When looking for a laundry chemical supplier for my plant, what questions should I ask? What characteristics and abilities best define a leader in supplying laundry chemicals?
Richard is general manager of Institutional Services Corp., a Conway, Ark., commercial laundry serving the healthcare industry. His experience also includes industrial laundering and linen supply.
Soil is removed during the laundering process by time, temperature, mechanical action and chemical action. The chemical company technician, not the chemical company, controls the equation. Most chemicals are good whether they are from a big chemical company or a house brand of a local laundry supply company.
Most chemical companies have a range of products – all at different prices – to solve any problem. Some laundry managers have a good chemistry background, and their needs may be quite different from those without that knowledge. If you are strong on chemistry, choose any supplier you want, and you will be able to make them perform.
I come from the school of thought that “soap is soap.” I don’t put a lot of emphasis on the company, but I put a great deal of emphasis on the technician.
One of my biggest nightmares occurred when a chemical company changed technicians, then arbitrarily changed chemicals. The new technician had little experience and didn’t know what to watch for. And with my lack of knowledge, I not only didn’t know any better, I didn’t even suspect anything. Things started to go bad. Slowly at first, then with blinding speed.
As a manager, you are putting careers, livelihoods and reputations in the hands of the chemical company technician. That’s what you check! The chemical company that has most of the business in your area is a good place to start.
Does this technician have experience with your workload – hospitality, food service, healthcare, industrial? Does he have experience with the process you use? Is he familiar with tunnels and washer-extractors? Presorting and postsorting? Liquids and powders? Will he spend plenty of time with you answering questions and engaging in shoptalk?
The technician can be a wealth of information, and most are willing to share information with you if you have a good relationship. Some managers are reluctant to talk with the technician, fearing proprietary information will be passed along to competitors. Most vendors are professionals and sensitive to avoiding disclosure of confidential information.
The chemical company technician takes a lot of abuse. He is called on to solve every problem that comes up. If a customer starts doing something differently, and it affects the laundry service, he always calls the “soap guy” first. With a broad base of exposure, the tech may have run across this problem before and will be able to offer some solutions.
The big companies maintain laboratories to help identify the cause of a problem. While these labs may be self-serving at times, there is always the International Fabricare Institute (IFI) and the National Assn. of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM). These organizations are well qualified and can be used for further verification, or problem solving. The charges are reasonable, and the results are helpful.
A “bigger is better” position could be a mistake. The technician is the important quality to be considered. The bigger companies tend to have technicians with broader experience, but that certainly is not guaranteed.
Finally, all managers need to know what is going on in the wash wheel and have the ability to do titration, for no other reason than to check a technician’s work. Check temperatures frequently and see that drains are holding.
Even the greatest technician cannot overcome consistently neglected conditions.
Healthcare Linen Services
Rick Massey, RLLD
Rick is manager of linen services for the Lakeland, Fla., Regional Medical Center. He holds a master’s degree in health administration.
There are several key factors that help to identify a quality chemical supplier. Here are a few to consider:
Is the vendor well represented locally? A quality chemical program for the laundry cannot be run by telephone or drop shipment.
Is someone available should you have a problem that requires immediate attention? Waiting days instead of hours for service or repair can result in wasted chemicals, poor quality and damage to your textiles.
How do other customers view the vendor? Ask for a reference list and call other customers. Prepare some general questions to ask each. How often is a representative on site to titrate formulas and check equipment? How are supplies ordered and do they arrive in a timely manner? Is the service representative knowledgeable and attentive?
How established is the vendor? Has it been in the marketplace for a long time or is it a newcomer? Do its products encompass new technology or trends, or are they similar to others in the market?
If a new product is offered, examine the information carefully. Be certain to contact another laundry that uses the product and ask about its efficiency and whether it meets the vendor’s claims.
Does the supplier have a training program? Can it train your staff in the proper use and safe handling of its products? Does it have the appropriate MSDS information to communicate to employees under Right-to-Know standards?
How knowledgeable is the supplier? A good way to review knowledge and ability to service an account is to request wash-room surveys. Give the same guidelines to each vendor and then observe the work practices and end result or proposals that are generated.
Your guidelines should include a request for cost per hundred pounds without changing current formulas or water consumption, as well as what the vendor would propose to change for quality improvements or cost savings. Request clear information as to who has the responsibility for repair and provision of pumps and manifolds and their related costs.
Look not only at cost but also at commitments for service and having representatives on site. Obtain a letter or statement from the vendor that outlines the frequency and extent of service calls.
Frequent service avoids changes in quality and costs, and identifies equipment problems for your maintenance and repair staff to address. It also provides docu-mentation for proper diligence in maintaining linen that is comfortable and safe for patients or surgery (if you manage a healthcare laundry). Some areas of the country may have local regulatory requirements for documentation of formulas and results.
Careful planning and review of these factors can be helpful when determining the best vendor for your plant and which company is your area’s leading supplier. The best vendors are economical, knowledgeable, willing to commit to a service schedule and dedicated to following the plan.
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.
If ever there was a misunderstood arena of laundry operations, it’s chemistry.
It has been scientifically proven and published in the New England Journal of Medicine that one can launder hospital textiles at temperatures below 90 F and get these items hygienically clean. The key word is hygienically; stains do present a problem, and maintaining constant whiteness retention is difficult without the use of chemicals.
There are no “magic” detergents or chemicals that are significantly better than others. In fact, there have been no major chemical advances since the early 1970s. There have been major changes, however, in how such companies manage their businesses and how customer service can tell you point-blank how good your laundering process is.
While mechanical action represents an important aspect of controlling what chemicals can and cannot accomplish, it is basic customer service that will drive your cost as low as possible.
Quality customer service and cost-effective supply injection systems are the keys, but how does one decide which is best?
Make sure your chemical company is national in scope, has research and development programs, is active with professional organizations, and can give you a quick remedy to any challenge. Know the basics of washing so the “sweet-talkers” from less significant operations are found out quickly.
When chemical selections are made, pay attention to what kind of support the sales team is able to obtain from the supplier.
Remember that giant operations may not offer you the kind of support you require. Once supportive does not mean always supportive. Shop for the best in all areas.