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Value of Adaptability (or ‘Is There a Better Way?’)

Columnist says rules need to be flexible, individually adapted to each laundry

ROANOKE, Va. — I have often thought about writing the definitive book on laundry management. 

I learned so much over my 44 years in the laundry business and my over 100 consulting jobs. Also, I have been publishing a monthly article for over 25 years. 

One major lesson I learned over these years is that there are no absolute rules that can be applied to every laundry. The size of the laundry, the equipment available for use, the mix of product and mix of materials require rules to be flexible and individually adapted to each laundry. 

I have written a number of articles about how to set up a soil sorting area and the number of sorts a laundry should perform. Washing equipment is the first major concern. Open pocket washers and tunnel washers do well with mixed loads but side pocket washer-extractors require sorted linen with the same water absorption characteristics and weight so that they will stay in balance.

Sorting linen in the soiled state is faster and easier than at any other point in the process. It also allows the facility to remove single-use items, lost hospital equipment and just plain, old trash from the linen before washing, therefore increasing the quality of the wash and the life of the linen.

Most laundries sort linen into categories to speed up the processing on the clean side. Larger laundries will normally have more sort categories than smaller laundries. Laundries that process customer-owned goods (COG) will normally have fewer sorts than those that are linen rental. 

Finding unique solutions to your laundry is the key management responsibility of the management team. Ideas like rotating job assignments every two hours may seem like a great idea on paper, but some employees are star performers on a particular job and prefer to work at that job all day. 

When I first started in the laundry business, my boss tried to discourage the employees from talking to each other while working together on a piece of equipment. He had been trained that talking is a distraction and will slow production down. 

This laundry had a number of employees from the isle of Tonga, and this particular group of Polynesian employees performed better when they could talk and sing. Happy employees are more productive than unhappy employees. It took some data gathering on my part to show him that there was an exception to his rule. 

We also had several deaf employees working for us, and in order for them to talk to each other required the ability to stop work and to start using their hands to communicate. Obviously, this was an excellent example as to why employees should not talk to each other. 

General laundry rules can be found for each and every area of the laundry but all these rules must be adapted to your facility and your unique requirements. I have often said that visiting other laundries and seeing their adaptations will increase your ability to go back to your laundry facility and see changes that will benefit your operation. 

The enemy of good management is complacency and the belief that what we are doing is the best possible way to get things done. The more the management team sees the need to review the current process and ask the simple questions “Is there a better way?” or “What happens if we try this?,” the better the performance of the laundry will become.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].