Hoteliers need to build a close relationship with their guest. Naturally all good hotels give their guests a good reception when they arrive but that feeling of welcome must continue when guests reach their room. Give them the best quality linen and it will do so.

Lying down on top quality sheets will make them feel good about their room and allow them to settle down and enjoy their stay.

There is a cost for this good impression. Marketing departments are directly concerned with the guests’ experience, but purchasing departments have a different agenda. So laundry providers say that there’s sometimes pressure on prices that comes mainly from purchasing managers.

The Textile Services Association (TSA) has researched hotel guests and finds the quality of the linen provided influences the choice of hotel – and consumers are prepared to pay for quality.

Delivering that quality, as hotel housekeepers appreciate, involves a mix of factors: the choice of fabric; threadcount; the laundry service (increasingly contracted out now); and rejection of stock when it is worn or damaged.

It also involves a mix of at least three groups of people: the linen suppliers; the laundry service providers; and the hotel clients.

Sometimes these people are talking to each other from a distance – or so it feels to hoteliers when they have to deal with head office or regional contacts in national companies.

The hotel industry tends to prefer small, locally-based laundries, which hotel sources say give a service that is more in touch with the needs of individual businesses. “A small laundry will clear the floor of everyone else’s stock for a period each day while they deal with our stock,” comments a source at one city-centre hotel. This approach may change if, as often happens, the local laundry is taken over by a national group. However, one of the benefits of being part of a national group may be access to capital to invest in equipment, such as a wider range of presses to handle the different sizes of linen used by customers.

For the smaller independent laundry such investment can be a tall order financially, but it is essential if it is to keep the prestige contracts.

Hotel housekeepers count the oily marks along the edges of sheets, which can result from being pressed on a calender that is not big enough to stretch them adequately, as a big problem.

That’s an example of a problem which, says Jonathan Mitcham, laundry advisor at textile specialist Hilden, may arise because there hasn’t been enough advance discussion about how linen suppliers and laundries should work together.

“For example, in the USA, there’s a “Heavenly Bed” promotion in which the hotel chose a 14inch deep mattress, to give the guest a softer, more comfortable night. We got to hear about it when the hotel started getting damaged sheets.

“Previously, the hotel had been using 112inch sheets, which the laundry was pressing on a 120inch calender, with satisfactory results. Switching to the deeper mattresses meant going for 120inch sheets. On the same calender, these were clipped four inches from each end and were laid on the bed of the press without enough tension. The result was oily marks from the runners on the edge of the calender.

“The on-premise laundry at the hotel had to buy a larger calender to cope with the 120inch sheets.”

The decision to buy the deeper mattresses rested with the housekeeper and the hotel management. If the laundry manager had been brought into the discussion earlier, might the decision have been different?

Jonathan Mitcham also finds some hoteliers are unrealistic about the quality specification for bedlinen, and don’t understand the implications for the laundry.

Looking again at the USA, he cites a luxury hotel which has decided to specify a 500 threadcount for bedlinen. The people there had not appreciated the problem of water burst.

“On the extraction at the end of the wash, the g-force pushes the water through the fabric and through the perforated drum of the machine. With a very high threadcount the water can’t get through the fabric. You get pockets of water that burst through the fabric – it’s like a little hand-grenade going off in your washing machine,” he explains. “It can’t be repaired.”

Most housekeepers would agree it’s not necessary to go above 300 threadcount, but the American property concerned is pressing ahead for the time being.

Murray Simpson of the TSA confirms that hotels in Britain, too, are specifying colour and threadcount to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

“They should do this in consultation with the textile rental suppliers,” says Simpson. “Some products may be unsuitable for an industrial laundry.”

Lorraine Dale, executive housekeeper in the Arora International group, recently called in an advisor on bedlinen from the laundry provider before embarking on a refurbishment programme. In turn the laundry has called in advice from its supplier.

Dale explains: “If you rent from a laundry, you need to find out who they buy from. If the laundry showed me samples and I didn’t like them, they’d have to find other suppliers.”

Arora has a mix of hotel types but bedlinen is broadly similar across the range. The Arora Heathrow is a crew hotel (accommodating mainly airline personnel); the Sofitel London Gatwick is four-star; and the Sofitel Heathrow at Terminal 5, which opens in March 2008, will be five-star. Arora runs the two Sofitel properties under a franchise agreement with the brand’s owner Accor, and it is Accor that specifies the colour, threadcount and sizes of bedlinen for these hotels.

“We can use the same spec at different hotels: the Arora Manchester, Crawley Park and Heathrow all have the same linen. At Manchester we have king size beds which are 2m square, as distinct from the 2m by l.6m queen size beds at the other hotels.”

The different sizes present a management problem for the laundry service – which it solves simply by allocating the Manchester linen to a different calender. So all the Arora hotels apart from Manchester are supplied and served from one depot while another handles the Manchester hotel work.

Dale carries six-par stock, and throughout the year she constantly monitors the condition of stock being sent in regularly rejecting worn items which the laundry then replaces. “The life of a towel is probably 18 months or so, pillowslips and sheets about two years,” she says.

Arora has processes in place to ensure that stock does not get rejected too soon – as a result, for example of housekeepers abusing the linen. They know that towels are for guest use – not for mopping up spillages on the bathroom floor.

Dale has recently been discussing with the laundry rejection rates of pillowslips at the Manchester hotel. “We were short of pillowslips, so the housekeeper questioned it,” she says. One possibility she has to investigate is whether Manchester’s pillowslips are being used by other hotels, when they are supposed to be exclusive stock.

Pooling of stock is acceptable at a certain market level, she feels, but adds that “if you stay at a five-star hotel you expect a certain weight of towel, and a logo embroidered on it. At an airline crew hotel, expectations are different.” Arora rents pooled stock of towels, but has exclusive stock for bedlinen.

The Lowry, Manchester, spends something in the region of £150,000 to £180,000 a year on laundry services – the exact amount fluctuates with the occupancy, and therefore the turnover, of the hotel.

While this is not an enormous percentage of the hotel’s budgets, it is an important item of expenditure. The outcome is monitored at the highest level, notably by chairman Sir Rocco Forte and Olga Polizzi, the director responsible for the “look and feel” of all the Rocco Forte Hotels properties, who are both regular visitors to The Lowry.

General manager John Philipson explains the policy: “We ask the laundry to buy the linen for us and we commit to using it for three years, during which time we care for it as well. There’s an incentive on both sides to care for the stock. If stock is lost early some contracts require the hotel to pay for replacement.”

As Philipson puts it, “The bed is the heart of the hotel offer” and what goes on the bed is literally the guest’s most intimate experience of the hotel. For that reason, laundry service providers are always invited to tender each time the laundry contract at The Lowry comes up for renewal.

But how do laundries view the relationship they have with hotels?

David Stevens, managing director of Paragon Laundry, agrees with Hilden’s Mitcham that hoteliers ought to consult the experts more. “I talk to the hotel groups most days, and they don’t ask us for samples, which they should,” he says.

While businesses like Paragon can invest in state-of-the-art equipment, hoteliers should appreciate, he says, that “there’s a difference between one 450g towel and another”.

Paragon is certainly putting its money into equipment for handling linen. The company has been investing in automation – spending about £250,000 for a calender, for example, compared with the £10,000 or so which an OPL would typically spend.

The company is also looking at other areas to improve efficiency. Stevens says: “I’ve recently spent £200,000 on energy saving, in particular heat exchangers. An OPL washer-extractor will use 30litre of water per kilogram of work washed – we use 3litre per kilogram.”

How do laundries and suppliers feel about the kind of linens required by hotels?

Andy Jamshidzadeh, managing director of DG Textiles, says the top end of the hotel industry is still choosing Egyptian cotton for its bedlinen, despite the high cost.

“You can import bedlinen from Pakistan, Bengal or India and it’s cheaper than Egyptian, but there’s no comparison for quality,” he says.

David Stevens watches with interest the development of new fabrics for the hospitality sector. Egyptian cotton may be the “gold standard” for bedlinen, but he sees a move towards “cotton rich” fabric – 80% cotton, 20% polyester. This now accounts for about 10% of the hospitality market according to Stevens and he says that the manufacturers are working on improving the texture, notably through clever spinning techniques which put the polyester mainly in the core of the yarn and give the surface a natural cotton feel.

“The question is, will it retain its colour or will it go a bit grey?” says Stevens. “You can’t bleach it back to white as you can with cotton. Polyester now has 60% of the table linen marketplace.” But he wonders how guests would feel if bedlinen followed a similar trend. “Sleeping on bedlinen – that’s a tougher test.”

Lowry ( title pic)
MONITORED: (title pic)
At the Lowry hotel bedlinen is seen as a significant , though not necessarily large part of the hotel budget and is monitored at the highest level

Paragon factory
INVESTING: to help ensure efficiency in all areas Paragon has invested in laundry equipment energy saving devices

David Stevens
SAMPLES REQUIRED: David Stevens of Paragon laundry believes more hotels should ask to see samples of the linen laundries provide

FIVE STAR; Textile supplier Hilden has a range of luxury linens for five star hotels. it employs a laundry advisor to make sure the linens are practical as well as attractive