CHICAGO — Laundry and linen service providers are always looking for textile items that last longer and hold up to the rigors of daily or weekly use.
But how does a service or institution go about making the right selections?
American Laundry News spoke with five textile and linen supply professionals about the textile selection process: Janice Larson, vice president of clinical resources-acute care for Encompass Group; Scott Delin, vice president of healthcare sales for Fashion Seal Healthcare; Steve Kallenbach, director of market solutions for ADI American Dawn; Lee Friedman, owner of Friedman & Co.; and Lenore Law, owner of California Textiles.
Q: In terms of the textiles you specialize in, what items are laundry and linen services or institutions looking for?
Larson: Generally, the healthcare organizations we work with are interested in purchasing bed and bath linens, patient and staff apparel, isolation gowns and microfiber cleaning products. New technological advances in healthcare textiles include reusable “patient care” underpads, 100% synthetic bed linens and patient gowns, fall prevention identification gowns and lap blankets, and patient positioners, or “slider” sheets, and microfiber cleaning products.
Delin: In terms of scrubs, they are looking for more fashion-forward, retail-inspired looks and fabrics and colors that make the end-users feel good about themselves. In terms of gowns, they are looking for prints that pop and make the patient feel better, not worse with a drab, boring print. Institutions are looking for more branding among employees and departments. This adds to patient security and employee morale. All of these also help in improving HCAHPS Hospital Surveys and scores.
Kallenbach: The biggest item in the industry is the bar towel. Aprons and napery products are some of the most widely used products in the business, which include napkins, tablecloths, bib and waist aprons, etc. Garments of all types, from gowns and scrubs, to cover garments/coats/wraps/frocks, to work uniforms, are all heavy hitters.
Room and bathroom linens come next, which include sheets and blankets and towel sets. Seasonal pool towels are a big hit in hospitality. Of course, industrial laundries use a tremendous amount of shop towels.
Q: In your opinion, what should a service or institution be looking for in its textiles?
Law: One factor you always have to consider is pricing, which is based upon supply and demand. Overall costs are rising (i.e., energy, transport and labor). Cotton prices have been flat, but the quality compared to two years ago is very good in most all countries now.
Larson: Many acute care hospitals rent their linens now, and the hospitals themselves have limited control over the products in their rental pools. However, cooperatives and on-premises laundries (OPL) do have the opportunity to select their own products, but can also be limited by their healthcare GPO or IDN contracts. Unfortunately, many of these contracts are awarded on the best price at the expense of quality and do not actively solicit information about new products that may offer a better cost per use or improve patient care.
Delin: They should be looking for a vendor who is honest and does not pull a bait-and-switch—someone who is willing to listen and also has a pulse on the market conditions and how the changing market conditions are impacting their ability to generate and recapture lost dollars due to the changes made in the healthcare system and more mergers of healthcare systems. They should be looking for products that appeal to today’s end-user. Products that not only appeal to their customers, but last and hold up to the daily processing and use.
Friedman: They should be looking for a company that will be honest with them about textiles and what makes a piece of cloth suitable for their application. An example is a company using the term “percale” to describe a fabric when there has not been an actual percale used in the institutional healthcare industry in decades. Another example is buying linens based on weight without knowing how much sizing is added to the cloth during the finishing process (which adds significant weight to the fabric), especially since the sizing washes out after the first or second laundering.
They should be looking for how an item is sewn together and whether it is quality construction. This is especially important because, in today’s world, very few institutions have an in-house seamstress who repairs damaged product.
Kallenbach: Laundries and linen providers should look at more than one thing in evaluating a potential textile to purchase.
First, if they are using a like product, they should make sure the new textile matches the look and feel of that product. If they are trying to differentiate themselves in the market, they should look at the standard offering and search for products that stand apart from the norm.
Second, they typically want the wear-life to match or improve what they are already buying. Third, they should see that the product finishes to market standards through their normal process. Fourth, the cost is obviously a big factor. Price starts the conversation, but true cost is also based on wear-life, and this is an area that operators should spend more time evaluating.
Finally, available at-once inventory and delivery logistics drive a lot of purchases. If the laundry does not have to shelf-stock goods and can call for an order in the afternoon, with complete delivery the follow morning, this weighs heavily on the decision.
Q: What steps should a service or institution make in selecting textiles?
Law: Quality lends to longevity. With that said, 16 yarn will become more popular, especially 16RS, since 10 yarn did not go down in price. Of course, if the linens go missing quite frequently, then you have to decide whether or not you buy the better goods.
Larson: Many large textile purchases are done through a bid process. The bidding process should allow adequate time for a thoughtful, quality effort by vendors to put together their offer. Bids should never be issued around holidays when the best people to respond to the bid may be unavailable. Otherwise, the response will be boilerplate and not indicative of what advantages that vendor may actually be able to offer.
Also, live presentations by the vendor should also be given, with plenty of time for in-depth discussion and question-and-answer. Opportunities for product trials/evaluation periods should be included so customers can actually see how the product performs and stands up to processing. No matter how textiles are purchased, representatives of the clinical end-user should always be included in the selection process, since they will have the best interests of the patient in mind.
Friedman: Deal with an expert where fabrics are concerned who can back up their talk with years of experience with cloth. Make sure the person selling you textiles knows why the wrap and fill thread count (as well as overall thread count), type of weave, size of yarn, twist on the yarn, etc., come into play where longevity of the cloth is concerned.
Kallenbach: First, review their current product specification and compare it to the potential product specification. Then wash-test both—new—side by side, for a fair comparison.
Q: What are some mistakes you’ve noticed a service or institution making in its textile selection?
Larson: Basing it entirely on price and outdated specifications. It is very difficult to have multiple products from vendors match perfectly in specifications and performance, not to mention having the exact same product as another vendor to match the bid specification.
Often, the people issuing the GPO or IDN bids are not familiar with textiles, and may regard them as a commodity, so they are not aware of the pitfalls inherent in the specifications of a textile bid.
Also, not allowing enough time for a quality response, not soliciting input from clinical end-users and not requiring product samples for testing to see how they look and perform after processing.
Friedman: The biggest mistake that institutions make when purchasing textiles is buying without test-washing the products first. Any item can look like top quality prior to laundering, but after three to five washings, it will turn out to be a piece of garbage and will end up being ragged out quickly.
Kallenbach: Many times, operators will buy a lesser-cost item from their current supplier or a competitor and make the transaction only about price. They should always look at life-cycle costing in that equation.
Q: What would you say is a key piece of advice for a service or institution making textile selections?
Law: If you buy just by price, you’re going to get what you pay for. Also, when you purchase, you need to substantiate that bale weights match weights purchased and the product purchased is the product received.
Larson: Do not regard healthcare textiles as a commodity. They are one of the most widely used consumable products in healthcare with the ability to have enormous impact on the patient or resident, both from a patient satisfaction and a clinical outcome standpoint.
Delin: Talk to your supplier and tell them what you are seeing in the market and ask them what they are seeing in the market as well. Be willing to notice the changes in the market and be willing to take the chance to offer products needed for the changing market.
Friedman: Deal with a company that has experience not only in fabrics but also in understanding the proper way products should be manufactured so they do not come apart. What too many laundry managers do not understand is you can take the best fabrics available but if they are sewn with the wrong machines, they will fall apart and will not last.
Kallenbach: Know the product, know the use, know the durability and know the delivery support, all as part of the “value” equation, when looking at price.