The economic outlook is positive in North America. The USA’s GDP grew at a rate of 3.9% in the third quarter of 2014, according to statistics issued by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This figure was up on the Bureau’s previous forecast of a 3.5% rise for the quarter, although it was down on the previous quarter’s 4.6% rise.
"The economy in the USA continues to grow and activity continues to increase," says Rick Kelly, vice president of marketing and sales administration for Pellerin Milnor. "However, during 2014, the US government did not continue the accelerated depreciation programme that was implemented several years ago as a stimulus to recover from the recent recession. As a result, year-end business dropped this year as compared with the previous year’s end."
The implementation of the Affordable Care Act has had the biggest single legislative impact on the sector, according to Phil Hart at Kannegiesser USA. "This healthcare reform act, also known as "Obamacare", has caused many employers to re-examine their labour costs and find ways to increase their productivity per direct labour hour. This is most easily done by increasing automation and has been a driving force in many laundry operator’s investment plans."
The lower level of Medicare and Medicaid payments has also caused many hospitals to drop non-core businesses such as food, laundry and housekeeping and laundry has been one of the departments with the highest percentage of outsourcing, says Mark Thrasher, president of Lavatec Laundry Technology. In addition, hotels are looking to reduce costs by outsourcing their laundry, more restaurants are moving away from using linens and the casual dining market continues to grow.
Textile rental, on the other hand, has been boosted by the recent acceleration in energy-related businesses, which has resulted in more jobs in the Western states, according to the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA). "Texas is the leader with around 320,000 new jobs in 2014," says Ken Koepper, the association’s director of marketing. "North Dakota’s additional 13,000 doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a high percentage and the laundries there have noticed the difference. Georgia (89,000) is a leader in adding manufacturing jobs. Florida is adding jobs (200,000) but more in housing and services, not industrial."
Restaurant revenues are also on the rise and are anticipated to bring modest growth to the laundry industry, while hotel occupancy in 2014 could reach its highest levels since the 1970s.
David Bernstein, president of Lapauw USA, says that independent, central and co-op laundries are again looking to build new plants, renovate older ones and find ways to improve energy efficiency and productivity. "As a result of recent high-profile deaths at a hospital that were blamed on a laundry processing service, there is an increasing demand for more hygienic facilities," he adds.
The TRSA introduced the Hygienically Clean Certification programme in 2013. This holds laundries to best-practice standards (inspecting facilities) and adds third-party microbial testing of laundered textiles to verify their cleanliness (laundering effectiveness). To date, 38 companies have had 89 of their plants certified. Another 16 companies are complying with initial testing requirements to certify 46 plants.
These pressures drive innovation and increase efficiencies among professional laundry operators, says Hart at Kannegiesser USA, who adds that the move to modernise has been complemented by the continued low interest rate environment of the financial markets and an easing of credit.
The availability of credit has in particular benefited the coin-operated laundry sector. However, Mike Floyd at Continental Girbau says it is the textile rental business that is creating new opportunities for the company.
"The vended laundry business is up significantly, while the commercial on-premise sector is somewhat flat," says Floyd. "All the sectors seem to prefer higher quality linen, which means that linen care and finish is becoming increasingly important."
He says laundry operators are now seeking water-efficient machines to drive down costs and which may also qualify for government rebates.
The company formed a partnership with Lavatec Laundry Technology in October 2014, which will enable them to collaborate, expand and improve their offering to customers in the North American market. "Lavatec now has an excellent finishing line and Girbau Industrial has a much expanded tunnel washer line," Floyd says.

Environmental regulation
Environmental regulation has always been strict in the North American market and continues to be so. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) closely monitor the industry in the USA.
"Overall, I think that we as an industry have worked well with both of these agencies to develop more environmentally friendly and safer ways to process textiles," says David Netusil , sales support and marketing manager at Jensen USA.
Netusil commends how the TRSA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked together on the phasing out of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in order to minimise the disruption to the industry. The EPA has issued a significant new use rule for NPEs, which came into effect on 30 September 2014 and will apply for the reporting year beginning 1 January 2015.
In addition, low nitrogen oxide (NOx) requirements in certain parts of the USA are impacting on sales of equipment involving gas burning, including boilers, dryers and other equipment and this has added costs for laundry operators that acquire new equipment.
Helping laundries find more efficient ways of washing has been a focus for Christeyns, which launched into the USA in 2012. "With Compact One, our way of washing differs strongly from what we find out here," says Rudi Moors, president of Christeyns Laundry Technology. "The laundry industry is not yet used to the idea of a chemical vendor being a partner that takes the initiative and that looks a bit further than the wash room."
Moors predicts that use of the organic bleaching agent peracetic acid will continue to grow in the region and that it will become the most important bleaching agent within 5 – 10 years. "Low temperature washing will be an integral part of this trend," he adds.
While some communities have implemented carbon taxes to encourage conservation, there has not been widespread adoption of these measures in the USA. "This leaves the Clean Water Act (CWA) as the environmental law affecting laundries most – but not uniformly," explains Koepper at the TRSA. "If a local sewer authority is ill-equipped to clean the wastewater it receives in sewage from homes and businesses to CWA standards, difficult limits will be set on discharges from laundries and other businesses. Even local authorities that don’t have such problems will surcharge laundries based on the chemical composition of their discharges simply to generate municipal revenues. This is a city-by-city issue with isolated difficulties for the industry, not a national trend."
For industrial plants with shop towel work, Clean Air Act compliance is a nationwide concern, Koepper says. Federal environmental officials are beginning to require laundries to obtain air discharge permits based on their potential to emit (PTE) volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to the air. "For years, the EPA recognised that most laundries’ PTE is insignificant as they don’t process enough shop towels to approach VOC discharge limits. But some have high shop towel volumes and need permits, prompting the agency to investigate and impose rules on all businesses that process this product.
Laundries that calculated their PTE on existing shop towel volumes have been surprised with non-compliance charges that must be settled with their state environmental authorities or the EPA.

Switching from perc
Of course, it is the drycleaning industry that feels the greatest impact of the environmental regulation, although Mary Scalco, president of the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute, says environmental regulations affecting the textile care industry have been basically stagnant over the past several years and will likely remain that way. "California is the exception. Several years ago California regulated a phase-out of perc drycleaning and most recently instituted a ban on the use of stain removal agents that are considered VOCs."
Across North America, drycleaners that are updating their equipment are switching to non-perc systems. Scalco says the current breakdown in the industry is around 60 – 65% perc, 25 – 30% hydrocarbon and 5 – 15% GreenEarth and K4. The latest trend in drycleaning machine technology in the region involves heating the solvent used in the newer, non-perc cleaning solutions. "This technology is fairly new to the industry and there is still work being done to assess its viability," Scalco adds.
GreenEarth’s Tim Maxwell points out that trade associations are at their lowest membership levels in decades – both nationally and at the state level. "We are working with more landlords and property management companies that lease space to drycleaners to satisfy their requirements for less energy use on their properties," Maxwell says. "The landlords are becoming the de facto regulators when it comes to securing a drycleaning location in most of the USA." California remains GreenEarth’s busiest market with over 300 affiliate locations in the state.
Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing manager for Renzacci says that there are very dynamic areas that will demand the new solvents – and the company is preparing to take advantage of them. It opened an office in Chicago in 2014 and Niccolini says Renzacci USA will play an important role in enabling the company to establish its position in North America. "We have had a presence in the region since 1974 but we want to be able to offer a more comprehensive service." This includes supporting drycleaners to help them meet the regulations that impact not only on the choice of machine but also on the shop’s location. Regulations are particularly severe in areas such as New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Niccolini says:"The building has to respond to legislative requirements and this increases business costs."
Niccolini and other suppliers are looking forward to the Clean Show, which will take place in Atlanta in April 2015. Cost reduction through energy saving, automation and process improvement will feature alongside alternative solvents and tips for meeting environmental standards.
Phil Hart at Kannegiesser USA says: "With the Clean Show’s return to a four-day exhibit schedule, we feel that there will be ample time for operators to visit the show and have truly substantive discussions with a variety of suppliers."

HEALTHCARE LAUNDRY: Jensen USA developed this healthcare plant in Edmonton, Canada, for K-Bro Linen Systems, the provider of laundry and linen services for healthcare, hospitality and other commercial sectors. K-Bro has large processing plants in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria, employing over 1,600 people