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Trade Secrets Aren't What Separate Us

Eric Frederick |

I really enjoy facing the various challenges that come my way. Sometimes they are new business opportunities, sometimes they are new and better ways to do business.
But no matter what they are, they always come with the risk of failure. I have come to see that failure is not a bad thing. If you have never failed, then you have never reached for or known greatness.
Many years ago, when I was working in a central laundry in Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to find a faster, better way to fold thermal and bath blankets. I needed a high-volume folding system to keep up with demand.
I asked every allied tradesman who walked through my door about blanket folders they may have seen. Their input was invaluable, and I quickly narrowed my search to several systems. My research team and I traveled to look at the equipment and ultimately decided that none of the pieces were truly high-volume.
We asked the Chicago Dryer Co. about the possibility of marrying its recently introduced Edge feeder with a Skyline folder to create a high-volume blanket-folding system. The company was unsure if the Edge could handle the weight of the blankets but agreed to modify a feeder so we could test it at the factory. My research team was skeptical about this new piece of equipment, and we focused on its design and specifications.
The factory trial went well, and we were convinced that the Edge feeder could handle our blankets and give us the production numbers we needed. Chicago assured us that modifying the Edge was the hard part and that adapting the Skyline folder to handle blankets would not be a problem. We were confident that we had found something that would address our needs, so we purchased the system.
Shortly after installation, we began having trouble with the Skyline folder. Everyone had been so focused on the feeder that we had ignored the folder. Chicago Dryer Co. rose to the occasion and diligently worked with us over the next 12 months until we had perfected the folder. I do not know how many of these blanket-folding systems Chicago went on to sell, but this high-volume system first installed in Milwaukee has become the dominant system in today’s market.
I have been blessed to work in an industry with so much talent and energy. When faced with a unique problem, help is never more than a phone call away.
During the years that I spent consulting to the laundry industry, my partner, Bill Webb, often said he didn’t know all the answers to every problem, but he did have the most intelligent phone book around. He recognized the value of working with people from various sides of the industry to solve problems. This is especially true when a problem may require numerous disciplines to find the best solution.
So, what does one need to take advantage of the knowledge that is out there? You have to be willing to truly share your needs with your vendors.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy famously warned its service members that “Loose lips sink ships.” That spirit of not wanting the competition to know what they are up to often keeps laundry managers from taking full advantage of the vendor support that is available to them.
There are no trade secrets that make one company grow while another maintains its volume. The difference between laundries is management’s desire to use knowledge and apply it to their operation. Failing to work with your knowledgeable vendors as business partners puts you and your laundry at a competitive disadvantage to laundries that embrace this resource.
 

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at efrederick@carilion.com.

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