Much has happened in the last twenty years to revolutionise laundering. This has resulted in significant improvements in quality, productivity and operating cost, which have made the commercial laundry business increasingly attractive, especially for the small laundry market able to offer personal customer service. In this blog, we look at the essential features to cover when entering this market, avoiding pitfalls for the unwary along the way!
Essential features of the new laundry plan
1. Making an estimate of the target market and your Unique Selling Points
However difficult this might appear to be, it is essential to make a stab at defining (with numbers) your target market. Whether this be for hotel and restaurant work, for workwear, for spa towels, for a retail shirt service, or a combination of all of these, does not matter. You need to make an estimate.
In doing this, you should start to define your competitive edge, your unique selling points (USPs) which you will use to differentiate your offer from the rest. Think about this carefully because there are several gaps in the market in most areas which offer attractions for the newcomer. Typical questions to ask and research are:
A) Are the small local hotels and restaurants satisfied with the service they are getting? Could you offer better personal service, good stain removal, first-class whiteness retention, more consistent ironing? For example, if your queries revealed poor stain removal from restaurant work, you might make excellent stain removal your USP.
B) How well has the local shirt service been developed by retail cleaners and laundries serving local hotels large and small? Shirts are often a ‘grudge’ service for larger laundries – they make their money from high volume flatwork, requiring different skills and high investment. A common shirt service problem is unremoved collar grime, which demands expensive and powerful chemistry unless you have a machine designed to work without this.
C) How well is workwear being handled locally? A premier service will often command a premium price, especially from a customer who is presently disappointed with what they are getting. A prime example is modern fire-wear, which is often very sensitive to common laundry processes and chemistry. In a bid to counter the excess of cancers in retired fire-workers (probably because of exposure to oily, tarry mixtures commonly encountered in major fires), leading fire chiefs are looking to improve soil and stain removal without damage to the protective textile assemblies in the latest fire-wear. Machines such as the Hydrofinity washer are designed to tackle this specialist market sector head-on, offering an enviable competitive edge in this and similar problem areas.
This should give you some ideas as to where the gaps in the market lie and help you to identify the USPs on which you could start or expand your business.
2. Choosing machine types and sizes
Once you have an idea of how much work of each type you might be getting in each day, you can start to plan your machine capacities. You select your largest machines based on the maximum weight of textiles in the main classifications – sheets, towels, pillowcases, shirts and so on. Remember:
A) You will be classifying sheets separately from towels and pillowcases
B) You will be washing polyester blends separately from pure cotton (to avoid greying and creasing issues)
C) You need separate classifications for whites and colours (to avoid tinting issues).
You will probably end up with a range of small to medium sized machines, with the small ones just as important as the large ones, because you need to fill every machine load to avoid wasting water, energy and chemicals.
It is generally more expensive to process a batch of say 100kg in four 25kg batches than in one machine of 100kg capacity, but the exception to this is the washer designed by Hydrofinity because this fills the cage in the wash stages with XOrbsTM , which drastically reduces water, energy and chemicals consumption. This overcomes the disadvantage of four smaller machines for a 100kg load and offers much greater (and very valuable) flexibility.
Spin speed: washer extractors with a high-speed spin capability tend to be slightly more expensive, because they require better balancing and safety mechanisms. They are covered by the regulations for centrifuges and other machines with high-speed rotating parts. However, the extra cost is generally well worth affording, because the higher level of moisture extraction pays for itself many times over in the drying and finishing department. In takes approximately fifteen times more energy to tumble dry a litre of moisture out of textiles than it does to spin it out, so getting this decision right saves on the number of dryers and ironers needed, on energy costs and on machine productivity.
Spares and service: you need machines with good local stockholding of spares in the country in which you are operating (go and inspect this for yourself) and prompt, expert and reliable after-sales service (be sure to ask existing users). In a market where there is often little to differentiate competing suppliers, this can be the deciding factor for many. It is even more important than the capital cost of the machines offered.
3. Addressing environmental concerns
Energy usage, water consumption, chemicals discharge to the environment and noise audible inside and outside your premises are the critical factors that make up your impact on the environment.
Most washer extractors are broadly similar in their consumption of water energy and chemicals, but the one which is in a class of its own is the Hydrofinity, which has been independently assessed for its Environmental Performance Certificate by SCS Global Services, a very reputable body. It calculates that savings of 66-72% in energy consumption and 46-56% in water consumption are readily available, in comparison with other designs.
Noise pollution is becoming a larger problem for laundries and local authorities are now taking action based on the level of audible noise and vibration when metered using simple equipment which is readily available to local councils. It is now essential to check the noise output of each washer and gauge the impact of the entire laundry, with all equipment operational, prior to purchase. Noise and vibration levels during the washer’s spin and the roar of the tumble dryer exhausts are often the critical factors.
4. Laundry layout for efficient workflow
The best laundries are arranged so as to produce the minimum distance travelled for each textile item, with no cross-over of the lines of travel.
This means that classification and marking are performed near to the entrance door, with easy and convenient transfer to the washing area, where all the washers are grouped together.
The workflow then splits, with full dry work going to the tumblers and sheets and pillowcases going to the ironer. Shirts form a third workflow from the washers to the shirt finishers.
All three workflows from the washers then merge into the finished goods and packing out area.
Just as important as the workflow is the airflow. If textiles which are smelly or potentially infective come into the classification and washing areas, then odours and bugs from these do not want to be allowed into the clean areas (drying, ironing, shirt finishing or packing out). The ventilation needs to be designed to draw air from the clean areas through the dirty ones and then out through the extraction fans.
5. Wash quality and performance
After price (which is always the first discussion point), your customers are going to judge you on your wash quality and the service performance.
Your wash quality will be defined by your ability to maintain the whiteness of the whites and the softness of the towels, closely followed by absence of residual staining and crease-free presentation. To help with these you will need a close working relationship with one of the leading chemical suppliers to the laundering sector, with proven ability to get the most out of the wash chemistry and with a sound knowledge of finishing techniques.
Maintaining whiteness is very much a function of the suspending power of the detergent formulation – it pays to buy a premium product to ensure this. Most stains on hospitality work tends to be protein-based, so you want a system that softens these in the pre-wash so that they all come away in the main wash.
A good chemicals supplier will also give you handy tips on producing crease-free work economically. Much depends on correct programming of the final extraction stage and the time spent in the tumble dryer prior to ironing (which is generally the less the better). Remember that the even the best tumble dryers consume up to three times the energy as the ironer, per litre of water evaporated, so it pays to make the ironers do the bulk of the work of drying. This can also improve significantly the quality of finish.
Some customers want starching of table linen and the secret of success with this ‘lies not in the ironing stage but in the design of the starching stage of the wash process. Check and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
So far so good. Next time we shall be looking at drying and finishing and the downstream operations.