBA, a BS or an MHA, and the only way they will respect what you know is by how you say it. Poorly constructed sentences, misspelled words and incorrect word usage will speak louder than your intended message.
You are supposed to be the subject master when it comes to the laundry industry. This mandates that you stay up with the current trends and understand why they are important. I have spent 45 years in the industry and seen numerous changes.
It is also important to understand the changes going on in your customer’s business. What forces are behind the changes and how can your laundry better support their needs? You will never run out of things to learn. You will constantly be asked to learn more and adapt your current operations to new products or services needed by your customers.
I strongly recommend that a person who wants to have a career in the laundry industry get a college education. Currently, there is not a degree in laundry management, but there are numerous degrees that will help you prepare for this industry. I have a bachelor of science from Utah State University in recreational land management, with dual minors in business and sociology. My degree has helped me throughout my career.
Study in the fields of communication, business, chemistry, textiles, psychology, sociology, computers, business law and ecology will give you a well-rounded perspective in your chosen field.
You need to develop good analytical skills. Being able to analyze data and spot trends and then determine the causes behind those trends will make you a leader in this industry.
The laundry industry is becoming more computerized and data-driven. There are wonderful computer programs out there to monitor production in real-time labor, pieces and equipment. These programs are designed to improve you as a manager and help you focus on the areas that need improvement.
These programs and applications will only get more complex as the trend continues. Those that can adapt and make wise use of these resources will succeed.
Finally, I believe that to excel in this industry, you must have a strong background in laundry production. You need to have spent time working in every job in the laundry. I do not mean for three or four hours, or three or four days, but substantial time spent doing the actual production work.
I came out of college and took a temporary job loading and unloading 600-pound Washex washer-extractors. I spent three months in the washroom and then moved into a production supervisor role where I sorted soiled linen, fed sheets into the ironer, towels into the folder, small pieces into the ironer, packed carts and any other job in the laundry.
The year I spent doing this prepared me to use my management skills when I was promoted.
It would be difficult to truly understand what the data is telling you if you have never spent time working in the laundry.
In conclusion, I still believe that the laundry industry is a great place to work and has an excellent future. Your success in this industry depends on the skills you develop and how well you learn to use them. I wish you all the best of luck.