Staying ‘On Par’ Presents Ongoing Challenge (Part 1)


(Image credit: Alissa Ausmann)

“What aspects of inventorying and securing textiles pose the biggest challenge, and why? In what ways can an insufficient inventory impact the rest of my operation?”

Uniforms/Workwear Manufacturing: Scott Delin, Fashion Seal Healthcare, a brand of Superior Uniform Group, Seminole, Fla.: 

“I want it and I want it now.” This is the battle cry we as suppliers and laundry providers hear constantly these days. This new mantra is one that dictates “just-in-time delivery,” so our customers’ needs can be taken care of promptly and efficiently.

As more laundries spend massive dollars to retool, expand or re-engineer their facilities or even build new ones, the dollars once used for securing textiles and keeping inventory on the shelf are now being redirected.

Storage space in our facilities, once used for keeping inventory, is now becoming prime real estate for accommodating growth. This, however, is causing a ripple effect on all of us as we search for the answers on how to inventory and secure product to deliver to our customers while managing our own costs.

How can we successfully walk this tightrope of money, inventory, sourcing and delivery issues while continuing to maximize our growth? The answer is programs and commitment. In order to be successful in this business, we need to commit and get smarter on how we purchase and manage our textiles and uniforms.

Offshore manufacturing continues to grow, and unrest in many of our international markets has become more noticeable. As a result, many laundries today are looking at programs and avenues with their suppliers to guarantee that keeping large inventory on hand is no longer needed and now rests on the shoulders of their supplier.

However, many laundries also realize that a true partnership means having to put some skin in the game as well, in order to develop a program with suppliers to ensure proper inventory levels for the “I want it and I want it now” customer. This new programmatic commitment comes with some challenges.

By taking a close look at historical data and working closer with our suppliers, we might be able to come up with some sort of reliable usage estimate for a suitable influx of inventory needed. This would ensure on-time delivery, whether it be weekly, monthly or quarterly. These figures should also be revisited and tweaked more often than not, as our delivery times from offshore production stock replenishment can at times be a moving target.

By working closely with our suppliers and now issuing long-term purchase orders, we can ensure products are manufactured and delivered as specified and our needs are met on a timely basis.

Insufficient inventory levels can and will have a direct impact on how we deliver and react to our customers’ needs. For the ones who value relationships and deliver product as needed, their business will grow and flourish. For the few who incessantly play it close to the vest and continually mismanage inventory levels, it is just a matter of time before the laundry chutes close and they lose a customer or two, thus having a negative impact on cash flow.

With so many factors in play, maybe it is time to consider developing long-term programs with our suppliers to guarantee proper inventory levels are kept and delivered on a well-defined timetable. This will allow us to maximize our space and meet our customers’ daily expectations and needs, taking care of the “I want it and I want it now” mantra.

Commercial Laundry: Richard Warren,  Linen King, Conway, Ark.:

It is important for all who are involved with textiles to realize that these goods are extremely expensive. People can relate to the cost of a single unit, but may well have trouble getting their arms around how many units are involved, and how quickly large volumes will disappear. It is not uncommon for the users to feel that taking inventory is a needless exercise.

The concept of taking inventory is not a popular one. It takes time and is rather tedious. But it is part of everyday life. We inventory our bank account, our gasoline tank, and the milk in the refrigerator. And the reason we do is to keep from running out of that commodity.

But instead of impacting only our personal lives, there is a significant impression on all who use or process the linen. Once there is a shortage, the hoarding begins, which leads to more shortages, and so on. Also, the blame game starts as we try to get someone to solve the problem. Everyone is making excuses. The whole scenario is nonproductive.

Not enough linen results in the turnaround of each piece taking place more quickly. This causes the linen to be used more often in a given amount of time, and replacements are needed more frequently. And it’s all caused by not knowing how much linen is in service, or how much is actually needed.

What commonly happens is that while new linen is injected, there are still shortages. If you inject 100 units, but you are 150 units short, you are still short and can’t understand it because you just injected a lot of linen. And, by the way, after three days, you won’t be able to see the new linen since it is now used and blended with the linen already in service.

It is imperative to know how much linen is used per day, and to know how much linen is in service. Regular inventories are a necessity.

Having the proper linen levels will help the operation on different levels. It will lower the stress caused by shortages, and it will stop the scramble by staff that probably has better things to do. Conducting regular counts will give you a heads-up on items that may have a shrinking inventory, and those items can be injected prior to anyone becoming alarmed.

Securing the linen is another matter. People help themselves to the supply if they assume there is a shortage. If there is plenty of stock, the urge to raid the clean-linen room is diminished. But if it is put under lock and key, human nature will invent some way to abscond with the goods.

Consulting Services: Sam Garofalo, Technical Consulting Associates, Charlotte, N.C.: 

Reversing the order of the questions, let’s talk about the effects that insufficient inventory or low par levels (LPL) have on a laundry operation. LPLs usually start with a phone call from the property or facility, saying that our laundry is losing their linen or not sending everything back. In most cases, we will send a rep to sooth them. After a brief conversation, the problem of LPLs becomes glaringly visible.

When we tell the property that they have LPLs, they ask, “What did you do with our linen?” They tell us that we have to spin the remaining inventory faster. But spinning it faster will seriously impact operations, production and trucking schedules, possibly costing us a small profit margin.

Another factor is that linen processed in the morning and sent to the property still “hot” can cause further damage to the cotton fibers, as hot linen is brittle and needs to rehydrate (articles about inventory depletion and its effects are available at my website, Simply put, if we wait for that call, we’ve already failed ourselves and our customer. Linen utilization is a seven-days-a-week effort that needs to be addressed with our customer before it hits critical mass and we lose them.

The laundry operator’s biggest challenge is communicating to the customer the necessity of a linen management system. Historical data clearly indicates that pilferage from the property or facility accounts for 80% of all linen losses. A linen management system with tracking software and data should be in place as part of a business’ marketing plan before it ever hits the street. Linen utilization software and new RFID technology are available and will pay for themselves in customer retention and linen replacement costs. Technology can take the human aspect out of inventory and linen requisition issues.

On a side note, I was on a flight home from Las Vegas recently when I noticed two couples returning from a vacation. The ladies on both sides of the aisle had awesome new towels covering their legs that were stolen from the hotel, which was no doubt blaming its linen provider for the losses. The couples were from different parts of the East and didn’t know each other. In one row on a 31-row plane, there were two pilfered towels.

Healthcare Laundry: Michael Kirsch, CLLM, HCSC Laundry, Allentown, Pa.: 

In the linen rental business, lack of good inventory control practices leads to depleted inventory, which then inevitably leads to huge production issues, inefficiencies, costly remedies and, most of all, unhappy customers.

In the hospital linen rental business, training clients on good inventory control practices and promoting linen security measures throughout the facility help to create a better partnership.

The one thing every healthcare linen and laundry provider knows is that maintaining adequate inventory is a crucial aspect of management. We also know that, in healthcare, linen replacements are not only inevitable, they are ongoing. To date, this is an industry virus that remains incurable. Security of linen in hospitals is never an easy task. End-users of linen are often in the thousands.

Even more important than door locks is education of end-users and staff. By training linen staff on proper inventory control practice and educating end-users on better linen use practice while promoting linen security and loss prevention, especially in the ERs, we can greatly reduce our exposure to linen loss.

One of the most challenging textile items to manage is scrubs. There are two things said to walk out of hospitals: people and scrubs. In most cases, scrubs walk out before they wear out. Such clichés often describe one of the biggest inventory and security challenges in the healthcare linen business.

Scrubs security is an essential part of managing inventory. In larger facilities, scrub dispensing machines often become the only option to help control inventory and reduce scrub loss. No matter what efforts are utilized—scrub awareness, using hospital security personnel to monitor scrubs leaving the facility, utilizing scrub machines, or perhaps even all three options— sadly, scrub loss will still occur. Managing scrub loss is, and probably always will be, a huge challenge.

Just like patient linen loss, scrub loss is an industry problem that we can all try our best to control, but this is more like an industry virus that will most likely never see a cure. Then again, maybe with all the financial pressure this industry is currently facing, hospitals may start viewing scrub loss as just what it is—theft of hospital property.

Equipment/Supply Distribution: Justin Oriel, Garment Machinery Co., Needham, Mass.:

Although my company does not sell textiles directly to the end-user, it is my experience that laundry room managers who exhibit good managerial skills can prevent and overcome any challenges that might arise through the inventorying and securing of textiles for a laundry room.

When my company sells new washers and dryers into a new laundry room, we discuss three things with the laundry room manager. We determine what the initial textile inventory should be. We discuss what the facility should have in overall circulation of this textile. And third, we work with the operator to try to gauge what the annual textile replacement of inventory is going to be for this property.

For a new facility looking to purchase linen for its business, it is important to purchase the average amount of linen used over a seven-day period. For example, the formula that my salesmen use to determine the amount of particular textile needed is to divide the amount of textiles used in a seven-day period by seven, then multiply the result by four to obtain the initial purchase amount.

Having the right amount of inventory circulating through a facility is key to the success of running a laundry. One of the worst experiences for a laundry room manager is a textile shortage. In order to avoid this problem, managers are better off keeping track of the textile usage on a weekly basis, rather than a daily basis. This will allow them to make sure their linen par is always adequate.

It is also important to make sure that textile replacement funds are available throughout the year. The costs for a laundry room without the right amount of linen on the shelf are substantial. Labor costs for the laundry room operators’ overtime work just to keep the existing linen in circulation, or hiring an outside service to provide linen to an establishment, can create huge expenses that are unnecessary.

Again, using the right managerial skills and having the best personnel to operate a laundry room will assure a smooth operation moving forward.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion!


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