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TRSA Hosts 1st F&B, 2nd Hospitality Conferences

About 100 operators, suppliers attended both events, says association

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — TRSA, the association for linen, uniform and facility services, hosted its second annual Hospitality Conference Feb. 4 and its inaugural Food and Beverage (F&B) Conference Feb. 5-6 at the Westin Las Vegas Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas.

About 100 laundry operators and suppliers attended both events, according to TRSA.

HOSPITALITY CONFERENCE: MARKET CHANGE, INNOVATION

Attendees of TRSA’s Second Annual Hospitality Conference received a detailed overview of shifts in the hotel trade from keynote speaker John Burns on Feb. 4, says TRSA. Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting, shared how hotel chains and independents, like the rest of the economy, have grown steadily over the 11-year expansion that followed the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Of course, hotels, like all businesses that require massive amounts of manpower to provide expected services for guests and other aspects of their operations, are finding labor pools elusive. Whether this issue will encourage hotels to move toward outsourcing their laundry needs or whether hotels will simply expect their vendors/partners to do more with less remains to be seen.

Additional hotel industry disruptions include the rise of Airbnb and other similar vacation rentals and alternatives that compete with conventional hotels. The decentralized nature of Airbnb makes it a challenge for laundries to service their linens on an outsourced basis, but new opportunities in that area could arise as the business grows, advises Burns.

To succeed in this era, hospitality laundry operators must be nimble and quick to show such vendors they’ll meet their requirements.

Other market shifts that Burns emphasize included the millennial and Gen Z attitudes toward business travel, which has fueled the rise of new hotel concepts that focus on issues such as “wellness,” “adventure,” “micro” and other niches associated with their hotel stays. To meet these demands, hoteliers are having to leave behind some longstanding traditions of the past in order to survive.

Laundry operators will find themselves working with larger, more sophisticated clients with broader, more specific and more stylized requirements.

Burns closed on a somber, yet thought-provoking, note. While the economy continues to show strength, inevitably the market will experience a downturn, probably sometime in the next two years. There will be a shakeout that will impact the hotel industry in ways that are hard to predict.

One aspect that’s unlikely to shift even if the economy stalls badly is the hotel industry’s commitment to sustainability. This trend is driven in part by the international movement toward the “circular economy,” particularly in Europe. Again, as recyclers of linen, environmentalism could and should play to laundry operators’ strengths, provided they’re aware enough to demonstrate their commitment to conservation.

Other education programs during the full day Hospitality Conference on Feb. 5 included:

· An overview of growth statistics and trends from consultant Ali Hoyt, senior director of consulting and analytics for STR, a hospitality research firm.

· A series of facilitated roundtables in which operators discussed issues such as outsourcing, customer relations, recruitment/retention and similar issues of common concern.

· A review of legislative and regulatory issues from TRSA Vice President of Government Relations Kevin Schwalb.

· A presentation by consultant Larry Wilhelm and TRSA’s Ken Koepper on a new benchmarking effort designed to encourage outsourcing by assembling financial information on a confidential basis from hotels.

· A presentation by Steve Miller, vice president of Victor Kramer Co., on linen-loss prevention methods and strategies.

· Information on customer attitudes in a panel discussion dubbed “What Customers Really Want.” The panelists included Chris Breed, vice president of resort operations, Soleil Management; Eric Eisenberg, director of Hotel Operations, Boyd Gaming; and Diane Gandy, president of the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association. Terry Satchwell, executive vice president, PureStar Linen Group, moderated the discussion.

At the conclusion of the educational sessions, attendees enjoyed a networking reception and on the following day and traveled with attendees of the inaugural TRSA Food & Beverage Conference to visit two high-profile laundries: Alsco Linen & Uniform Rental Services in North Las Vegas and Boyd Gaming Linen and Uniform Service in nearby Henderson, Nevada.

On Feb. 3 a pre-Hospitality Conference roundtable gathering of 16 hotel laundry operators gathered at the Westin to discuss a wide range of issues affecting their businesses.

Facilitated by TRSA President & CEO Joseph Ricci, operators cited strong growth in the hotel market, coupled with concerns over challenges ranging from labor shortages to determining a model for providing services to “market disruptors,” in the hospitality trade, such as Airbnb and a range of comparable vacation and business rental-service programs.

The tight labor market, affecting the availability of hourly and skilled tradespeople such as maintenance engineers, is a complicating factor. The rise of the minimum wage in many states, plus compliance costs such as “living wage” rules in certain communities such as Santa Monica, California, and St. Louis, make it hard for laundries to meet hotels’ demand to hold down the costs of outsourced laundry services.

Operators discussed a range of creative options to increase their recruiting and retention possibilities, such as recruiting prison labor through work-release programs in various areas of the United States.

Schwalb told the attendees that TRSA is developing a program with the prison system in California that would educate prison laundry employees to qualify for the Certified Professional Laundry Manager (CPLM) status. Gaining this credential would, in turn, make it easier for them to find a full-time job in the linen, uniform and facility services industry upon release. A similar program is in the works to train prison laundry managers in order to hone their skills and enhance their knowledge of laundry best practices.

The notion of laundry outsourcing is making headway in the United States but it lags behind progress in this area made in Europe. Hotels there have largely phased out in-house, on-premises laundries (OPLs) in favor of outsourcing. Part of the challenge of educating hotel managers is a rapid turnover of hotel management staff, which complicates efforts to build effective partnerships with hotel counterparts who are in charge of managing linens for their facilities.

Other concerns discussed included the reluctance of hotels that own their own linens to maintain sufficient PAR levels in order to avoid shortages and premature wear due to overuse of linens.

LINENS, WORKWEAR TRENDS TOP F&B CONFERENCE

The inaugural F&B Conference kicked off with an executive roundtable on Feb. 5 that followed the morning tour of the Alsco Linen and Uniform Rental plant and the Boyd Gaming Linen and Uniform Services facility.

The official program began on the morning of Feb. 6 with Robert Byrne Sr., senior manager, consumer insights, for Technomic, an F&B consulting firm. Byrne’s keynote presentation gave attendees a broad overview of trends and developments in the restaurant space.

Additional topics covered during the one-day F&B educational program included:

· Facilitated roundtable sessions, topics for discussion included opportunities in facility services, keeping customers engaged and happy, table linen trends, the future of F&B, recruitment/retention efforts, and employee engagement.

· “Garments: Customer Wants and Needs,” featured a panel of experts that included Steve McInelly, a sales consultant for Alsco Linen and Uniform Rental Services, Las Vegas; Dave Shimp, vice president of sales and marketing for Pinnacle Textile Industries LLC; and Kelly Starman, vice president of business development for Regent Apparel. The panelists discussed a range of trends and opportunities in garment rental and direct-sale business developments related to the F&B sector. Beau Murchison, general manager for Alsco, Las Vegas, served as moderator.

· “Linen’s Role in Sustainability,” with Outi Luukko, CEO of Touchpoint, a Finnish maker of workwear from recycled materials; and Alexis Miller, vice president and general counsel of Regent Apparel.

· “Standards and Regulations,” a lunchtime presentation by Schwalb, focusing on a range of policy issues at the local, state and national levels.

· “TRSA’s Hygienically Clean Food Service Certification” by Audrey Carmichael, a Six Disciplines client coach. Carmichael outlined the high points of the certification process, including the preparation of a quality assurance manual, textile testing and the third-party plant inspections required to achieve the certification.

The event was capped by a Customer Perspectives Panel, during which attendees heard a range of high-profile customer viewpoints on F&B linens and workwear from a distinguished panel of Las Vegas area F&B executives: Cory Cutler, operating partner, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar; Stewart Patchefsky, general manager, Mansion & Skylofts at MGM; and Dave Simmons, executive chef, Lawry’s the Prime Rib.

The panelists emphasized the need for quality linens and service to match. While the business is changing, all three panelists appreciate the value that linen and workwear bring to the dining experience. Katherine Jacobi, president and CEO, Nevada Restaurant Association, moderated this panel.