An expanding economy and record household consumption have created a positive environment for business in Germany (GDP grew 2.2% in 2017 and household consumption was up 3.6% on the previous year, the largest increase since 1994, according to the German statistics agency, Destatis) and the laundry sector was no exception.

Figures from the German texile rental trade association WIRTEX show that sales in the textile service market grew 4% in 2017 and are forecast to grow a further 3.5% in 2018.

The overall turnover for the drycleaning and laundry sector in 2017 increased 2% compared to the previous year. “The largest business segments are professional clothing (€1.4 billion) and health/long-term care (€0.75 billion).

More people need workwear, and hotels and restaurants are enjoying a growing number of visitors,” explains Daniel Dalkowski, communications director for the Deutsche Textilreinigungs-Verband (DTV). “DTV’s business climate survey shows that 83% of laundries and 75% of drycleaners were satisfied with their business development in 2017.”

Market consolidation has continued to be a major trend in the market. French textile services company Elis completed its acquisition of Stuttgart-based BW Textilservice in March 2018, strengthening Elis’s position in the German healthcare market.

“The German market, the biggest in Europe with turnover of more than €4 billion in 2017, remains very fragmented. Elis will therefore aim at further increasing its market share in the country, through both organic and external growth,” commented Elis CEO Xavier Martiré in a press release announcing the acquisition.

Following on from this, in June 2018 the company announced the acquisition of the Nuremberg laundry Wäscherei Waiz, which specialises in flat linen treatment for short- and long-stay healthcare clients. The acquisition gives Elis a presence in the northern part of Bavaria. 

Electrolux also expanded its offering in the textile rental market with the acquisition earlier this year of Schneidereit, a supplier of laundry rental solutions in Germany and Austria. 

“Consolidation in the market and leaner processes are the main challenges [in the German market],” comments Harald Thiele, sales and service manager for Jensen Germany. “ It will be important for small and medium laundries to find a special niche and to work on their competitive edge to make sure they can offer quality products at acceptable prices.”


Automation and Industry 4.0

Jensen launched into 2018 with a 30% acquisition of Danish laundry products company Inwatec, whose specialities include automation and robotics. The company presented its new robotic solutions at the Jensen Performance Days, which were held in Mallorca in April.

“German laundries were very well represented and confirmed their interest and readiness to invest in Industry 4.0,” Thiele says. “We will soon be ready to launch our first towel feeding robot utilising artificial intelligence and cannot wait to show it to our customers. German customers are known for being eager pioneers in introducing new technologies, so they are very excited about this and keep pushing us for more news.”

Kannegiesser, too, put on its own show in Vlotho, Germany, showcasing its integrated laundry solutions, also with robotics as an important part of the future offering. “Machine, technology and software are combined, helping to make operations more competitive in a tough market,” says Matthias Schäfer of Kannegiesser.

“The reason for the increasing role of automation is due to the structural changes in the economy our customers are faced with in their countries. More and more will they be confronted with a labour shortage and ever increasing costs for energy and water. To keep the competiveness on a level of preparedness for sustainability they are searching for new ways, market niches and technical solutions. In these times it is a good idea to invest in structural changes of the equipment – learning to optimise processes and increasing efficiency. The thinking is in systematic solutions, where the main aspects of new developments are guaranteeing uncompromising hygienic safety and perfect quality. Also the diversity in colour, material, size and type of article prompts a new approach on solutions for the future. For example Kannegiesser’s PowerTrans Vario is a ‘Separate Batch Washer’ [rather than a CBW], which means every batch is treated separately. It works like individual washing with different machines but it’s automated for a much higher output and lowered consumption.

“On the other hand, one of the newly defined demands of the market is the deeper integration of machinery controls into the logistic process. This overarching theme will be one of the main topics in the industry as the digital future continues to advance.” He explains that logistics have come a long way and now represent a new understanding of digital process organisation in a modern laundry. “The data needs to flow fully synchronised with the textiles to control the production process automatically. That’s exactly how the competitive leaps in performance can be achieved,” says Schäfer.

While automation is gaining in popularity, customers in Germany are also looking more carefully at the features that will deliver the benefits their business needs, according to Thierry Lambermont, managing director for Milnor International. He says some of his largest customers still operate analogue systems but have well-organised production processes – and they know exactly what machines they need. “For example, there is a very interesting change in the workwear sector. The variety of workwear has been increasing dramatically, which means there are a lot of different applications and colour patterns that customers demand. Therefore, the laundries that offer workwear for leasing (a huge market in Germany) have to deal with this large variety which means the batches they are washing are getting smaller and smaller. Thus the machine sizes they need are also getting smaller.”

Lambermont says the Milnor Warehouse for machines nearby Hamburg (opened in 2015) has been a great success and will be extended. “Open Pocket Milnor washers between 25 and 125kg are available from stock,” he adds. 

For Girbau Deutschland, the focus during 2018 is on two new HS washers with in 24 and 32kg capacities and its ED 900 and 1250 dryers. The positive impact of growth is a rise in HoReCa laundry, with professional workwear showing the highest increase.

Recent installations include new washers and dryers for Textilservice Petri in Siegen, Alexianer Textilpflege in Münster and Wäscherei Adams, which also acquired a new ironer. Country manager Feodor Eder says some big industrial laundry groups have moved their production sites from East Germany to countries such as Poland, which have lower wages, investment support and different environmental regulations. For the many who remain in Germany, finding skilled staff is a major challenge, as the low unemployment rate means the pool of jobseekers is small.


Skilled staff

Dr Patrick Kohlas, committee representative for WIRTEX, says it is collaborating with unions and other professional associations on an image campaign to raise the profile of the textile service industry.

DTV also organises workshops for career advisers that take place with the companies and offer a theoretical overview of the career opportunities as well as the chance to show them around a modern laundry.

In addition, DTV, together with three other national associations and a research institute, applied for a funded project for improving professional and digital knowledge and skills in the industry. “With the Erasmus + funding scheme we would like to set up a project which focuses on developing tools for digital learning which not only means working on the best solution in a technical way but also helping us to produce knowledge on how to best use these tools as well as helping us to develop the content,” Dalkowski explains.

Training is key, not just in laundry but also in drycleaning where family-owned shops are increasingly being managed and staffed by migrants who are new to the industry. Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing director for Renzacci, says Renzacci is supporting them through its training campus system where they get hands-on experience in a modern shop. In Leipzig, for example, TextilReinigung Falko Dienert renewed its equipment to the Nebula 2.0, using Intense solvent, and is setting up as a Renzacci training academy.

The use of alternative solvents, such as K4, Sensene and Intense, is increasing in Germany with Sensene increasing the most over the past 18 months, says Niccolini.

“Since its introduction at the last Texcare in Frankfurt this solvent has found a lot of users and is spreading all over Europe,” says Joerg Schwerdtfeger, sales and technical support at Büfa. “But even more interest is developed by new wetcleaning processes in conjunction with brand new state-of-the-art wetcleaning products.” Schwerdtfeger says Büfa’s Care 4.0 process and Wet Cleaning 4.0 have “revolutionised classic wetcleaning and made wetcleaning available for everyone”.

Niccolini agrees that wetcleaning is catching on in Germany and is positive about the way it is developing – as a complementary service to drycleaning, rather than an alternative to it. “Germany seems to be one of the few countries that understands this concept – a 360° service using all the technologies,” Niccolini says. “I hope this will spread to the countries surrounding Germany.”

Stefan Vautrin from Christeyns has also noticed the trend to greener drycleaning solvents, such as its HiGlo product, and wetcleaning. “Dry-to-dry wetcleaning concepts like Aquawave allow easy finishing for all types of textiles,” he says. The company is also seeing increasing demand for its Cool Chemistry gentle washing process and Laundry Dashboard management information system, both of which help to increase the efficiency of the washing process and decrease costs.

Seitz offers its customers training programmes to help choose the right solvent for new drycleaning machines, the right wetcleaning method and how to use them. It has also developed a new booster for workwear: System Viva Blue, targeted at textiles heavily soiled with fat and oil.


Creative solutions

Certainly, to survive in an increasingly competitive industry, businesses are having to become more creative, not only in the expanding their services but also in how they operate and market their services. Many are moving to centralised processing with multiple pick-up and drop-off points.

“Some drycleaners, as well as laundries, are trying to implement 24-hour, seven-day shops with an automatic service; others are trying to offer a full service with a delivery service to their customers, especially in the household sector – interesting concepts. The combination of a drycleaning shop and a small or medium sized laundry can be very successful,” Christoph Fromm, sales manager for Seitz, says.

Automation is an ongoing process but the use of apps and on-demand services is still in an implementation phase in Germany, Fromm says, and time will show whether they will be adopted and used by customers.

Nevertheless, Vautrin thinks on-demand cleaning and mobile laundry services are beginning to drive the market. One of these is Zipjet, the Berlin-based online laundry and drycleaning service.

In April the company announced a seven-figure investment from investors including Henkel Ventures and BSH Home Appliances Group, which will be used for business and product development in Zipjet’s markets in London, Paris and Berlin, as well as expanding its data science and marketing capabilities. In addition, in November 2017 Zipjet acquired its Paris-based competitor Cleanio, as part of its goal to become the European market leader. Customers can choose a range of laundry and drycleaning services either via its app or its website, selecting pick-up and delivery slots that fit their timetable.

Bringing services even closer to workers, Multimatic Ilsa recently supplied Metalprogetti equipment to Frey Sofortreinigung for a pick-up/drop-off point located in a dedicated container at an Audi plant. Staff can drop off their drycleaning 24 hours a day, and pick it up using the automated Metalprogetti system.

Another innovative shop using Multimatic equipment, also in Göttingen, is Mc.Clean Waschsalon. Known for its car washing service, Mc.Clean opened its Waschsalon alongside Coffee Lounge Knitterfrei, offering a washing, drying and ironing service, and integrated cafe where clients can have a coffee, eat and use the wifi while their garments are being cleaned.

Sustainability continues to be high on the agenda in Germany and although plastics has become a hot topic, moves away from its use are still few and far between. One exception is Fasson Textilpflege, a drycleaning business which has introduced reusable clothing bags.

“Retailers and food producers are the leaders in this field, and we are convinced that laundries will follow this trend by reflecting on how much plastic is be really needed to wrap the linen before being supplied to the end customer. Some of our customers have already mentioned this topic to us, so we foresee great developments in this area to the benefit of our environment,” according to Jensen’s Harald Thiele.