The hospitality market is thriving bring benefits for the textile suppliers and rental laundries that serve it.
Richard Yates, sales director at Linen Connect says the hospitality industry has been extremely busy this year. Many key chains have expanded and occupancy has been very solid.
Tourism, business conferences and even growth in domestic travel have led to this success and the South East in particular has been growing strongly. As a result, Yates reports that his company’s activities have expanded.
Raj Ruia at Richard Haworth is similarly pleased. He believes the positive fallout of the Olympic Games is still being enjoyed two years later. In addition, this year’s Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games have both afforded the UK excellent global recognition and encouraged yet more people to visit – be it for a short break or an extended holiday.
As a result he feels the cautious optimism he felt last year was founded. Occupancy rates at hotels are high and laundries are busy.
The UK is proving popular not just with tourists from abroad but as a holiday venue for its residents. Summer has generally been good.

Chris Kingsford at Tonrose reports that RevPar (revenue per available room) is increasing by 10% on average across the UK, leading to confidence that the market has recovered to pre-downturn levels. This will also generate increased volumes for the laundry industry. He adds that several large hotels are expanding their portfolio, notably Whitbread, Travelodge and Accor and Premier Inn has announced that it will open a new hotel every 10 days in 2014. This will all help to increase laundry volumes.

At Hilden, commercial director Rod Nutter says that demand for linen is now increasing as hotel group contracts are seeing progress this year. In Ireland a tourist initiative to promote the attractions of diving, fishing and walking in the West and the country’s lower VAT rate is leading to higher bed occupancy, another driver of linen sales.
These signals of a buoyant hospitality sector are having a positive impact on both suppliers and on the rental market.
David Stevens director of the Brilliant Laundry Group and managing director of Paragon Laundries observes that the general state of the UK market is underpinning the sense of stability that began to emerge last year. There is steady growth across most of the recognised hotel brands and he expects this to develop further over the coming years, particularly in the budget sector.
Asked specifically about the bed linen market, he says: "Bed linen is a fundamental part of our business and is used for hotels, B&Bs and serviced apartments alike." He adds that the rise of serviced apartments has led hotels to up their game and provide guests with more reasons to stay with them rather than choosing an apartment, so they may provide more luxurious bedding or offer a night’s extra stay.
From the textile rental operator’s view he adds that a stabilisation in the cotton prices, has helped with budget planning and generally costs have remained relatively stable. we expect this to continue for the next six months or so.
Still, the market has brought some challenges for the textile suppliers. Yates at Linen Connect says that the raw material side of the supply chain involves a huge range of factors – cotton prices, oil, freight and energy and other costs all influence the cost of goods. However thanks to the company’s excellent buying team,Yates says Linen Connect is proud to keep prices stable for the customers while also maintaining the levels of quality and stock and the service that the customer depends on.
Kingsford at Tonrose says the bed linen market has grown considerably from the supplier’s viewpoint. Still maintaining continuity of supply can be an ongoing challenge. Hotels may add extra rooms or carry out refurbishments that include changes to bed sizes.
Suppliers need to keep up to date with such plans so they can make sure they have the right stock for their laundry customers, bearing in mind these factors and a growing desire to upgrade stocks with the expectation that higher qualities are available at short notice. He adds that 200 thread linen, once seen as a higher grade is becoming a standard, and some customers are asking for bespoke products. Tonrose has recently been asked to supply a checked fabric and one with a finer stripe to laundries seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Ruia at Richard Haworth notes that hotel customers are becoming more demanding than during last year. Hotels realise that guests often check sites such as Trip Advisor before booking, so they want to avoid bad reviews.
He says:"Bedlinen is crucial in an industry where competition has rarely been fiercer.
"Laundries have been updating old stocks this year and increasingly introducing better quality product to satisfy the hotel customer’s demands in every detail."
So percales are now standard rather than being limited to high-end establishments as they used to be until fairly recently. The percales range includes the 200 thread Blenheim, and the 400 thread Hampton. Both products are proving popular, particularly as they have Richard Haworth’s special Optima finish, which repels moisture while the linen is on the bed, making it easier to wet-out completely in laundering. This makes it especially attractive for laundries in a market needing quick turnrounds and products that meet higher expectations.

Rod Nutter at Hilden sees demand for larger linen sizes as the most significant change in customer requirement. Otherwise, he says, requirements remain broadly similar to those of previous years.
Richard Yates at Linen Connect says that bed linen sales have improved significantly this year. Blended products are still the standard product, but he notes that hotels are introducing fuller pillows and duvets and deeper mattresses, and linen sizes have had to change to accommodate these. However fashion trends have not really changed. White is still the colour of choice either plain or in a classic satin stripe design. The company has plans to introduce a further development to its portfolio next year but cannot give details as yet. He does say that customers are now demanding increased product performance and the company is investing heavily in the latest laboratory and testing equipment to meet this requirement.

Stevens at Paragon and the Brilliant Group explains how customer requirements are affecting linen rental businesses such as his own. He says that as hotel guests will come into physical contact with bed linen on a daily basis, they expect to have clean bed linen and towels as a minimum requirement.
He continues: "The first impression of linen is widely reported as being top of a guest’s list of priorities, so it is essential that we supply hoteliers and other hospitality venues with clean, crisp bed linen and soft, luxurious towels."
The laundries customer expectations have probably remained constant and can be summarised with three key service level requirements: The right quantity, the right quality and on time. Sounds easy!!
However, says Stevens: "We are starting to see a trend for some of the key brands to specify a unique range of bed linen for their hotels and this raises specific operational challenges for a laundry that is used to producing pool stock.
"We have certainly had to review both our procedures and technology to facilitate this, with RFID, radio frequency identification, being part of the solution."
The use of RFID also relates to a linen security, a serious problem for the laundry industry and its customers.
Textile suppliers have recognised this and also seen that RFID can be a solution, especially for larger laundries.
Richard Yates at Linen Connect says that RFID is helping customers to monitor linen and the company has been and will continue to advise customers that want to install it.
He adds that the company aims to understand how this and other advanced technologies can generate increased yield and value.

Rod Nutter at Hilden sees RFID as a topic of real interest in many laundries and over the last year it has developed to a point where the company is now beginning to stock chipped product in readiness for future demand.
Stevens says that linen theft and loss is one of the laundry industry’s biggest problems which is slowly being addressed thanks to support from the hospitality industry. He says his company is already trialing this technology with many hoteliers, both in the UK and also in the Middle East, and he sees it as one of the one of the most significant innovations in helping laundries to eliminate theft.
It promotes better linen management from the hotelier and the laundry and improves efficiency and ultimately the service to the hotel.
Summing up, he says it is a win/win solution if applied correctly.