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?
A Technical Support Specialist for the Textile Care Division of Ecolab Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., Dan provides technical support to the company’s service personnel and customers regarding specific applications of laundry products and wash processes.
The industry of laundry chemical supplies has evolved rapidly from just the chemical product itself to a whole package of dispensing and monitoring systems plus various specialty products.
The search for a laundry chemical supplier thus calls for a more thorough understanding of the laundry facility’s production capacity, projected output, equipment layout and the environmental regulatory needs for the area.
Much of the success or failure of a chemical program depends on how it fits the portfolio of clientele serviced by the laundry. The art of a chemical program goes way beyond the product formula and manufacturing processes. The program, however sophisticated, has to be functional for the laundry service to be successful. Good communication between the administrative offices and the field operations is necessary to keep the design of a chemical program intact.
Laundry washing chemicals have been in existence for thousands of years. If the perfect laundry chemical program existed, very few suppliers would be available. The opposite is true only because of demand for better-performing products with respect to the fabric quality, lifetime, equipment and environmental concerns. These demands have driven the ever-improving changes in the industry. Those same demands also affect the types of fibers used and the equipment used to process the respective fabrics.
So, the initial questions really come down to the following:
How will the program improve the productivity of the laundry?
How will the chemical program impact the overall costs?
How will the chemical program affect the fabric and equipment investment?
Laundry managers should be extra careful not to place too much emphasis on one single factor of the chemical program features. All too often, cost-reduction decisions are made that later fade with higher equipment and fabric replacement costs.
Too much emphasis on quality or production can likewise price a laundry out of business. What works well in one laundry could utterly fail in another because of the wide variations in equipment, water, utilities, space requirements, labor and environmental factors.
The answers will never be the same. What works is a program that does its part to address the needs of the customers who use the processed fabric.
Richard is marketing director of laundry systems for Pellerin Milnor Corp. and has more than 30 years of experience in designing, selling and installing continuous washing systems for large commercial and institutional laundry operators.
Here are a few suggested questions to ask any local chemical representative trying to get your business:
What do you want to know about my operation? He should already have asked you many, many questions. If he starts telling before asking, watch out.
What would you change? If you are not having chemical problems now, he should have to make a strong case for any changes.
What unique products do you offer? What will they do for me? For instance, if they save utilities, how much? Make him quantify savings on your terms.
What similar companies nearby do you work with? Call them. They should love him. His relationship with you is more important than the specific chemicals he sells.
Have you any specific experience with my machines? Be certain to ask this question if you use continuous batch washers. A CBW novice can screw up a lot of linen fast.
What sort of responsibilities will you assume – utilities usage, ragout rate, machine damage? Determine how he will guarantee results.
What kind of chemical delivery system do you offer, and who fixes it if needed? If such a system fails, you are down.
Do you carry a laptop? If he doesn’t, be wary. He should have your latest programs on a computer (or disk) as backup for you.
What reports will you give me? He should record all of the changes he makes and titrations he takes, and provide you with a copy to keep on-site.
Where are your products stored? How many minutes away?
What is your pricing structure? Will I pay by the barrel you ship or the pounds of linen I ship?
Finally, the most important question to ask: What is your home phone number?
Steve, the director of research and development for Gurtler Industries, South Holland, Ill., has more than 30 years of experience in laundry chemistry research, development and marketing. He serves on the TRSA Healthcare Committee and the UTSA Plant Operations Committee.
The most important question you should ask yourself is basic: What are my primary needs and goals?
A thorough examination of your current operation, a review of what you do best and what you need to improve can form the basis for evaluating your present supplier and any potential new suppliers.
Research indicates that there are five questions that buyers have in mind that must be answered to their satisfaction before they make the decision to buy. The first: Do I trust the serviceperson to deliver what he/she promises?
In our industry, that question translates into experience, reliability and reputation. Interview your chemical supplier’s representative as if he or she was applying for a job in your laundry.
Check references by calling some customers and asking about the service capability. If possible, visit customers with the service rep. Ask about what challenges the account has presented, how long he/she has served them, and what programs have been implemented.
No. 2: Is the company able to back up its service personnel?
Even the best of service reps need the backing of their company with investments in training and development, new product research and industry support. Most important is a long-term commitment to the industry and the individual customer.
No. 3: Do the proposed products or program meet my needs?
Are you and your customers satisfied with the quality? Could there be benefits from improved quality?
Your chemical supplier has the capability to impact your overall quality with its choice of products and the recommended usage in your wash formulas. So, you should work closely to clearly define your quality requirements.
Do you monitor whiteness, softness, stain removal, rewash rates or some other factors? Are there recognized quantitative and statistical methods to measure quality? Does your chemical supplier have the capability to help?
The next important area is the design of an overall wash program that meets your cost-efficiency needs. Not only should your supplier be able to tell you what your chemical costs are, it should also measure and evaluate the impact of water, energy and labor costs.
Your supplier should be able to recommend different wash programs that can be used to maximize your efficiency. Perhaps you have added more business and now find that you may have to add a few more hours of wash time or buy a new washer. Your chemical supplier should be able to work up a new wash program that reduces wash time and increases your overall capacity, thus reducing overtime labor costs or delaying the purchase of new equipment.
The third key aspect of chemical service is the capability of your supplier to help you troubleshoot problems. No laundry runs at peak efficiency without a problem for too long. Your supplier should have the knowledge and technical backup available to help you respond to challenges outside the routine, challenges that may adversely impact overall quality or costs.
Finally, the company should have a product line that incorporates the latest technology needed to handle the ongoing changes in our industry.
A healthcare laundry will need a different line of products than an industrial uniform laundry. The leading chemical suppliers will have products specially formulated for the specific conditions in your market segment, your wash conditions and your special needs. Products should be designed for the soils, fabrics, water conditions, wash equipment, quality and any other unique conditions.
No. 4: What is the cost versus the value of the product or program?
Many times, people think that price or cost is the first factor to consider when making a buying decision, but until you can be convinced that the rep, company and product will meet your needs, the price is not relevant.
Judging value versus cost is complicated, because a chemical supplier’s products and services can impact nearly every other operating cost in a laundry. A poorly designed chemical program can increase water and energy costs, increase labor costs, adversely affect textile or garment life and change quality.
Once you resolve the cost issue and accept a proposal, ask the fifth question: When can you implement the program?
It may sound trivial, but planning a smooth transition to a new program is an important aspect of the whole question. Will your new supplier have support personnel readily available to install and convert products and dispensing systems? Will the transition be scheduled to not interfere with production? Will support staff be available as long as necessary?
If you are considering a new chemical supplier, or if you want to evaluate your current supplier, this decision-making process will guide you through a comprehensive assessment to make sure you have made the best decision for your individual and operational needs.