The economy of the Benelux countries continues to improve, with GDP in the Netherlands up 3% in Q3 2017 compared with Q3 2016, according to Statistics Netherlands; the National Bank of Belgium reported GDP up 1.7% on the previous year’s results; and Luxembourg’s national statistics agency Statec reported a 3.2% rise in Q3 2017 GDP compared to the previous year.

However, comments Cees van Haasteren, regional director BeNeLux for Christeyns: “Businesses are struggling with very low prices. The biggest parties in Holland, CleanLease and Lips+, are closing sites – the trend is to go to two or three shifts.”

Eduard Molkenboer, managing director for Lips+, which was formed following a management buy-out of Synergy Health Textielservice and renamed in October 2017 says only supplying good textile care is no longer enough in the current market. “By providing extra services on our part (such as ‘Maatwerk in Persoonswas’, where a chip ensures that every item of clothing can be followed) our customers can work more efficiently and (cost) effectively. In this way, we are giving a concrete meaning to the ‘plus’ of Lips+,” he said at the announcement of the name change.

CleanLease is also looking to add value to what it does. “CleanLease had a focus on optimisation and process improvement in 2016 and 2017. Now we are through that, the company is ready to grow again,” says CEO Job Muller. “The three different segments CleanLease services in the Netherlands and Belgium (hospitals, care institutes and holiday parks) have different needs. CleanLease has developed value adding service models for each of the three different segments. For the one segment this is all about extra cost-effectiveness, for the other segment it is more about offering extra service towards consumer and/or support in an extra positive experience for guests during their stay at our clients.”

One area that where textile service providers can add value is in the growing area of home care in the Benelux region. “Because of the need for home care concepts (intramural care becomes extra mural care), the cleaning service to care institutes is shifting from a b-to-b to b-to-c business. This is a growth market segment, with a lot of opportunities for the professional laundry providers,” Muller says. “Organising (cost) efficient last mile distribution will be the challenge here.”


In-house laundries

While laundries in the region are merging into larger scale, more cost-efficient operations, some of the larger healthcare, care home and hospitality providers are investing in, or expanding, in-house laundries, according to Matthias Maes, sales manager Benelux for Alliance Laundry Systems. “A recent example is Interzorg, which has started building its own laundry where it will service over four tons of laundry per day, equipped with Alliance Laundry Systems equipment,” Maes explains. “Interzorg is a Dutch healthcare organisation with five facilities. It is currently building a new logistics centre where it will do all internal laundry (linen and clothes) of its residents as well as the employees its large industrial kitchen. It is the first in the sector to have such a large internal laundry facility. Our partner LaundryExpert has supported it on this entire project in collaboration with WSP who is responsible for the automation process of the laundry [WSP developed the Laundry Dashboard] and ‘Technisch Bureau Reijnders’ which specialises in renewable energy. This will be one of the most modern laundries in the entire Benelux.”

For some other healthcare providers in the region, the costs of meeting environmental and hygiene standards have rendered investment in in-house laundry an investment too far. “That is why laundry services are centralised into large external laundries,” says Ronny Belmans, general director HR, relations and purchasing for Belgian textile service provider Clova, which recently completely modernised its factory in Wommelgem in collaboration with Jensen, incorporating highly automated processes from start to finish.


Gaining productivity

Clova services the Belgian healthcare sector with flatwork and hospital garments (rental linen), and personal garments for elderly people’s residential homes. Belmans says the goal for investing in a new installation was primarily to gain productivity in its laundry, improve quality and gain better control of its business (operators, utilities, linen, and so on). “Since we built the laundry initially we have grown considerably, but moreover our product portfolio has changed a lot: more bed covers, less flatwork to iron and we were in need of more dryer capacity. [The revamp] enabled us to enlarge the laundry and design it from new.”

All of its linen has UHF tags which enables each piece entering the laundry to be tracked. “Stock management can be done at customer article level, the history of washing monitored, and purchasing policy determined. But most importantly we can forecast information for our customers concerning consumption, cost control, and so on. The hospital market in Belgium is consolidating fast, so we need to be attentive on pricing, service and how we communicate with our customers.”

CleanLease is also exploring further automation/robotisation of its processes. It recently automated its ordering process, enabling clients to order their textiles on a daily basis by app or through its newly released online client portal. At the same time, it launched an electronic data interchange (EDI) application, which enables clients to automate payment processes. It has also run a pilot on RFID chipping on flat linen. “The results were very encouraging. This pilot will therefore be followed up,” Muller says, adding that CleanLease is planning further investment in scanning technology in 2018.


Sustainability a key driver

Sustainability is also a key driver in the region. In 2017, CleanLease was given a ‘high’ CSR rating in an independent audit by Spring Associates and it has joined the FIRA platform, which supports companies in improving their CSR practices and rates their performance. Clova’s revamped plant in Wommelgem has a new water purification system, all plastic is reusable, solar panels are installed on the roof, there is a fleet of new trucks that drive according to the latest European norms and rain water is used for washing.

In the Netherlands, Lips+ is collaborating with Breytner on the introduction of 100% electric vehicles equipped with solar panels. “ Lips+ is the first company within the textile care industry that has this form of transport,” the company says. “The aim [is] to improve the air quality in the city centre.”

In November the company won the Netherlands Textile Management Federation (FTN) Energy Award 2017, presented to companies that achieve significant energy savings.

Other laundries are also looking into using electric trucks in the big cities, according to van Haasteren, and Christeyns has a permit to drive 25.25-metre Eco Combi trucks in the Netherlands. In addition, he adds, laundries are increasingly turning to Christeyns’ Cool Chemistry to save water and energy and extend textile life and a number of wastewater purification plants have been built in Belgium by various laundries, while others are considering investing in them.

Maes cites Dutch laundry Lavans as one of the most eco-friendly laundries in Europe. Following a €10 million investment in 2013, it reduced its CO2 output by more than 60%. “One part of their investment was to change all their trucks into hybrids,” he explains. “Other initiatives are the installation of equipment for renewable energy (solar, filter systems, reusing warm waste water/warm air from dryers to heat fresh water etc.).


Tax incentive

To further help businesses become more sustainable, the Netherlands government’s Energie-investeringsaftrek (EIA: Energy Investment Allowance) scheme offers a tax incentive for investments in energy-efficient techniques and sustainable energy.

In the drycleaning sector, shops in the region are not only increasingly turning to alternative solvents but also increasingly recognising and promoting the environmental and other benefits that these solvents offer. As a result, says Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing director for Renzacci, turnover is on the up. “People are bringing in more garments to be cleaned thanks to the options available with alternative solvents and they are prepared to pay more,” he suggests. 

In addition, Niccolini adds, drycleaners in the Benelux are increasingly using wetcleaning ‘in the right way’ – ie, to complement the drycleaning service rather than replace it.

However, Niccolini says, many drycleaners are not attending the training sessions necessary to give them the required expertise regarding which techniques to use for which garments, especially when they switch from perc to alternative solvents. To help remedy this, Renzacci encourages its customers to go to one of its training campuses, located in a drycleaning shop, for intense training. Currently Benelux customers can travel to centres in Switzerland, France or Italy but it is planning to open its first training campus in the Benelux later this year.

Finding and retaining young, motivated staff is a real challenge for the sector, according to Ann Vande Kerckhove, general director of the Belgian Federation of Textile Care (FBT). The average age in the industry is high and recruiting young employees, the employers of the future, will be necessary to ensure the industry remains viable, she says.


Training initiatives

Meanwhile, FBT has developed a number of initiatives including TFTC (Training for Textile Care), which organises, coordinates and finances training for workers in the textile care sector, including laundry, drycleaning, laundromat and linen rental. Care4Quality, launched at the end of 2015, is a quality certification scheme for textile care companies working in the healthcare and food sectors. Care4Safe, on the other hand, is an initiative developed in collaboration with Febelsafe to ensure the highest standards of protection in the PPE sector.

CINET is also working on a number of initiatives to help modernise the sector, including Data2Move Laundry. In collaboration with the Technological Knowledge Center for Textile Care (TKT), it is exploring the opportunities that big data analysis and management can bring to the sector. The project is part of a larger consortium that includes Eindhoven University of Technology, companies from other sectors, big data experts and students and aims to develop techniques and models that will enable businesses to make better predictions using big data.

Finally, on the supplier front, in October 2017, Belgium based Lapauw completed the acquisition of the German laundry equipment company Transferon, expanding the range it offers, including tunnel washers.

The company said the Transferon team members and products would be integrated into a recently-created division of the Lapauw group, which will be responsible for the design and production of tunnel washers, presses, dryers and all other supporting equipment. Lapauw also further expanded its capacity with the opening of a new production factory in the Czech Republic.

It seems in Benelux that bigger is becoming the way to go – with sustainability and efficient increasingly automated processes occupying a clear position in the road ahead.