The hospitality linen market seems to be reflecting the growing confidence in the economy. Certainly the companies that supply hospitality businesses with linen are saying that sales are picking up this year after a slow time in 2012.
The textile supplier Richard Haworth says hotel occupancy was slightly disappointing in 2012 but this year figures have been much more promising. Managing director Raj Ruia notes that hotels are becoming highly competitive and are investing in improving the impression they make on the customer. They are refreshing linen stocks more frequently and his company has seen an increase in orders.
Richard Yates, sales director at Linen Connect reports that 2013 has been the busiest year to date with high volume demand for both bed and table linen. He says that the key issue has been managing the demand in terms of both supply and service but Linen Connect has maintained its high standards.
Robert Adams, managing director of White Knight Laundry Services, says that table linen requirements declined in 2012 but 2013 has seen that trend reversed and the company is ordering more again.
Chris Kingsford, sales director at Tonrose, says that the increase in visitors to London this year has brought significant improvement to customers in the laundry market.
Most have had a busy time during the summer and this is continuing into early autumn. The Edinburgh festival brought good business for Scottish hotels. The weather also helped to boost tourism and, as a result of all such factors, both laundries and textile suppliers benefited.
However, price is still a critical factor in the textile and textile rental market. Yates notes that all areas are being squeezed and so price will continue to be at the top of agendas. He adds though that more and more customers are recognising the importance of quality and that decisions should not just be based on the cheapest price.
Kingsford says that the price per piece of rental linen does not reflect the cost of delivering a good laundry service. Because of the extreme competition in the hospitality sectors, hotels are squeezing laundries on price. This, in turn, erodes their margins and he predicts that the issue will continue. Textile suppliers will also feel the impact and they have suffered not only from rises in cotton prices but also from a weakening pound against the dollar.
Despite this continued competition, positive product trends can still be seen. Adams at White Knight Laundry notes that hotels are asking for higher quality bed sheet with a minimum thread count of 180 – 200. King size and super-king size are becoming more popular than the standard double. The company has adjusted its buffer stock to cope with the demand for higher quality.
Looking at product trends in more detail, Adams says that stripe patterned bed linen is being preferred to plain, particularly mid-market.
This has been in such demand this summer that White Knight has had to work hard to find stock.
The trend for stripes started in the four-star deluxe hotels but now these are differentiating themselves by reverting to plain designs.
In this pre-Christmas season, White Knight is receiving more requests for short term hire of coloured linen. Black, red and dark green remain the most popular choices but in recent years customers have become more adventurous and are choosing contrasting colours such as silver or lilac over black.
Yates at Linen Connect says that although the main bed linen sales are still for blends, sales in table linen are largely for its Forta spun polyester range. However, there is a move in table linen to 100% cotton, which is available in both satin band and ivy leaf designs and he predicts that this increase will continue in the run up to Christmas.
In both bed and table linen the company prides itself on having a comprehensive range so that customers can always find a product to match requirements. For example, while satin band and ivy leaf table linen have been to the fore in recent years, the company continues to supply the Cezanne rose pattern polyester range and Yates says there is still a market for this traditional product, mainly in white.
Ruia at Richard Haworth believes that hotels are now seeking out 100% cotton bed linen rather than cotton-rich or polycotton and also asking for higher thread counts, typically 200 – 300.
Customers also want more durable products and are investing in cotton percale, especially the company’s Blenheim range as this has the Optima finish, which Richard Haworth developed to make percale easier to finish.
In response to the demand for higher quality, the company has also introduced the Hampton luxury range of 400 thread 100% cotton percale bed linen.
At Hilden, commercial director Rod Nutter says linen sales this summer have more than compensated for the quiet time last year. There is now a growing demand for higher thread counts in bed linen in both 100% cotton and cotton-rich products. The run-up to Christmas is an important season for table linen and Hilden is seeing a marked preference for satin band over the traditional ivy leaf damask.
Spun polyester table linen is particularly popular and Nutter believes that these products have helped laundries that have signed up to the Climate Change Agreement to reduce energy use and increase productivity.
Andy Jamshidzadeh, director of D G Textiles, also notes that as enquiries are picking up so too is the interest in quality.
 The company has traditionally focussed on 100% cotton for the table linen market and he says this is still the prime requirement for five-star hotels with restaurants but the choice of supplier is always governed by price and customers will shop around to get the right level.
However, away from the top end of the market, he notes there is a move to spun polyester and polycottons, partly because these materials can be processed at lower temperatures, so reducing operating cost.
D G Textiles’ current table linen range includes polycotton table linen as well as 100% cottons but the company will shortly introduce a spun polyester range, which will include both white and coloured styles.
Jamshidzadeh reports that demand for bed linen is strong and here customers want upmarket quality. They are asking for 100% cotton sheets although the choice for duvet covers is usually 80/20 cotton rich in the satin stripe design.
Like other companies in the textile supply market Westlane Linens has seen sales rise over the past year but it says that it can be very competitive as it can offer a direct mill price and lower prices generally.
Bed linen is mainly supplied on yearly contracts so the main changes it sees are in the table linen sector.
Here the company expects seasonal demand for its Toledo spun polyester range and Madrid 100% cotton satin band line.
However, it has recently started to market spun polyester bed linens with a 130 thread count as an alternative to cotton sheets. This range is more expensive than the standard 70/30 cotton-rich linens but the spun polyester products offer the advantages of durability and quick drying which will help to offset the price difference.
Prospects for 2014 would generally seem to be good and product trends, seasonal variations apart, can be expected to continue.
Chris Kingsford at Tonrose says that, post recession, hotels are seeking higher quality bed linen to improve the guest’s experience and attract higher charges for their rooms.
But he also notes a decline in the use of table linen and that restaurants are trying to create a more relaxed atmosphere with less fuss. In 2014 the company will be developing its table ranges to reflect the changes in dining culture. There will also be further additions to bed linen offering, again to reflect customer requirements.
Rod Nutter at Hilden believes there will be more emphasis on product improvement, and that fabric performance and handle will be key drivers for the future.
He also notes that more laundries are installing RFID systems with a view to the benefits the technology brings – in terms of identification, tracking and tracing, and data gathering.He predicts that more suppliers will be ready to supply pre-tagged linen and Hilden already supplies large quantities of linen in this way.

COMPREHENSIVE RANGE: Linen Connect prides itself on a comprehensive range so customers can always find linen to suit their requirements. The Latina duvet cover shown here is a 70/30 cotton-rich design in satin stripe with a 1 inch stripe