FUN EVENT: Selwyn Burchhardt took part in a charity pancake race in 2008 and is seen here with the Lord Mayor of London Sir David Lewis
Just as LCN’s UK edition for August went to press, we were delighted to hear that Selwyn Burchhardt of Kannegiesser UK is celebrating 40 years in the laundry business. Here, Selwyn talks to LCN about his eventful career.
Selwyn started his life in the laundry industry in April 1978 when a Schulthess batch tunnel washer 35kg batch and 17 compartments and Ortex moisture extraction equipment (press and dryers) was installed at Groby Road Hospital Laundry in Leicester. Ortex at the time were the main competitor to Passat and Schulthess a Swiss company who still make domestic and small industrial washing machines today.
Over the next four or five years they installed Schulthess and Ortex equipment at many installations including Ascot Drive Derby (where Synergy are now), Celtic Linen Wexford, Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Laundry, Jacksons Lincoln, Fishers Cupar and many other locations.
“My father and I flew a single engine Piper and were able to deliver urgent spare parts to the customers in Ireland and also the south west of England,” says Selwyn. “In March 1984 we signed an agreement with Martin Kannegiesser to become the exclusive Kannegiesser agent in the UK and Ireland – interestingly the agreement was only four pages!!! In today’s world it would be more than 400 pages!!”
Kannegiesser had nothing to lose to appoint us as their agent as they had zero market share in the UK, says Selwyn. “The first few years were incredibly tough as the customers associated Kannegiesser with an over-engineered product and too expensive even though they had not come to us for a price.”
“We flew our customers to Vlotho – there is a small airstrip about 10 minutes from the factory and I can remember speaking with the control tower at Porta Westfalica Airfield (near Minden) as I crossed the Dutch / German border to ask them to ring Vlotho and they sent the driver to pick us up – the driver was in fact Bernd Michalik’s father – Bernd is the quality manager at Vlotho today.” He says that in those days there was no easyjet or Ryanair and return tickets to Hannover cost more than £800 sometimes so it was very cost effective to fly the customers as it was only 2 hours 20 minutes from Worksop where the aircraft was based.
“It was possible to leave at 0630 from Worksop be in Vlotho for 10.00 and then back home by 22.00. Those were the days!”
Slowly we made progress with the independent laundries selling a feeder here and folder there and got a lot of repeat business, he continues. “At the time the Kannegiesser SFM folder had a superior fold quality to the other machines available and this was a great selling factor and also the fact we could fold 144 banquet cloths which were popular with the independents.
“We quickly gathered momentum and by 1998 we probably had 80% market share for new feeders and folders being sold in the UK.”
Selwyn says that his first complete ironer line was sold in the early 1990s to William and Lee Ng at Crystal laundry in London and they said they would buy a tunnel washer in the future – it took many years but this was achieved a few years – they are still on the same site in west London near White City.
Up to 1998 Kannegiesser’s main focus was flatwork and garment processing as they did not have a washing division.
“I can remember on occasions I was in direct competition with Stuart Rigby selling the Kannegiesser tunnel finisher and I was successful with a large garment installation at Fakenham when the owner John Cushing was running the laundry,” says Selwyn. “During the installation a tin of blue paint was accidentally left in the SMT tunnel finisher and guess what – on commissioning it exploded – the customer was not happy!”
Although a small business, Selwyn and his team were able to give an excellent service support and delivery of spares. “Some may remember Dave Parker our service engineer and also Simon Lee who worked with me.”
Selwyn reached a crossroads in his career in 1998, a year of consolidations in the industry when Jensen purchased Senking and Kannegiesser purchased Passat. After deliberations with Martin Kannegiesser, Selwyn transferred his business into Ducker, which took over the Kannegiesser agency on 6 September 1998 to supply complete laundry solutions.
“How times have changed,” says Selwyn. “Back in 1984 when I attended my first Kannegiesser sales meeting there were 35 people in the room of which only two – the Italian man and myself spoke English and someone had to translate to us – during the late 1990s we had a person in a booth doing simultaneous translation from German into English – at the latest sales meeting this year there were 200 people in the room and it was only delivered in English.”
Selwyn has seen a number of managing directors at Vlotho and made many friends. “There are a number of colleagues in Vlotho that I have known for more than 25 years or even longer,” he says, adding that “I have seen many changes within the industry over the years and have enjoyed it.”
Selwyn was honoured with being Master of the Worshipful Company of Launderers a City of London Livery company in 2007 and has been President of SLEAT (Society of Laundry Engineers and Allied Trades) as well as supporting many industry committees.
ROYAL OCCASION: Selwyn Burchhardt is pictured with Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, and Earl Ferris. As Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Logistic Corps, HRH The Princess Royal graciously gave her approval to an association with the Worshipful Company of Launderers which was formalised on 16 March 1998 with the details of the association recorded on an illuminated parchment signed by officers from the company and the RLC. The Launderers make an annual award of the company silver medal to the laundry squadron soldier of the year