When selecting and purchasing linens or uniforms, what specifications or qualities are most important for me to consider, and where on the price scale can I find the best long-term values?
Member At Large
Ken Tyler, RLLD, CFM
Ken managed the world’s largest laundry program for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in 1977-2000, and the Department of the Navy laundry program in 1973-1977. He represents NAILM on the Clean Show Executive Committee and as liaison to JCAHO.
When selecting and purchasing textiles (linen is really an incorrect term), which would include uniforms, those responsible must carefully examine all the characteristics that make an item successful, no matter if it’s rental, hospitality or healthcare in nature.
How the item is designed and manufactured is key, but how the item will hold up in use and care (laundering) is equally important.
With textiles, you easily pay for what you get. Be concerned about purchasing special deals. The costs of textiles are important to your operation, but life cycle in your particular environment is key. Often, a special deal is not that at all. Best values usually equate to construction of the item, how the item can be laundered and finished, and how the customer reacts to the item.
There’s no doubt that textile losses affect all outcomes, but putting a customer in orange scrub suits with the hope it will deter theft won’t work. This is not the way to purchase an item. Putting patients in pajamas and robes made of flame-retardant polyester is a joke, and a high level of liability rests with those responsible.
While flame-retardant polyester may deter an open flame, it does not deter the heat. A garment subjected to such heat can melt and it can become toxic, both of which can do greater harm than enforcing a sound no-smoking policy.
Today, most sales representatives from textile manufacturers are well versed in the items that will best fit your requirements, and they have a wide array of expertise to benefit your organization and make you look like a star to your customers.
Basics in fabric construction are taught to students who attend the American Laundry & Linen College, coordinated by the National Assn. of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM). Such basics are also covered in other NAILM educational programs.
Choosing a uniform that features the color and style pleasing to your customer while also meeting your facility’s expectations is the most difficult aspect of uniform selection.
In the case of hospital uniforms, finding a uniform as described above that also enables a patient to distinguish a physician from a nurse from a housekeeper is a critical aspect applicable to JCAHO’s Environment of Care Standards.
Ask your vendors to exhibit various uniforms at your facility. Then, your broader knowledge of the products and the positive customer feedback you receive should stimulate what will be a sound management decision.
Bob, president and co-owner of Cincinnati Laundry Equipment, served 20 years as vice president and general manager for C&W Laundry Equipment, Cincinnati.
The first task is to perform a comprehensive evaluation of all linen currently used throughout a facility, including linen mix and usage patterns. If it’s for a new account, evaluate the customer’s needs and how the items will be utilized. You must determine the types of services provided and any other services the facility proposes.
Look at required performance characteristics and effects: absorbency, durability, comfort, shrinkage, appearance, thread count, weight, blend of fabrics, and by what means the items will be processed (washer-extractors, tunnel washers, etc.).
Textile periodicals often evaluate textile factors as end use and textile life. Look over these evaluations so you’re familiar with the benchmark. Put your networking skills to use and call a few colleagues to find out their level of quality and why it was chosen.
At this point, a management decision must be made regarding the quality level the facility requires before selection may continue.
I can’t tell you the level of quality for your facility; it is an individual choice. Some facilities want a plush look and choose the highest quality, while others might have significant linen losses and decide to go to a middle-of-the-road quality. Still others purchase the least expensive.
With this information, you will recommend to management a cost-effective linen mix that improves customer expectations and is budget-conscious.
Now, it’s time to send out the Request for Quotes to several reliable vendors.