Glimmers of hope20 April 2017
As Italy undergoes a further period of political uncertainty, the impact on the textile care sector has been minimal. Manufacturers point to a growing interest in new laundry and finishing technologies across the textile sector, reports Kathleen Armstrong.
After several years of economic uncertainty, there are slight glimmers of hope on the horizon for Italy. Istat figures for January 2017, released on 7 February, indicate that manufacturing activity increased by 0.9% in the September to November period and consumer spending was also slightly up. At the same time, however, the unemployment rate rose from 11.8% to 12% and in January, consumer confidence had decreased.
Nevertheless, Istat remains confident that improvement is on the way. “Business confidence increased in all the main sectors but retail trade. The leading indicator signals improvement in economic prospects for the coming months,” it says.
Khalid Yahia, sales director and Vittorio Maglione, country manager for Alliance Laundry Systems in Italy comment that while the government situation in Italy is not ideal, they are optimistic about prospects in the Italian market – and in mid-2016, the company opened a headquarters in Italy. “Our new office in Brescia provides a world-class showroom and demonstration facilities where we can showcase our solutions,” they explain. “With all the initiatives that we have launched and that we continue to roll out, we expect continued growth in 2017.”
Despite the optimism, it has been a time of political uncertainty in Italy– in December Matteo Renzi stepped down as Prime Minister after he lost a referendum for constitutional reform.
However, Georgio Cinalli, general manager of Jensen Italy, says the impact on the laundry and drycleaning sector has been minimal.
“The government is still the same, with the Democratic Party at its head,” he explains. “The big change is a new stability law for 2017 which introduces a new tax reduction for businesses: it is super-fiscal depreciation at 250% made to material handling, automation and research, development and innovation.”
The law is in addition to the confirmed 140% relief for purchases of new machinery. Cinalli says the new tax reduction means companies that focus on development and innovation can set in place plans for the longer term – the deadline for the purchase delivery is extended to June 2018, provided that the order is finalised by 31 December 2017 with a downpayment of at least 20%. Therefore, he says, sales in the material handling sector could increase considerably in 2017.
Vera Simon, sales director for GMP, believes the extension of the tax benefit will enable laundries to firm up their investment plans.
She notes that companies are investing in quality equipment, taking into consideration the service costs during the decision-making process.
“This is quite an important difference compared to the past,” Simon says.
“In this context, Tenax lamellar spring padding, offered by GMP as a hassle-free alternative to steelwool roller padding, is doing great on sales, with more and more enquiries and customers opting for the five-year guaranteed solution.”
Walter Cividini, managing director of Fimas, agrees that interest in new laundry and finishing technologies is growing. “Fimas is offering new equipment that allows operators to get a good final result, reducing energy and work costs.”
This includes machines that solve specific problems for specialised operators, such as finishing tables for curtains that have a tensioning function to make the fabric return to its original length after the wash cycle, special high-productivity dummies for chair covers and t-shirt finishing dummies.
However, he adds that securing finance for investment in new machines continues to be a problem for many operators.
Finance still difficult
Marzio Boni, sales manager for Trevil, agrees: “Investment in machinery and modernisation are affordable only to forward-looking owners who are able to sustain their margins with high volumes. The margin per piece is decreasing, because costs are increasing – but this increase cannot be transferred on the price to the end customer because it would result in a reduction in the customer base. On the one hand they recognise that changing old equipment with eco-friendly technology is mandatory to preserve worker health and safety. On they other hand, the government does not provide aids to promote change. Modernisation would help the sector to improve its efficiency.”
Trevil has responded by offering customers technology that achieves cost efficiency, both through the reduction of energy costs and through automation which helps to reduce the cost of labour.
Lauro Bortot, export sales director for Imesa, comments that although the political situation is stable and the outlook is positive, the difficulty in obtaining finance, especially for smaller operators, is creating a hindrance to moving forward. “Some of the troubled banks are affecting the general mood in the industry. Again here, politics and politicians matter a lot,” she says.
Therefore, like many Italian manufacturers, Imesa relies strongly on exports – and Bortot says the dollar situation is helping it to penetrate into certain markets.
Driven by tourism
One sector that is booming though is tourism. Cinalli says tourists have not given up on holidays in the Med, despite the terrorist attacks of the past couple of years: “Tourism worldwide is increasing each year and Italy with 60 million arrivals is still one of the favourite destinations.”
As a result, the hospitality sector has remained strong and, according to Michele Andreini, sales manager textile care Italy for Ecolab, the Italian healthcare sector is stable, driven by public hospitals focusing on efficiency and costs.
One market trend that is clear and continuing is consolidation.
“Similarly to what we have seen in the rest of Europe,” Andreini says, “in Italy, we are also experiencing some consolidation in the market with laundries acquiring other laundries to accelerate their growth, or independent laundries getting into associations to better exchange best practice and define quality standards.”
The number of coin-ops on the other hand has stabilised. However, Yahia and Maglione say the demand for bigger and nicer stores is rising. To meet this demand, Alliance offers customers in this sector its Speed Queen Store concept.
“With this turnkey solution, Alliance supports investors from the moment they show interest in owning a coin laundry, to store opening and beyond,” they say.
While a focus on the environment has not always been the top priority in Italy, especially during the past few years of financial constraint, Andreini says interest in Ecolabel certification and programs with minimum impact on the environment is growing, particularly in the hospitality sector and in tenders for healthcare. “Ecolab Textile Care recently introduced its new low temperature wash program OxyGuard40 that is EU-Ecolabel certified and is created to deliver the best washing quality at 40º, strongly extending the economic life of textiles and reducing washing energy consumption,” he adds.
Bortot says Imesa is also helping laundries meet the environmental challenges. “Being a primarily exporting company, we are following the trends in better energy performance that are already a key request in other countries. This means better insulation, heat-recovery systems and more sophisticated controls,” she explains.
Trade associations like Assosistema and Assofornitori are also actively working on improving sustainable practices, including promoting the use of textiles in the hospitality sector.
“Textile life cycle assessment clearly proves how environmental issues are increasingly playing a role in our society for both government and consumers,” suggests Alessandro Rolli, managing director of Kannegiesser Italia. “Kannegiesser believes that the industry in Italy will continue its process of modernising plants trying to reduce energy, labour and water costs as well as increasing operator safety. In addition, improving ergonomics and linen flow will be the forthcoming challenge.”
To this end, the company recently launched the SynchroRemote feeder which not only improves quality but it improves the ergonomics of the feeding system – it not only allows for the rapid feeding of articles but its integrated article buffer also compensates for operator feeding fluctuations.
Drycleaning numbers still reducing
In the drycleaning sector, the number of drycleaning shops continues to decrease. “We will consider this process done when the number of these shops gets close to that of the main European countries,” suggests Stella Fumagalli, marketing manager for Pony. However, she adds that the reduction in shop numbers is partially compensated by the growth of medium-sized plants.
“A great irony is that trade associations are not only not developing initiatives to help drycleaners but sometimes they issue laws that with the purpose of protecting the category, and the result is just the opposite. I’m referring for example to the new regulation that requires new drycleaners to hold a certificate of technical expertise,” she comments. “The problem is that there are no schools issuing these certifications. Therefore, often an elderly drycleaner wanting to sell his business is not able to find anyone suitable to buy it, as nobody holds this certification.”
In the past year, Pony introduced four new machines, which Fumagalli says guarantee quick returns on investment by reducing processing costs and increasing the range of services offered to the end user: the new Phoenix rotary double buck shirt press unit, as well as enhancements to the Eagle blowing shirt finisher, the Angel 2.0 single buck press unit and the compact vertical Smart press and the quadruple collar press.
As in the laundry sector, Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing manager for Renzacci, says that the banking situation is putting a dampener on the drycleaning industry. “Many banks are in turmoil and facing big problems – scandals and other issues have completely paralysed the system,” he says.
Nevertheless, for those who are able to invest, interest is now growing in new technologies, new processing techniques and alternative solvents.
“Five years ago, we had to struggle to convince drycleaners about the benefits of alternative solvent machines. They only wanted to hear about wetcleaning. Now they are seeing wetcleaning not as a substitute for drycleaning but as complementary. It’s a fantastic result,” Niccolini says.
Other services that are likely to grow in Italian drycleaners, according to Niccolini, are disinfection and the use of ozone cabinets, such as Renzacci’s iGenius – for items that can’t be washed, such as helmets, boots and prams.
Alliance has also introduced a new dry-to-dry wet cleaning solution in Italy. “There is a lot of interest for it because the new generation of drycleaners are looking for innovative solutions,” Maglione and Yahia say.
“They want shorter overall process times, while reducing their ecological footprint. Our new wetcleaning solution offers that. We prove it with live demonstrations in our demonstration room in Brescia. We also are planning a road show to do demonstrations across Italy in 2017.”
One drycleaning shop that was open to modernisation was DBG Service in Bareggio, Milan. Until it updated its equipment it was pressing everything by hand using ironing tables, explains Davide Rotondi, sales manager for Rotondi Group.
“They went for a state-of-the-art project with full automation. Therefore they installed the latest versions of jacket automatic finisher, automatic shirt finisher, trouser finisher, large curtain pressing machine, tablecloth pressing machine, automatic bagger, and so on,” he says.
“The owner had issues with finding good workers, so with the investment he has significantly reduced both the skill and the quantity of people needed.”
He adds: “For Rotondi, R&D is always a priority. We have four R&D managers who are continuously working on new projects and modifications of existing machines.”
And now opportunities are opening up even further. Rotondi says that while northern Italy has traditionally taken the lead in adopting new developments, southern Italy is now beginning to follow the investment trends of the north, and new coin-op laundries, industrial laundries and other businesses are opening up.
So while there may be some clouds on the horizon, there are also rays of sunshine peeking through.