Textile Basics for Proper Purchasing

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Eric Frederick |

Buyers need to know textiles for customers, processing, says columnist

ROANOKE, Va. — The theme of this column comes from another reader of mine. He runs a commercial operation that is processing customer-owned goods (COG) for a number of hospitality customers. 

Their problem is that a few of their customers are buying textile products that are not specifically designed to hold up to commercial processing. So, this article will discuss some of the basics of textile products and what everyone who is buying textiles should know. 

My first point is that all textile products are not created equal. There is a substantive difference in the quality of the products that is normally reflected in the cost. I have often had the pleasure of working with new textile salespeople who are trying to gain critical knowledge of their product line while still making sales. 

I can remember one person new to sales asking me why his company had to have so many varieties of sheets in their product line. Why didn’t the healthcare industry just settle on one sheet and everybody use it? He did not understand the reason for the various sizes, the various fiber blends and the various types of thread counts. He did not understand how his products were used in hospitals and the advantages and disadvantages of the various fiber blends. 

The first managerial job I had was at a small hospital laundry in Bountiful, Utah. The administrator told me how many people had applied for the job who had never worked in a large healthcare laundry. Most of the applicants thought that because they did laundry at home, they were qualified to run the operation. 

Unfortunately, I think many people who purchase textiles think they are experts because they buy clothing and sheets for their home. 

It is a sad truth that all textile products are not created equal. Only quality textile products will process well though a commercial or healthcare laundry. The wash temperatures in a commercial laundry are normally considerably higher than those found at home. The mechanical action that the textile product experiences is greater, and those items that are dried in a commercial dryer are subjected to higher heat levels than can be found in a home dryer.  

All these factors allow a large laundry operation to effectively wash and dry textile products at a cost acceptable to the customer. Most large laundries will iron the sheets as a means of quickly finishing the product—most of us do not take the time to iron our sheets at home. 

This difference in quality and longevity is most critical when the person that purchases the textile products is not responsible for the processing of them. The greater the separation, the greater the chance for problems. 

Textile products that were purchased by a small hospitality property and processed in-house in a 50- to 75-pound washer and dried in a similar-size dryer may not work well when sent to a commercial laundry. 

The textile purchaser at a small hotel with an in-house laundry will immediately get feedback if the washcloth is too small or the towel is too rough. They may blame the chemical representative, but most likely they will know it was the textiles they purchased.

That same hotel textile purchaser will always blame the laundry for the loss or destruction of the textile products if there is a problem. The last thing that would ever cross his/her mind is to ask the laundry whether a particular textile product can be properly washed before it is purchased.

This is not a unique problem to COG laundries. As a large healthcare linen rental company, I was always being asked to handle specialty products from ICU, nursery or specialty surgical items for a very important doctor. Through constant interaction with the staff at the various hospitals that we serviced, we were able to learn about these potential new products and conduct studies to determine how well they held up in our laundry. We were able to avoid several key mistakes through this process.

The keys to avoiding textile product problems are:

  1. Become educated on the various blends and thread counts being sold in your industry. Read up on the pros and the cons with each product and if any have special washing or handling instructions. Knowledge is power. I spent 43 years in the industry and felt I was continuously learning about textile products. The more I knew, the better I could develop wash formulas and processing procedures for the laundry.
  2. Stay in constant contact with your customers, whether they are linen rental or COG. Encourage them to involve you in evaluating new textile products. If they feel you want them to succeed and are only interested in being a resource to them, they will welcome you with open arms.
  3. All COG contracts need to include a clause that limits the liability of the laundry for any textile products added to the system without the prior knowledge of the laundry. The laundry should not be held accountable for textile products that are damaged in the process because they are not made to be commercially processed. 

If you follow these main points, you can avoid a number of problems in the future.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at elfrederick@cox.net or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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