A region of opportunity and dynamism despite slow growth

22 February 2018

The economies of the countries of East Asia may have slowed over the past couple of years but the region remains dynamic and full of opportunity, writes Kathleen Armstrong

In China, the political situation impacts not just on the delivery of government projects but also on larger projects in sectors such as the hotel industry. “Our impression is that projects are put on hold or are going much slower than before,” comments Brecht Gaillez, sales manager at Lapauw. “On the other hand, there is more investment in laundry factories as a result of the decrease in the OPL market. This creates opportunities for us – supplying factories with equipment on a larger scale than what we had sold in the past to OPLs.”

With regard to the OPL market, it is moving from its reliance on Western brands to considering locally made brands. “This is a challenge for all Western suppliers and Lapauw is certainly looking for the best solution to continue to strengthen our position in that market,” Gaillez says.

Lapauw opened an office in Shanghai in 2013-14 and recently supplied a complete laundry for the new Shanghai Jiahui International Hospital, which opened in October 2017. Equipment included four barrier washers, trolley washer, ironer, folder and garment finisher.

Thomas Yin, country manager for Jensen Group in China says that while in China there is a bigger interest in chest-heated ironers instead of the traditional roll-heated ironers that are locally available, in Japan and Korea it is a different story. “Japan has several local suppliers of roll-heated ironers and Japanese customers are loyal to their supplier and equipment. Korea pretty much follows Japan and, because of the cultural similarities, they like to purchase new equipment from Japan. But more and more users are starting to buy second-hand equipment from Europe,” he comments.

Yin agrees that larger facilities are on the up. “Laundries who bought 2-3 tunnel washers will be normal in the coming years – and more and more laundries have plans to buy 5-10 tunnel washers in their business plan,” he says.


Policy impacts

Yin says the Chinese government’s new environmental standards are helping to drive the development of centralised commercial laundries and textile rental. The government’s Five Year Plan, launched in 2016, aims to reduce water and energy consumption, water and soil pollution, and carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, gas-heated (steamless) laundries are a growing trend.

John Hacker, director of sales Asia Pacific for Herbert Kannegiesser, concurs: “Government environmental policy has had a major impact on the laundry industry in China, especially regarding CO2 emissions. Five years ago, many laundry factories were powered by wood burning or coal-fired boilers. In the major cities like Shanghai, these are banned and are being replaced by more efficient gas-heated ironers.”

But what many laundries are also now looking for, Hacker suggests, is complete, smart laundry solutions, Blue Sky in Beijing being one example – the first laundry in China to offer a comprehensive linen rental service to hotels.

Automation also offers a solution in a country where recruiting and maintaining a skilled workforce is a challenge. “There are still a lot of migrant workers in Chinese laundries and each year after the Chinese spring festival, laundries could be faced with recruiting 10-20% of their workforce to replace workers who have not come back after the holiday period,” Hacker adds. “We are seeing more automation being used, such as our Supertrack bag systems and ergonomic flatwork handling systems that automatically present sheets and duvets to the feeding stations. This makes it easier for operators to achieve high levels of output without putting stress on the workers.”

The government’s push to improve the delivery of healthcare in China (‘big health’) has helped to boost the outsourcing of laundries as hospitals in the big cities turn their focus on medical care, Yin says.

Jensen opened a manufacturing plant in Xuzhou, China in 2011 and following an expansion of plant capacity, it is now marketing its made-in-China machines around the world. The ‘Alpha by Jensen’ branded machines were launched in 2017 at Texcare Asia. “We have established a best-in-class manufacturing system in Xuzhou, with the highest standards in total quality management,” commented Martin Rauch, chief sales officer for Jensen Group.

Another key area that is opening up in China is the marine industry, according to Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing director for Renzacci, which has been exporting to the region since the 1970s. “There are a lot of shipyards building ships for cruise lines and other industries, so this market is growing in significance for our sector with its demand for uniforms for crew and machines for laundry and drycleaning.” This includes an artificial island with 20km of dockyards for the construction of big ships, all of which will have to be equipped with laundry facilities.


Coin-ops and wetcare

Miele is working to build its presence in the commercial laundry market in China and it is optimistic about the opportunities the market offers. This includes coin-ops, which are still in an early stage of development, the trend to outsourcing in the hospitality industry and the growing demand for sustainable products, such as Miele’s WetCare system for wetcleaning.

“We are targeting the very top niche of each channel and there is a lot of education and training necessary to explain the features and product quality to both business partners and end users,” comments Julian Reinhard, head of product management and business development for Miele Professional China. “In general, the industry is very much price driven, which is quite a challenge for a company like ours which still entirely produces its products in Germany.”

Rick Kelly, vice president sales and marketing for Pellerin Milnor, also sees great potential in the evolving Chinese market. While China is moving towards more hygienically clean standards in healthcare, Kelly says Japan and Korea are more mature markets that already subscribe to healthcare laundry standards. Similarly, workwear is mature in Japan and Korea but is still at an early stage in China.

In China, Milnor works with joint venture partner Castic-SMP, which manufactures specific products for it and acts as its dealer for China, Hong Kong and Macau. In Japan, it has a licensing arrangement with Tosen, which manufactures its tunnel washers for the Japanese region.

“In the remaining countries in Asia, we are represented by a network of locally owned distributors. Each dealer provides pricing and local support for our products,” Kelly says. “In Hong Kong, our joint venture partner designed the process flow and supplied most of the equipment for Vogue Laundry’s turnkey new facility. The plant was commissioned mid-2017 focusing on a high degree of automation with the bulk of the washroom volume using four 11-module PulseFlow batch washers.”

In October the TRSA announced that it had launched the Hygienically Clean Healthcare China certification in partnership with the China Healthcare Laundry Association. “TRSA and the China Healthcare Laundry Association will appoint a joint task force to review and develop a Chinese standard that ensures laundries’ compliance with emerging regional guidelines while implementing proven, measurable processes based on quality assurance documentation, training and independent inspection and testing protocols that align with TRSA’s Hygienically Clean Healthcare,” TRSA chairman David Potack said at the launch.


Building partnerships

Girbau and Chinese company Shenguang have signed an agreement in Shanghai constituting a joint venture between the two laundry machinery manufacturing companies.  “The plan is to invest in the R&D needed for the gradual development of a new, competitive and high-quality product range geared especially to the Chinese market,” explains international sales director Enric Saavedra. “Girbau opened two vended laundries in Beijing and sold the first All Wet system powered by Girbau and Büfa.”

In Japan, Girbau has appointed a new sales agent which will enable it to get closer to its customers and meet the requirements of what Saavedra describes as a ‘high-quality demanding market’. “2017 will be the best year ever for Girbau in Japan,” he adds.

Korea, on the other hand, is already one of the top five markets for the Spanish company. This year saw the sale of five batch washers in 2017 and its coin laundry business comprises more than 350 stores in Korea.

Jeffrey Hopkins, vice president of sales Asia/Australia-Pacific for Alliance Laundry Systems, believes all three countries are very dynamic and all sectors are growing – aged care for one. “By 2050, over half a billion people in China will be of retirement age. Japan and Korea also have a tremendous number of retired people,” he comments.

Another area that is showing a definite strong trend is the growth in self-service laundries – along with the cashless payment systems developed specifically for them.

In addition to China and Japan, Jensen is active in other countries of east Asia, including Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Korea, equipping commercial laundries in the healthcare and hospitality sectors. “In general, the key factors affecting decisions are cost and the availability of labour,” comments YS Wang, regional manager for Jensen Asia.

He suggests that more could be done with regard to training, both in equipment and chemical processes. “However, we have seen a lot of improvement in the selection of equipment in countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan,” he adds. “Our distributors are active in the region promoting our products and providing the latest information to customers.”

Many are looking for environmentally friendly solutions. This is not just as a result of government directives, Niccolini suggests, but because they can see the opportunities provided by alternative solvents for drycleaning and, as an additional complementary service, wetcleaning. Laundry and drycleaning shops are looking to cater more effectively to the growing middle class in residential areas, where both men and women have busy working lives. 

“Everyone, everywhere is looking to be more environmentally friendly,” Hopkins adds. “The ultimate demise of perc and other harmful chemicals is paving the way for SoftWash, wetcleaning and other green ways of cleaning fabrics.”


Japanese revival

In Japan Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s economic revival programme has provided an economic boost resulting in an increase in the number of tourists. “As a result, the occupancy rates of hotels have improved to an unprecedented level, leading to a rush in construction of new hotels in tourist and urban areas. Laundry for hotels is therefore booming,” says Bill Goto from Jensen Japan, adding that while hotel linen is increasing, there is a shortage of skilled labour.

In the healthcare sector, there are different challenges. While Japan’s ageing population ostensibly means rising demand for hospital care, the government’s policy of promoting terminal medical care at home may lead to a reduced demand for linen and laundry facilities in hospitals, Goto suggests.

The focus in Japanese laundries in urban areas, therefore, is on labour saving and automation. “Scanner systems including double-sided scanning for duvets are common in Japan, as is the automatic feeding of towels. However, in Japan, there are still many laundries where gas pipes are not installed, mainly in rural areas, and in such laundries the selection range of facilities is narrowed.” 

In addition, prices charged to ordinary customers in Japan (and Korea) are kept low in order to increase the volume of garments processed. However, Ken Ushikoshi from Sankosha says: “Japan and Korea are facing really big challenge, because the markets are shrinking. More washable garments and lower net income have resulted in fewer sales for cleaners.”

As a result, they are looking for other solutions to increase profits. “Basically, people are looking for productivity,” Ushikoshi adds. “The average shirt price in Tokyo is about JPY150, which is about USD1.50. It is even less in Korea. That is why they choose Sankosha’s shirt finisher, which offers better quality and higher productivity using fewer operators.“

In addition, in Japan Ushikoshi says shops are beginning to clean up their image, including incorporating a clean and bright coin laundry into their premises. “One cleaner in Osaka opened a coin laundry with a pancake restaurant,” he says. “Another cleaner in Ibaraki-prefecture has opened a second-hand clothes shop in its drycleaners.”

These creative practices and other developments will offer opportunities for the industry to grow in east Asian region for years to come.



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