In the third of a series, this year’s contributors to the American Laundry News Panel of Experts introduce themselves, describe their operations, identify challenges and list their accomplishments for 2007.
COMMERCIAL LAUNDERING: Richard Warren is the general manager of Linen King of Central Arkansas, a commercial laundry that provides COG, rental and linen distribution services for healthcare clients. His experience also includes on-premise and industrial laundering, linen supply, and leather/fur cleaning.
Linen King is a growth-oriented chain of commercial laundries, headquartered in Tulsa, Okla., and serving healthcare clients in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. Linen King provides service on a COG basis as well as linen rental.
Looking back at the things that were economic challenges last year, one must admit that the same challenges remain. Regardless of the field, we all face the rising costs of fuel, labor and equipment. Some industries aren’t hesitant in passing the costs along, while others absorb costs continually, to the point of putting their respective operations in jeopardy. Too often, laundries fall into this category.
No operator wants to lose a customer, and it’s especially so for commercial laundries where our customers are large and the loss would be significant. However, laundry costs aren’t a large percentage of the customers’ operational expense, and the laundry bill wouldn’t be the first product or service where our customers would see an increase.
There seems to be a psychological price barrier in the laundry industry, an arbitrary price that providers and customers alike feel is inviolate. Remember when gasoline at $1 a gallon was unthinkable? Then $2 and $3? Now we think it can’t possibly get to $4. Now, as you’re reading this, it may already have happened, and we’re still buying gas. Laundry is another service that’s absolutely essential.
In most laundries, labor and natural gas are the biggest money pits. These costs won’t be any lower a decade from now. We aren’t going to get free equipment, and the speed of our staff has limits. It still takes the same amount of gas to make a pound of steam as it did a century ago. And does anyone think wages are going to be reduced?
Technology must take a more prominent position in our industry. It can help us get more pounds processed for less labor expense even as wages continue to rise. There will be fewer hours on the boiler, motors, air compressors, etc., further reducing expenses. Consider a laundry producing at 300-400 pounds per operator hour. Technology can give us the systems, designs and machines to accomplish that.
Most laundries have a difficult time coming up to full staff in order to accomplish whatever production level they have. Manufacturers need to step up with innovations that the industry needs, and laundries must take advantage of the improvements as they become available. Technology can help us get our arms around these economic issues.
Remember, an automated laundry doesn’t put people out of work. A closed laundry does.
TEXTILES: Kevin Keyes is the Laundry Service Team (LST) leader for Milliken and Co.'s Napery Fabrics Business. His team provides technical and marketing support to the textile rental industry. He's been with Milliken for 19 years, having served the first 11 in textile manufacturing.
I’m the Laundry Service Team (LST) Leader for Milliken’s Napery Fabrics Business and am responsible for serving our clients in the eastern United States and Canada. The Laundry Service Team provides technical and marketing support to the textile rental industry.
I’ve been with Milliken for 19 years, the first 11 in textile manufacturing. Prior to leading the LST, I was territory manager over the Midwest and Northeast territories. I graduated from Winthrop University in South Carolina with a communications degree. I’ve been married 19 years to my wife, Kim. I have two sons, Christian, 16, and Jacob, 14.
Milliken & Co. is one of the world’s largest privately held textile and chemical companies. Headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., it employs more than 10,000 associates working from more than 45 U.S. manufacturing facilities. Milliken is recognized for its continuous quality improvement process, and the company’s progressive, innovative business strategies and reputation for customer service continue to serve as a corporate cornerstone.
FORTUNE Magazine named Milliken among its “Best Companies to Work For” for three years, Occupational Hazards magazine considers it one of the “17 Safest Companies in America,” and Ethisphere Magazine named it one of the “2007 World’s Most Ethical Companies.”
The Milliken Napery Business started in 1978 with the industry’s first 100% filament polyester fabric. Visa 2x1 Oxford was then introduced. In 1996, spun polyester was introduced to the market. In 1999, Milliken brought Signature spun/filament to the industry, followed in 2005 by Signature Plus, with superior soil release.
2007 was a good year for our business. We had a successful Clean Show and introduced several new products. For table linen, Damask HD is a new, high-definition product that really shows off pattern definition. The Cheers Smart Towel is a polyester microfiber bar towel that’s designed to replace cotton towels. It lasts at least four times longer than cotton and has many other key advantages, we believe.
A key challenge for our business is the continued rise in energy costs. Milliken is providing Signature Plus in an effort to help laundries save money on energy. We’re also continuing to stress return on investment, improving laundry efficiency and offering value-added services as an alternative to import products with no support at all.