Andrew Robson, CEO and managing director of SPL, Australia’s largest supplier to the accommodation industry, joined the company just before Covid hit. He very quickly redirected the business into new areas and it is a vastly different company now, just two years down the road.

Robson explained how things worked in Australia during Covid. “States made their own rules on how they handled the pandemic. Melbourne had the longest lockdown of all. We got on the front foot and decided we wanted some of the lockdown hotel quarantine market.”

Rising input costs

On reopening, said Robson, demand surged but ability to supply was constrained by labour and freight shortages. “And of course there were rapidly rising input costs. But this revealed opportunities on pricing which involved leaning the art of selling.

“You’d think this was a market for consolidation,” remarked Robson. “People came to us asking do you want machinery contracts? Do you want to do our washing for us? There was a total reset of customer expectations and that meant we could negotiate improved contract terms, price flexibility, exit fees, and add seasonal charges.

“There was no way the old pricing structures would do now. We were bullish. We added a seasonal surcharge just liked the hotels. What is different for us? We can change prices more often.

“What’s next? After Covid, innovation is very important. We are very open minded about what we can do. Some schemes were not as successful as others. Not that they were unsuccessful, just need revisiting….

“One guy at the laundry thought RFID was great…up to then we used to half hope we would get linen back. He advocated we could do this via RFID. Covid gave us time to work through RFID set up in one of our sites. Another new skill set after covid. We needed to know where our assets are and their value.

Robson explained that one customer was panicking over short stock. “We RFID’d their premises and found it all in a basement when it should have been on the fifth floor. We got it sorted and now they go looking for themselves,” said Robson, having supplied them with the technology to do so.

Mobile linen hubs

Another successful innovation, explained Robson, has been setting up mobile linen hubs for Air BNB small hospitality businesses with a scanning and storage point, clean side and soiled side. Safety cameras and an emergency door open lever ensure nobody can get locked in while dropping off dirty linen and collecting clean stock. The customers have a personalised key fob for access.

“It is a small customer market base, but it is a great example of a big laundry servicing small laundries successfully. We have also started daily item rental. A small fee is incurred as soon as it goes out of the door. They bring linen back now. The downside for us? We have to wash it before we give it back to them.

“We’ve got to do things differently as we go forward. Business as usual just isn’t on the cards anymore,” said Robson.

‘What’s next? After Covid, innovation is very important. We are very open minded about what we can do…’