Value of Large-Group Contract Still Depends on Manager

Eric Frederick |

Has the advent of large purchasing groups diminished the laundry manager’s role in purchasing textiles and laundry chemicals? My answer is a simple and resounding NO!
There is still a need for someone to manage the process of using the product and checking the product to make sure it matches specifications. Even more important is the feedback that a good manager can give purchasing about how well or how poorly the product meets the customer’s needs.
The idea behind most large purchasing contracts is to drive a large percentage of the business toward one company in return for substantial price reductions, either directly or in the form of a rebate.
In order to make many of these contracts work, compliance with the chosen company is mandatory. I know that, as a manager, I took real offense when I was told which textile company I had to buy from and even greater offense when the textile company told me which chemical vendor I had to use in my wash room.
The key to good wash quality at a reasonable cost has always been based on the quality and knowledge of the chemical company’s service representative. For years, I advised managers to check around and ask whom other managers were using in their area and why.
When one company name bubbled to the surface and the reason for its popularity was superior service, then that was the one to use. I was careful to explain that it would probably differ from state to state or area to area.
A national buying group contract on washroom chemicals ignored that traditional method of buying and made the assumption that all representation was equal. It took the group several years to find out that was simply not the case.
Even when a company is chosen and mandated, there is still much for the manager to decide.
Chemical companies have a variety of chemicals and wash formulas that can be used, and textile vendors have an even larger variety of products that can be purchased.
Often, on a large-group contract, the line of textiles that wins the award is often so thin and poorly made that no one actually ever purchases it. They instead opt for a more suitable line of higher-quality products. It is the manager’s responsibility to work with the chosen vendors to make sure the wash quality, costs and textile quality needs of his or her institution are consistently met.
I once worked as a consultant for a state hospital and wrote textile specifications for the vendors to bid on. The contract was awarded on jade green sheets, 70 x 108, T 180, 1/2-inch hems, first quality only, but the vendor’s first shipment was obviously a run of the loom.
There had been no quality screening. Several of the sheets came in with the thick stitching used to sew two rolls of material together, right in the middle of a finished sheet. Had we not rejected the shipment and requested product that matched the established textile specification, purchasing would not have been the wiser. The organization would have paid top dollar for an inferior product.
What at first glance seems to have diminished the role of the manager has actually emphasized that role in several key areas: process quality, product quality and user satisfaction. As a manager, you are still responsible to manage the overall process and make sure that the needs of your customers and the goals of your organization are met.
It takes a knowledgeable person to make the right decision on which patient gown to purchase to meet the coverage, fit, feel and opacity needed to provide patient comfort and dignity at a reasonable cost per use.
The advent of buying groups has only served to “dumb down” those involved in purchasing. They no longer need to evaluate the competitive claims of several competing companies. Major contracts are decided by a few well-intentioned people who normally do not have the depth of knowledge or experience to make such a decision.
As dedicated professionals, laundry managers must continue to add to their own knowledge in these areas. We must be ready to handle the additional load created by large purchasing groups.
We need to understand our new responsibilities and how we can best assist our employers in getting the best laundry service. These responsibilities still require the laundry manager to have a working knowledge of washroom chemistry, wash formulas, textile construction and how said construction affects processing, productivity and user satisfaction.
You are the one who needs to be an expert in this area for your organization. No purchasing person can perform these tasks.

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


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