CHICAGO — In today’s environment of supply challenges and the continual quest for the best, most cost-effective goods, research is key.
That’s more true today regarding textile goods in laundry/linen services than ever before.
Operations need goods that please the customer (and the end-user) while meeting an acceptable price point and lifespan.
And laundries may also be considering adding products to add to their bottom lines. How can an operation best compare textile suppliers, goods and possibly new products?
American Laundry News reached out to several textile experts to find out solid methods for these comparisons in order to help operations make the best decisions possible.
Many of these decisions might be influenced by the supply issues the textile industry is facing, and American Laundry News will examine the supply-chain difficulties in a future issue.
Steve Gasner, vice president of commercial laundry sales for A1 American based in Pacoima, California, says the best process when looking at textile suppliers is to understand the operation’s linen specifications, the county of origin and the requirements.
“It is best to do this pro-actively, so now is the time to outlook 2022,” he says. “If you’re doing it on the fly, you might not get the right parallel item. Sampling is a must and if you can wash test, it is a valuable exercise.”
Strategic versus transactional relationships are becoming more important with key suppliers, shares Bob Pestrak, director of linen rental 1Concier headquartered in Miami.
“When comparing textiles from different companies, they should consider the overall value,” he recommends.
“This includes strength of the company, product innovation and how broad their product offer is in the category they are evaluating: prices, product specification differences, laundry wash trials, ROI (return on investment data), references from other laundries that have done business with a vendor they are considering, the technical support team and the account executive to troubleshoot and be responsive to problems and the service model.”
Chuck Loitz, senior vice president of the institution division for Venus Group in Foothill Ranch, California, says that it’s important to find a supplier that has a reputation for providing excellent service and good quality products.
“Venus has always been service-minded and always has provided the best quality products for the application,” he shares. “The laundries should not ‘jump ship’ unless there is no other alternative.
“Requesting samples is a good way to compare vendors.”
For Steve Kallenbach, director of market solutions for American Dawn Inc., headquartered in Los Angeles, the key to comparing suppliers is running a cost and life-cycle analysis of the goods.
“Obviously, with short supply, durability needs to be more of an issue than the recent years of low prices and largely available close by inventories,” says Timothy Voit, chief marketing officer for Thomaston Mills in Wyncote, Pennsylvania.
“There are a lot of ways to make money in the textile business, and there are a lot of ways to sell the product as one quality and make it as another, and unless the buyer is extremely versed on buying textiles they will not notice until the product gets a lot less turns than normal,” points out Lenore Law, owner of California Textiles in Corona, California.
She says one of the best ways to compare suppliers is to trust the vendors and know that they lead with integrity.
“A long-term, appreciated partnership is for the best of both the customer and the vendor,” she shares.
A key method of comparing goods for Law is to weigh textile bales. She says many companies used to do that but have left the step out on production floors over the years.
“The other thing that is very important is to know is whether your product is a first quality (aka A Grade in the industry) or a B Grade (slight flaws or a second quality in production grading) and lastly an IR or C Grade, also known as a rag quality,” she says.
“Many companies mix different grades together, either in production overseas or in their warehouse, and actually ship you two different kinds of grades; however, the bales will look the same. The lot numbers on the bales are slightly different, and a lot of money is saved on import fees as well as purchase fees—many times as much as fifty cents a pound, and that also depends on the item.”
The third way for laundries to compare textiles, according to Law, is by the yarn size, the weight and the types of looms that the product is actually manufactured on. All three of these factors qualify for different price points, as well as the longevity of the product.
“There are many types of looming machines, and some are very inexpensive and some are very costly,” she points out. “Because of the various loom qualities, the towels can look much different in terms of weft and warp and pile and the actual hand feel of the towel.
“So, weights can be identical but the end product will look much different, and sometimes you cannot just purchase by the unit cost. You have to actually know the towel construction and the types of looms made on as well as the yarn size and the pic and the pile.”
Comparing terry and other kinds of towels is done by warp, weft and fill weave, Law says.
“The best test on that is to see how easily the towel pulls apart, and if it pulls apart very easily, it is all fill weave,” she says. “This also applies to lower-end bath and hand towels.”
Lastly, Law recommends testing samples by placing a black, indelible ink mark on the bottom corner of them and start washing them.
“Or ask your supplier for the same towel but different color stripes, a dozen of them, and throw them into production to see how long they last,” she says. “Mark them so you know who gave you which towels.”
Alex Heiman, healthcare business unit leader of Standard Textile in Cincinnati, says his company recommends three categories of inquiry when comparing products:
- Spec basics: Color, weight, dimensions, etc.
- Performance: Durability, consistency, hand, shrinkage, regulatory compliance (for items like isolation gowns), etc.
- Utility: Asking the question, “How is this product used in the healthcare setting and is a presented alternative comparable on that basis?” Very often, we see customers asking for specific product characteristics because of order history even if a small change (e.g. different style of a scrub top) would accomplish the same task for the end-user and potentially offer new benefits.
“Since the larger commercial laundries historically contract mostly with a very short list of larger suppliers, who they remain very loyal to, it’s rare for a larger laundry to contract with smaller suppliers,” says Joe Haughey, senior vice president of sales for Star Linen USA in Moorestown, New Jersey.
“Hopefully, the pandemic and this particular era in our industry will convince the larger laundries to divest some of the business to smaller suppliers.”
“I think the key words at this time are patience and understanding,” shares Laura Lewis, business development manager, sales and marketing, for Boca Terry in Deerfield Beach, Florida. “Goods are coming just not as quickly.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion on adding new products and lines.