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What Should I Focus On?

Author says focusing on largest, most controllable cost makes other decisions easier

ROANOKE, Va. — I was asked recently by a relatively inexperienced manager which costs they should really focus on. I told the manager to focus on the largest and most controllable cost, labor. I went on to explain that if you focus on your largest cost, then every other decision is made easier. 

If my goal is to make my labor as productive as possible and thereby reduce my labor cost, then I will tend to manage my washroom in a way that supports that decision. Rewash is not good from a productivity, linen replacement, chemical or a utility standpoint. If my goal is to keep my employees productive, then my focus will be to reduce the amount of rewash. 

This may be achieved by presorting the linens into various categories to ensure efficient handling after washing. It may involve increasing the wash temperature or using more chemicals. The goal is to keep an eye on the labor expense. 

By placing emphasis on the one cost that is most important to keep under control, you can develop plans to achieve that goal. Too often I went to laundry manager meetings and other managers would brag about how low they were able to get their washroom chemical costs. I am happy to admit that the cost of my washroom chemicals per hundred pounds of clean processed linen was never my major concern. My focus was on labor and textile costs. 

I managed a linen rental healthcare laundry. My two largest costs were labor and textile products. My management decisions were based on how I could increase productivity and increase textile life. My chemical costs may have been higher than some of my fellow managers, but my linen replacement costs were much lower. I achieved this by buying higher quality linens that lasted longer and washing them precisely to achieve that greater life. 

The entire workflow through the laundry was designed to minimize the number of times a piece of linen was touched in the process of going from soiled product to clean product. Attention to detail was very important in fine tuning the operation. Which product washed best in which tunnel washer was carefully monitored. Rejected textile products were reviewed to determine why they were rejected and what could be done to reduce the amount of rejects.

Production equipment and staffing patterns were examined to determine what system worked best. Employee rotation on certain jobs increased productivity while employee rotation on other jobs hurt production. 

We also looked at the blend of the textile products and the color or print of the textile products we were buying to make sure the products properly finished at high speeds and were easily recognized. Easy recognition helped the laundry staff as well as the staff at the hospitals. 

We implemented a computer-based productivity monitoring system to help us monitor each phase of the production. You cannot manage what you do not measure. While labor cost per clean pound processed is a great figure to monitor, it does very little to tell me where in the laundry I can find improvement. A good instantaneous, computer-based productivity system allows management to make small adjustments in personnel or procedures and immediately see if they have a positive or negative impact on production. 

My father would smile at me and say, “Keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.” Focus on the really important things and you will succeed as a manager.

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