Tailoring solutions for a competitive market31 October 2017
Making businesses more efficient and automated is important in Germany, where mergers have formed the watchword in recent years. Kathleen Armstrong reports
As the German economy continues to grow, so the textile services sector is profiting from very robust economic development, according to Daniel Dalkowski, spokesperson for the Deutscher Textilreinigungs-Verband (DTV).
The latest figures from country’s Federal Statistical Office, Destatis, show the German economy registered 0.6% GDP growth in the second quarter of 2017 compared to the first quarter of the year, and 0.8% growth compared to the previous year. This was mainly thanks to increased domestic consumption, both by households and by government.
“The employment rate is at an all-time high and consumer confidence is at a 15-year peak,” says Dalkowski. “Disposable income is expected to grow by 2.6% in 2017. More people need workwear, hotels and restaurants are enjoying a growing number of visitors and the hospital and elderly care sectors are profiting from an ageing population.”
Harald Thiele, sales and service centre manager for Jensen Germany, says the growth in nursing homes is providing a real opportunity for laundry suppliers – it’s an area where good sorting systems, automation and data management is particularly important. But throughout the laundry sector, automation remains a key focus. “Sorting and handling solutions, both on the soiled and clean side, together with automated conveyor solutions, are very much sought after,” he says. “We are also seeing increased interest in data management and control.”
To cater to these needs, Jensen continues to develop new solutions, including the Evolution Cube, which automates the feeding and folding of terry towels and can process up to 600 towels an hour. In addition, for both the hospitality and healthcare sectors, the Jenroll Hybrid flexible chest ironer boasts a small footprint and is able to deliver a high-quality finish at speeds of up to 50 metres a minute without leaving tape marks on the linen.
Multimatic Ilsa Deutschland has also seen its business expand with its automated garment handling systems, produced by Metalprogetti of Italy. Managing director Dirk Freitag says it supplied the system to Afklopies, a healthcare chain that has a network of 50 hospitals in Germany, and that has helped open the door to sales in other areas.
Making businesses more efficient and automated is particularly important in Germany where mergers have formed the watchword over the past few years, including the December 2015 acquisition of Larosé by Alsco, the merger of CWS-boco and Initial, which was finalised in June 2017 – the company’s headquarters is in Duisburg – and the recent announcement of the preliminary agreement for the acquisition of Berendsen by French laundry services group Elis.
In November 2016, Elis also announced its takeover of Puschendorf Textilservice, a family business of five laundries and bringing Elis’s network in Germany to 16. “With [the acquisition of Berendsen], the company will become a major player in the HoReCa and health and care markets,” Dalkowski says.
Nevertheless, Florian Ott, technical sales director at Ott Wäschereitechnik, Milnor’s authorised distributor in Germany, comments: “When I started working with Milnor 15 years ago, a lot of the smaller and medium-sized laundries were afraid of the trend that the larger groups had been growing rapidly. Interestingly, what we hear from the same customers nowadays is that they see it as a positive development that the big players are getting even bigger. They see it as a chance for the smaller laundries to compete against them with flexibility and quality.”
Stefan Vautrin, product manager laundry technology at Christeyns, agrees: “So far, the German market still continues to be characterised by regionally active, medium-sized, owner-managed companies. These regional suppliers focus strongly on customer loyalty and serving niche markets by providing specialist services to succeed in the competitive market.”
However, Christoph Kampmann, sales director central Europe for Alliance Laundry Systems, believes the acquisition process and consolidation will continue. That also means a need for specific solutions, tailored to meet the needs of large organisations. “One of the needs of multi-outlet groups is the ability to monitor what their equipment is doing – in real time, via a laundry management system,” Kampmann explains. “Our UniMac TotalVue system provides this level of monitoring, which results in better and more efficient management of machines in the field.”
He says Germany is a very competitive market, stimulated by an ageing population and migration. “That is why we have seen a slight growth, especially in senior care and vended laundries,” he says. “Wetcleaning is also a demand from the market, because of the high interest in Germany for sustainable processes.”
Dominique Suttheimer, international sales director at Büfa, agrees that wetcleaning is on the rise, especially since it has become more simplified, economical and productive. “Even less skilled people are able to do wetcleaning now,” he says. “For this reason, Büfa has developed Büfa Care 4.0, which provides benefits such as one washing program for all delicate articles, dry-to-dry processing within one hour, 60% drum load, 30% lower product input and only seven litres of water consumption for each kg of textiles to be wetcleaned.”
In keeping with the focus on sustainability in the German laundry sector, Büfa offers a certified Ecolabel detergent system called Ozerna ECO system. “Using that system means the launderer can advertise his service as sustainable and environmentally friendly using the Ecolabel,” Suttheimer adds.
Those who specialise in workwear will be keeping their eyes on EU Directive 2016/425, which comes into effect on 21 April 2018 and will regulate personal protective equipment (PPE). “Textile service companies had to react quite early, although it only starts to apply [to their products] in April 2019, because leasing contracts usually last longer,” Dalkowski explains. “So newly bought PPE, if expected to be in circulation after March 2019, is already in accordance with the new legislation.”
In preparation, WIRTEX has already organised seminars to clarify any outstanding issues. The training will continue throughout 2018, Marek says. He also foresees tougher restrictions being put on the use of chemicals for the preparation of PPE. “PFOA (pentadecafluorooctanoic acid) is still necessary for oleophobic purposes and cannot yet be substituted. But our associations have negotiated acceptable transition periods and reasonable levels of contamination with PFOA substances.”
WIRTEX is also performing a comparative study, in collaboration with the University of Applied Studies Furtwangen, on the maintenance of the protective effects of PPE.
“Textile service providers have achieved steady growth in professional clothing,” says Feodor Eder, country manager for Girbau Deutschland. “Throughout the past years the number of textile cleaners is decreasing due to evolution in the kind of textiles used, washing behaviour, 97% washer coverage in private households changes and generation as well as demographic change.”
“Since the 1950s, hygienic handling and washing has been developed further. Topics here are how to ensure the disinfecting washing process by all necessary parameters. All laundry associations are participating in this and RAL Gütezeichen in particular has their focus on this.”
More focus is also being given to the development and use of smart textiles, for example in healthcare, geriatric use and professional clothing, Eder adds.
British textile supplier Carrington says it is seeing huge advances in wearable technology. “For example, looking at ways to incorporate tech into the actual fabrics of workwear worn by firefighters and those working in dangerous environments, as well as meeting industry norms.” The company has seen its business grow in Germany and is focusing this year’s product development across three core areas, all of which are growing markets: its inherent flame-retardant range, products for the defence sector and long-lasting fabrics for the German industrial laundry sector.
It will be featuring its flame-retardant fabrics at the A+A trade fair in Düsseldorf in October, whose focus is on occupational health and safety in Germany. Carrington fabrics on show will include Flametougher 280AS, Flamestat Satin 225 Pro2 and the new Flametech 300 AS. In addition, it will be showcasing several new fabrics designed for general workwear, flame retardancy, waterproofing and the defence sector.
In order to support this market segment, Ecolab has developed a dedicated program – Performance Industrial – to match the complexity and diversity of industrial workwear and uniforms, says Laurence Evrard, product development manager at Ecolab. “Through partnership with different PPE suppliers, we tested the protection of the safety properties after 50 washing cycles on chemical, flame retardancy and high-visibility protective clothing.”
Drycleaners are also specialising to attract companies to their shops, according to Freitag, including cleaning workwear for hotels, bars, pizzerias, healthcare clinics and doctors’ offices. “It is a very good segment for smaller drycleaning companies,” Freitag says. “Drycleaners are processing more and more workwear, for both blue collar and white collar clients.”
At least one of Multimatic’s customers caters to people from the Middle East who come to Germany for their holidays during Ramadan. Another customer specialises in industrial gloves, recently ordering six 70kg machines as part of a plant reorganisation.
Freitag says environmental regulation means companies wanting to expand will stay where they are rather than move sites so they don’t lose their allowance. Regulations are likely to get tighter, which may make wetcleaning an even more attractive option.
Two key issues in the sector in Germany is finding skilled labour and the wage level. There are various schemes to up the skills of those working in the industry. DTV has initiated a project that includes setting up a digital learning platform and the development of new methods of training and education for its laundry and drycleaning members. “Within the Erasmus+ funding scheme, we want to set up a project which focuses on developing tools for digital learning that will not only mean working on the best solution in a technical way but also help us to produce information on how to best use these tools, as well as helping us to develop content.”
DTV also has a special website designed to attract young people into becoming an apprentice in the textile care industry. “Apprenticeships are becoming more and more unpopular among the youth,” Dalkowski says. “Some schools with a focus on textile cleaning had to be closed in the past years due to low numbers of pupils. DTV has developed new training and education programmes for this group (Level 2 in the European Qualifications Framework). DTV is also one of two institutions in Germany that still provides courses to get a master craftsmanship in textile cleaning.”
WIRTEX has also started a process for the modernisation of the profession: Textilreiniger (Textile Cleaner). “We are planning to offer a modular training for unskilled workers to give them a sound basic knowledge, which we hope to start in the next few months,” Marek says.
Another issue is the wage level, particularly since the introduction of the minimum wage in 2015. According to Norbert Knoche, managing director of employer association INTEX, wages are one of the crucial aspects for the further development of the textile service in Germany. “We used to have an agreement on a minimum wage for the textile service industry which was higher than the minimum wage,” he explains. “In January 2017, the general minimum wage was increased to a higher level than the voluntary minimum for our industry. The consequence is that our agreement will end in the autumn. As wage costs are the biggest part of our cost structure, the extremely heterogeneous wage level can be crucial in the near future.”
Nevertheless, the future looks bright for Germany’s laundry and drycleaning sector.