In the last year, the US laundry industry grew to over $26 billion in revenues (1999 to 2000) as a result of continuing growth in the hospitality, long-term care, prison and textile rental industries, according to the Department of Commerce.

Every sector of the laundry business demonstrated strong growth in 2000, except for the on-premise hospital laundry business, which continues to shrink.

Nine consecutive years of unprecedented economic growth in the US have created new opportunities for the expansion of on-premise laundry facilities in correctional facilities, long-term care homes, hotels and casino hotels, and aboard cruise ships.

The industrial laundry sector also continued to expand, according to the US Department of Commerce.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association (formerly the American Hotel and Motel Association) has cited a huge building boom in the hospitality industry.

The $100 billion lodging industry now has over 3.9 million rooms in over 52,000 properties, at an average occupancy of 63.2 percent, up from 3.5 million rooms in 46,000 properties, at an average occupancy rate of 55.5 percent, in 1995, according to Tia Gordon, a spokesperson for the association in Washington, DC.

On-premise laundries

More than 50 percent of hotels sized 300 rooms and up are equipped with on-premise laundries; some 80 percent of hotels sized 200 rooms and less are equipped with on-premise laundries.

“The trend is toward more centralisation of laundry services,” said Tom Mara, president of Victor Kramer Consulting Company, based in East Rutherford, NJ. “There is tremendous interest in centralisation, especially among larger hotel groups. It’s an area of tremendous opportunity for the laundry industry. Major hotel groups such as Marriott and Hilton, among others, have chosen to remain in the laundry business. Hotels are building central facilities to exercise some control over quality of service and cost.”

Other segments of the hotel industry are also demonstrating strong growth.

A total of more than 300,000 time-sharing and vacation ownership units were built last year. The report forecasts annual growth of 15 percent or more in this segment from 2001 through 2009.

Perhaps no industry has demonstrated more explosive—perhaps some would say frightening—growth than the corrections industry.

The US prison population has quadrupled from 320,613 in 1980 to 1,277,310 in 1999, the last year for which statistics were available. The prison population stood at 716,172 in 1990, according to the American Correctional Association (ACA) in Lanham, MD.

What is more significant is the rate of incarceration per 100,000 US citizens increased from 141.5 in 1980 to 452 in 1999.

“The numbers are definitely increasing and increasing quickly,” said Rollin Dickerson, a spokesman for the association. “There’s a boom.”

That spells opportunity for the laundry industry. Fully 95 percent of all correctional facilities are equipped with their own on-premise laundry.

“They seem to be putting a lot more people in prisons these days,” said Tom Mara. “I think it’s safe to say that growth will remain strong in the industry for the foreseeable future.”

In the nursing home and long-term care sector, increasing demand for space and services is producing unprecedented growth.

Given the changing demographics and aging of America, the growth of this industry is not surprising.

The number of beds fielded by the industry has tripled to 1.5 million since 1945 and is expected to reach 2.6 million by 2010 and 3 million by 2020, according to an estimate by the American Long-Term Care Association in Washington, DC.

“The American population is aging,” observed Tom Mara. “Long-term care is a big growth market. Your typical long-term care facility laundry is small and overseen by housekeeping. But virtually every facility has its own equipment and on-premise laundry.”

Industrial laundry

Driven by strong demand for uniform services, the industrial laundry sector grew by 12.4 percent in the most recent five-year period, according to the Census of Service Industries, conducted by the Economics and Statistics Administration of the US Department of Commerce.

During the same period, Commerce Department numbers indicate a reduction of 9.3 percent in the number of companies in the linen supply sector, from 1,375 companies to 1,247.

Commerce Department statistics show an increase in the amount of revenues generated by 1,613 industrial laundries to $5.1 billion, up from $3.65 billion generated by 1,435 laundries in 1992.

During the same period, the industrial laundry segment increased its total employment from 63,172 to 81,908, an increase of more than 27 percent.

“There is strong growth in both the number of establishments and in the total revenue generated by this sector,” said Jack Drago, survey statistician for the Bureau of Census, a division of the US Department of Commerce in Washington, DC.

“There is an increasing demand for the type of services provided by this sector,” he said.

Many companies are relying more heavily on dust control products—such as walk-on mats—to reduce employee fatigue and to improve ergonomics, as well as to prevent slip-and-fall accidents, according to a recent strategic analysis conducted by the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA), based in Hallendale, Florida. Companies are also demanding more speciality mats bearing custom company logos or messages, the analysis said.


The hospital industry continues to be the sick bay of the laundry industry. The American Hospital Association (AHA) recently reported that the number of beds in the industry has declined from 1.36 million in 1980 to a record low of 994,000 beds in 1999, the most recent year for which statistics were available.

In 1960, the industry had 1.6 million beds. At the same time, the number of hospitals in the US declined to 5,890, down from 6,965 in 1980, according to the AHA.

“There is a trend toward consolidation, brought on by new technology in medicine,” said Alicia Mitchell, a spokesperson for the AHA. “The number of hospitals has been declining steadily. Hospital stays have gotten shorter. Care is shifting dramatically to outpatient services.

It is the desire of the government and the insurance industry to have people treated on an outpatient basis, wherever possible. The mode of delivery of service has changed dramatically.”

Nevertheless, given the growth of America’s population and the demand for medical services, soiled linen is not disappearing anytime soon, Mara points out.

On the contrary, the need for linen services in outpatient clinics, surgical centres and physicians offices remains greater than ever.

“Healthcare presents a strong opportunity for centralisation of laundry services,” said Mara.

“Hospitals find that there is an inability by commercial laundries to produce an adequate quality of goods. Centralisation is a strong trend.”