Training, the future of textile rental and the TSA’s role in promoting better marketing were high on the agenda. In his opening address Ken Bowman, management development director, of Rentokil Initial, explained his company’s philosophy. He told the conference “Our ambition is to substantially outperform the FTSE 100 in our sector. This means we need well-motivated, well-trained people generating a consistent drive for profit with high-quality delivery.” With 1.5 million customers and 130 000 employees on four continents, the company is a substantial player in the business support market.

Mr Bowman continued “The stock market used to expect 20% profit growth from us. Now, as the market develops, we are much more realistically focused on 10 to15%.” He explained that branch managers were responsible for delivering profit and every salesman had to “own” his performance target.

“At all levels, managers are released for training, everyone has an annual appraisal and knows exactly where he fits. He will also know what areas he is weak in and where he is strong.” The training theme continued with the second speaker, Dr. Richard Neale, who introduced the new series of laundry supervisory management courses to be run in Scotland at the request of the Scottish TSA members.

The courses start with a three-day residential event giving specific training on energy usage, water conservation and effective use of labour. It will include candidate evaluation and the awarding of certificates. Candidates qualify for significant grant aid from the Worshipful Company of Launderers.

Striking a different note, Peter Robinson, MD of Johnson Apparelmaster looked to the future of the textile rental industry. He told the conference that the industry was in danger of moving backwards not forwards. During the period between 1988 to 1998, growth in the rental market value had been below inflation. He stressed that the industry must now refocus on the services it offered.

“The industry has to address and confront shifts and changes in the marketplace and look outside for growth to combat the curent shrinkage. Automation will increase, e-commerce will grow, internal and external systems will become much more sophisticated. We will see small, multi-drop services, direct sales of ‘fashion’ conscious workwear and contributions from the leisure sector. All will be driving the changes.” TSA chief executive, Murray Simpson outlined the association’s current plans. He said that in 1998, the association had decided to ramp up its services to members, and this was now in progress.

“We have initiated in-depth research into the commercial laundry business, to assess its potential and to define the perceived business. The research will be funded from reserves.

“Research into hotel flatwork has been completed through commissioning lengthy interviews with 1000 hotel guests. We have used the key findings to create a marketing initiative for our members, putting them in partnership with hotels.The TSA has also instituted benchmarking for energy, water and performance.

“We have lobbied strongly, with other organisations, to try to change the policy of ‘NHS First’. We have also initiated a permanent campaign to create a bigger and better membership for the TSA, because size does matter when we talk to government. To this end we have appointed Chris Minchin to be our new membership sales manager.” The contribution from the SNP speaker was disappointing. The named speaker had been changed more than once and the substitute’s substitute arrived late, spoke briefly about the function of the new Scottish parliament and left.

The final speaker was a distinguished Glaswegian lawyer, Len Murray. His advice to the conference was “laugh every day as though it were your last”. Amusing and witty, but probably best delivered while the port was being passed at a golf club dinner.