RICHMOND, Ky. — “Is your plant tour ready?”
That’s a vital question if a laundry facility is going to be visited for sales purposes, for the benefit of infection control/preventionist (ICIP) or current customers, for the education of other laundries, or for some type of accreditation.
The question was also the title of a webinar presented by the Association for Linen Management (ALM) where Jason Hartsell, director of operations, United Hospital Services in Indianapolis, a cooperative healthcare laundry, offered hints and advice to give the best tour possible.
PREPARING FOR A TOUR
Preparation, in Hartsell’s opinion, is key for a tour.
When a tour is scheduled, it’s important that the person scheduling the tour notify all the parties involved as far out as possible so they can get it on their calendars, and prepare. Also, identify who will be giving the tour and who will be on the tour, what level they are in the organization, and what the goal of the tour is.
“It’s also helpful if you can combine tours,” adds Hartsell. “In our situation here, we will often combine an infection control tour with another infection control tour. That can be beneficial for you as a company because you don’t have to worry about giving two separate tours, but it’s also beneficial because a lot of the ICs or IPs network.”
However, he cautions against combining sales tours with two different companies that may be looking to come on board as a customer.
The next phase of preparing for the tour is maintenance prep, says Hartsell. Conduct blow downs, wipe down equipment, fix any leaks or drips, and clean and organize the plant to get it looking good before the tour starts.
Then, he says a laundry should prepare for the customer service aspect of the tour.
“Here at UHS we like to prepare a little hosting function for the tour with coffee and doughnuts if it’s a morning tour, maybe lunch if it’s an afternoon tour,” he says. “The cost is pretty minimal, and it makes you a good host. It also gives you time after the tour to talk when questions and answers are going on.”
It’s key to do background work and make sure the tour guide understands the group dynamics.
“For example, if you’re looking at selling a new hospital and you have somebody in the C-suite, or you have infection control along on the tour, it’s important to know who’s on this so you can gear your tour toward the right individual,” shares Hartsell.
And make sure that those coming for the tour know special requirements for the plant, such as no open-toed shoes.
Of course, the production department needs to be prepared for the tour so that each department is functioning well when the guests are there.
“It’s also potentially helpful to reschedule breaks so the tour does not take place in an empty department,” adds Hartsell. “We’ve had it before when we’re going on the tour, we get to soil sort and soil sort is a ghost town. There’s not one person in soil sort because they are on break.
“That kind of makes the tour go cattywampus and we have to swing back around to soil sort. It just doesn’t have that nice of flow if we would have pushed the break back 15 minutes.”
The supervisor of the area that the tour is in should be there to answer any questions and concerns, be there to receive the tour guides and correct any issues they notice beforehand. Also, the production staff should know where the tour is going and what equipment will be pointed out.
“I find this very helpful to let, for example I have four large-piece ironers, and I always pick a certain ironer that I take the tour group through, so I will let the team know that’s working on, say, ironer three, a tour will be coming in today, that way they know and it won’t take them by surprise when I show up at their machine, pointing things out or demonstrating something,” Hartsell shares.
The day before and the day of the tour, Hartsell says several actions should take place. The tour coordinator needs to confirm with the tour group that the tour is still scheduled, that nothing unexpected came up for the group, and he or she should make sure the hosting items are in place.
“For example, you don’t want to tell the potential customer that you’ll be serving lunch and you forget to get the lunch and you look kind of like a fool because they didn’t eat lunch,” he points out. “Now they’re upset about you and they take their business elsewhere because of something as simple as giving them sandwiches.”
The tour coordinator should also send reminder messages to production that the tour will be arriving.
“It never hurts to remind production that a tour is arriving because they’ve got 50,000 things they’re working on; it’s not at the front of their minds,” Hartsell says. “When the tour group begins arriving, let production know the tour is here, in the conference room, we’ll be out there in 10 minutes.”
CONDUCTING THE TOUR
After all of the planning, the day of a tour Hartsell recommends several things take place to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. Before arrival, the tour guide should walk the floor and look for anything that needs to be corrected, such as linen out of place, wet spots on the floor, equipment issues, etc.
“That way you can make any corrections or be prepared to have a potential or current customer ask why the piece of equipment is not working,” he shares.
When the guests start arriving, Hartsell finds it’s helpful to move them into an area other than the lobby, like a conference room, with refreshments, since it can be 10 to 15 minutes between the first and last arrival. During this time, hand out business cards and radio the plant that the tour will be beginning soon.
“In my opinion, the first part of the tour is actually still in that conference room you’re assembled in,” he says. “We go into a little pre-tour spiel. Introductions, who we are, what we do. We give a history of our operation, talk about the plant, how many square foot, the equipment, number of employees, operational hours, that type of thing.”
Hartsell recommends that if the tour has a questionnaire, this is the time for them to ask, instead of in the noisy plant.
“As a tour guide, it may tell you things that they may be looking for during the tour, so that if you need to point out a certain piece of equipment or process, you know beforehand,” he adds.
During this time, Hartsell says the point person should be walking the floor, letting the first area or two know the tour’s going to be coming soon.
Finally, before leaving the conference room, he suggests giving a safety briefing to the tour group. The next step is the tour.
“We like to follow a set path on the tour,” shares Hartsell. “It kind of follows the flow of linen throughout the plant. Every plant is different, but it makes sense to follow the flow of linen.”
He also suggests that if the group is more than a small handful of people, make sure a person acts as a “herder” to keep the group all together.
“Post tour, while they’re still on the floor, ask the group if there’s anything they want to see again or if there was a process that they weren’t clear on,” says Hartsell. “The majority of groups won’t have anything else that they want to look at.”
Once all questions have been answered on the floor, he says to head back to the conference room, offer up snacks and lunch to the group, and ask if there are any follow-up questions or if the group needs any clarification about what they saw.
MAKING THE TOUR GREAT
Hartsell thinks anybody can give a tour, but there are some things that can be done to make a tour great.
The first element is the tour guide. There are several qualities he looks for in a laundry tour guide. The first is knowledge; they must understand the laundry, the equipment (especially if he or she will be giving a demonstration) and be prepared to answer questions.
“It’s also helpful if they are able to build an instant rapport with the group,” Hartsell points out. “You don’t want to have the tour group look at the tour guide in disdain during the tour because that will leave a bad taste in their mouths.”
The guide should also be friendly and greet the plant employees during the tour.
“I’ve been on tours before where the tour guide treats the plant employees like they’re invisible,” he shares. “They won’t acknowledge, they won’t look at the employees who are out there processing the linen. You don’t want appear arrogant or that you’re putting on a show.”
Hartsell also says it’s helpful if the tour guide is a similar management level or higher than the tour group. This shows respect.
The ability to communicate with the group during the tour is vital, he points out, so it pays to invest a little in the proper technology.
“We use a headset on large tours,” he shares. “We have a presenter headset and multiple tour headsets, and that way the tour guide doesn’t have to talk over equipment, shout to the person in the back. I can just talk in a normal tone and everybody can hear me. They aren’t expensive. They also show the group that you’re taking the tour seriously. You have, in their minds, this fancy equipment for the tour.”
Hartsell cautions to make sure the batteries are charged and to test the system before the tour in the conference room.
“You don’t want to have the tour group fiddling with their headsets because they don’t work,” he says.
If the laundry is giving a tour to existing customers or infection control/preventionists it has worked with in the past, Hartsell says putting the participants “in the workers’ shoes” can really step up the tour.
“Giving the tour, I can stop, I can talk about what the employee in the laundry is doing, about how person is going to grab a towel, do a QC inspection, put it in the machine, which will fold it and then stack it, and the employee will then grab another piece,” he says. “I’ll show them how to do it, and then I’ll ask for volunteers, and then I will have them feed four or five towels or a couple blankets.
“Believe it or not, you think it might be awkward, but it does a really good job of making the tour group kind of realize this is laundry, they may think it’s menial, but really it’s something that’s important. I find they like to take pictures of themselves feeding the towels.”
Hartsell stresses put safety first in this instance. For example, don’t put somebody with a big, dangly necklace in front of equipment it may be caught on.
Another way a laundry can make a tour great is to identify the factors that make it special.
“Know the areas or processes or people that make your facility shine,” says Hartsell. “Figure out a way how to incorporate that into the tour. If you have somebody that does really, really good work, make sure you show them off. If you have a fancy new piece of equipment, make sure you show that off.”
Similarly, if there’s an employee who the tour company regularly works with, whether via or e-mail or phone, have that person come in sometime during the tour.
“A lot of times, putting a face to a name is helpful and is something that everybody likes,” he shares.
Hartsell also recommends that laundries utilize the tools they have to make a tour great.
“For example, if you need a trailer to store your excess stuff, if this is a major tour, pull your trailers in, load up your excess stuff to free up space,” he says. “Do you have to push an outside vendor because you have a tour coming up? Maybe it’s something as simple as repaving your lot, but push the outside vendor to make sure the project is completed before the tour starts.”
Next, Hartsell recommends focusing on areas of interest or concern. For example, if the tour is for operating room (OR) nurses, spend extra time in the OR pack room.
“If you’ve had an issue with a process, this is with an existing customer, be prepared to show them what you’re doing to improve this process,” he points out. “It’s beneficial if they have a concern that they realize my customer service rep has obviously told the laundry’s production because they have this new system in place. They are taking my concern seriously.”
Be prepared for the hard questions. If the group asks the tour guide something they really don’t know, Hartsell says do not make something up.
“It’s okay to say you don’t know, but tell them you’ll find the answer, and get the answer back to them,” he points out. “If you have to, you can call the person in who can answer the question.”
In conclusion, Hartsell says laundry plant tours are a great opportunity to close, sell or convince a customer how well the laundry is doing, and tours need preparation work in order to be successful.
“Plan your tour and make sure everyone in the facility knows the tour’s coming, and a little bit of work can make your tour great,” he says.