Electrolux Laundry Systems is part of the Electrolux Group. For the general public Electrolux is probably best known for its vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and numerous other electrical products and white goods. Only last year the company made the world’s headlines with an automatic vacuum cleaner that guides itself around your house using ultrasound, returning to a charging station when it’s low on power before resuming its duties.

Innovation has also punctuated Electrolux Laundry Systems 100-year history, the latest being the Generation 3000 professional laundry range launched barely two years ago. Success has followed. Over the last few years Electrolux Laundry Systems has undergone something of a renaissance that has made it, in many ways, a completely new company It has a new professional laundry product range, a new way of thinking about its customers and a new way of doing business. That is not to say the company has started afresh – its 100th anniversary, which occurs this month, is of immense significance to everyone at the company. But it has looked closely at its entire method of operation and changed a great deal.

Bert Nordholm, Electrolux Laundry Systems’s president, started with the company 14 years ago as plant manager at the washer-extractor production plant in Ljungby, Sweden. His knowledge and experience of washer-extractors is consequently among the best in the industry. Mr Nordholm became the president in 1999 and has overseen one of the most notable periods in the company’s long history.

He explains to LCN that when he joined Electrolux Laundry Systems in 1988 it was one of the few companies in the business that had a concept solution, despite having a broad range of equipment. Mr Nordholm says: “We needed to organise ourselves to understand what our customers want and to serve them in the best way.” Between 1994 and 1998, notes Mr Nordholm, the company tried to adapt its products to create customer solutions. Mr Nordholm says: “We knew we could tailor our existing products to customers but it involved a lot of time.” It was during this period that the notion of a modular product range became more attractive, not least because it meant the lead time for the supply of new products could be reduced. That Electrolux has a record of product innovation both encouraged Mr Nordholm to pursue the development programme that eventually led to the Generation 3000 range and meant the company was naturally predisposed to such a ground-breaking – and expensive – development phase. A large investment has been made in product development and new tooling.

Design goals of the Generation 3000 project were: efficiency in terms of reduced energy and water usage; ergonomics, sizes and controls; and, of course, quality. The success of the new range has not been measured only in sales. The company recently won a prestigious Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award for the way the range combined innovation, form, materials, construction, concept and function in an original manner.

Mr Nordholm explains that there are new demands in the market. For example, he says, financing has become more important and customers are looking increasingly for one-stop-shop suppliers. He says: “Our customers are both large and small professional laundries and there are market niches where we need to produce solutions, such as for fire brigades, healthcare clean room processes and management systems for chains of launderettes. We are in the front line of what is happening. We are much more a solution provider today than 10 years ago.” Jim Evans, head of new business development, adds: “Hotels are now very aware that a customer’s first impressions are formed to a large extent by the cleanliness of the hotel room and that’s why the quality of linen and towelling are important. It’s a large component of what a customer expects.” Globally, says Mr Nordholm, markets are very different. It is the same equipment base, but different solutions are required. In Japan, for example, where the company has been active for 40 years, the biggest area is coin-op, followed by on-premises laundries at retirement homes and healthcare institutions. In China, by contrast, the biggest area for the company is the big international hotel chains, and the emphasis is on local manufacturing.

Today, says Bert Nordholm, the company is focusing on organic growth. During the ’80s, the company grew only by acquisition. But, he adds, Electrolux Laundry Systems is flexible and prepared should “something come up”. The company has been organised to concentrate on what it calls its core segment – professional laundries. “We can supply hotels with our core equipment”, says Mr Nordholm, “and even if it’s 1,000 rooms we can provide the right solutions for our customers because of the agreements we have with our partners.” Electrolux Laundry Systems has changed dramatically not only in the last 100 years, but in the last 10 years too. Speaking to Bert Nordholm it’s clear that the company is looking forward to meeting the needs of its changing markets in the future.