All that glisters...21 August 2023
...isnt gold. The glitz and glamour of the Coronation added a much-needed shine to the background of a lacklustre economy but despite difcult trading conditions UK laundries continue to survive and show resilience. Eugene Gerden and Kathy Bowry report
The UK has been under the cosh in the past few years, not only because of the Covid pandemic and the subsequent slow recovery from it, the Ukraine war and the other factors affecting textile care operators globally – supply chain shortages, energy prices, road fuel, labour shortages –but also because of Brexit (yes, that continues to have repercussions and even committed leavers are beginning to have misgivings now, see box overleaf).
Compounding the depressing scenario is the abject failure of the Government to bring down inflation to manageable levels. The current rate is stuck at 8.7% and despite a hike in interest rates by the Bank of England in June to 5%, the fear is this will not do much other than make things even more difficult to keep costs down for businesses
Laundry operators who take a long-term view may take comfort from a prediction by an industry expert on energy. But they may not. Some energy take-aways from the recent Textile Services Association (TSA) Spring Conference were served up by Paul Dilley of Fox Energy, the TSA’s go-to expert. His presentation, entitled ‘The UK energy crisis: What next?’, initially set out the reasons why the past couple of years have gone from slow simmer to a full roiling boil in the energy cauldron of horror.
However, he says, the heat is now being turned down a little – but warns don’t expect things to return to anything like pre-Covid levels until things finally rebalance in 2026-27.
So how do global laundry and drycleaning operators and suppliers regard the UK market? Well, quite positively as it happens.
Interviews by LCNi’s Eugene Gerden indicate major players are expanding their operations in the UK, taking into account its specifics and the everchanging consumer trends. The UK market has always been among the priority for major players, the development of which continued even during the times of the pandemic and record energy prices, which put a significant pressure on the industry.
As TSA CEO David Stevens aid at the recent TSA Spring Conference: “People matter, or, a lack of people matters even more. It’s not just a UK problem, European colleagues are dealing with the same issue.” Because of staff shortages in the laundry businesses have been considering various options to solve this problem. The solution to this problem along with regular expansion of portfolios with the introduction of innovative products could be one of the keys to success in the highly competitive UK market. AI, integrated laundries with advanced software and sustainability built-in all have their part to play to keep it all on target.
Kannegiesser pins big hopes on the development of its UK business. As Selwyn Burchhardt from Kannegiesser UK recounts, Kannegiesser has been successful in the UK market over recent years with particular reference to new builds and major refurbishments mainly achieved by conducting regular consultations with customers to understand their exact requirements and to offer the equipment to meet those needs.
Echoing TSA concerns he adds that the two major challenges the company face for the laundry market in the UK are labour availability and cost of energy.
“For the first, Kannegiesser is developing systems to improve throughput and in certain cases automate the process to reduce the reliance on labour. We now have an interesting installation processing more than 5,000 towels per hour where the towel is touched twice – once in soiled sorting and then again when stacked clean and ready to place on the laundry cart back to the customer – the process in between in now completely automated from loading into the washing system, drying and folding process.
“The second challenge is to reduce energy requirements within the laundry and Kannegiesser have many opportunities of offering the required equipment to reduce energy consumption. Whether it is utilising heat from the washing effluent to heat up the incoming water or air recirculation within the dryers and tunnel finishers there are many opportunities that Kannegiesser can share with their customers to reduce their energy consumption. Furthermore, Kannegiesser has been offering green laundry energy saving concepts for many years as the original ideas were developed at the Kannegiesser exhibition back in 2007.”
“All the Kannegiesser equipment supplied incorporates latest state of the art energy saving systems. In fact the Kannegiesser PowerDry when supplied with Eco-2-Power Energy Saving Package can reduce energy consumption by 20% for full dry work (i.e. towels) when compared with the standard Kannegiesser dryer. We have developed a very strong after sales service department which has complemented our ability to give our customers a total full enhancing sales and support capability.”
Most of the companies interviewed said one of the most stratregic achievements in the UK market this year was the return to prepandemic sales and performance figures, an important consideration for them.
At the same time, David Winter, general manager, Jensen UK, said the company is pleased with the number of developments in the UK market which have been introduced in recent months, with a further expansion of its local business and presence.
He comments: “We have undertaken several massive installations for laundries handling garments. Laundries located in the big city areas of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other big cities often face limited space and/or a high cost for land. That makes the Metricon transportation and sorting system for garments a perfect choice; it ensures a perfect flow of washed garments between the individual workstations and makes use of formerly unused space under the ceiling.
“The new MetriQ loading station is very popular among British laundries, because of its ergonomic design and unique buttons-tothe- front feature which enables the efficient loading of garments with openings on the back. This is a great advantage to NHS and other healthcare laundries, as it facilitates a mixed production of uniforms, scrubs and patient gowns, without time loss when moving to the opposite side. We see hygienic requirements becoming stricter in most areas, especially in hospital supply, and a great demand for our MediLine tunnel washer, which has no water recovery tanks and complies with the Medical Device Directive. Quite a few MediLine tunnel washers are being supplied this year, and we see a growing trend for this model.”
According to Winter, the greatest challenges the company faces in the UK market are shortage of labour, rising energy costs and a growing need for hygienic solutions. “Automation and robotics are generating great interest and will be areas for growth: Only highly automated laundries will be able to reach their sustainability goals. Automation also impacts the energy bill; if there are no micro-stops or time offsets thanks to a continuous product flow, the machines can be utilised to their fullest. That’s why laundries in the UK are investing in automation as well as in retrofitting or replacing old equipment with a poor energy footprint. With automation and robotics, we are lifting the entire laundry industry to the next level: delegating some menial tasks to machines, and ensuring that the remaining jobs are safe and attractive.”
Miele Professional, in recent months has significantly upped the efficiency of its operations to better meet the needs of local customers. Simon Venn, country sales manager Great Britain and Ireland says the company has been working to help its customers to become more sustainable and more economical.
“This is achieved by developing products that use lower consumption rates than previous generations, provide shorter cycles whilst still delivering thorough results, and ensuring our washing and drying programme offerings suit their unique needs. With the biggest impact of products happening during use, Miele has focused on efficiencies wherever possible.
For example, heat pump dryers are 60% more efficient than conventional technology versions, he says: “The variable speed pump from the PLW86 Series saves 29% in water consumption; and Benchmark washing machines are designed to perform to perfection for over 30,000 hours of operation. At Miele, we are also developing technology to help create further cost efficiencies for our customers. Our latest software, Miele MOVE, is centred around the data collected from laundry cycles to provide laundry managers more oversight over operations and to inform where improvements can be made.”
According to Venn, the company has been working towards a circular value chain with net zero waste for all materials used in appliances, while all Miele locations are carbon neutral and Miele Great Britain has achieved Zero Waste to Landfill certification.
Venn also believes that while the laundry and drycleaning industry has traditionally been a stable sector in the UK, businesses are now choosing laundries that are more sustainable and economical.
The company, however, faces some major challenges in the UK, such as the cost-of-living crisis as this is causing businesses to be more mindful about the money they spend. Venni continues: “While the situation doesn’t seem to be easing in the foreseeable, there are decisions businesses can make. One of our care customers, for example, recently streamlined its laundry management and made projected savings of around £100k by calculating everything from staff productivity and machine downtime, to washing and drying cycles being used.”
Meanwhile, Thomas Zeck, commercial director of Kreussler Textile Care, is happy with performamance for the company in the UK. “Similar to the development in Germany, for example, the end of restrictions connected with Covid show in rising numbers of travellers, both business and pleasure, so the market in processing hotel and restaurant textiles is bouncing back. Workers returning to the office spike a demand for clean and pressed business wear, benefiting the numerous drycleaners. Together with our dedicated partner Clean Supply, our exclusive distributor in the UK for PTC, and the incessant work of our technical service representatives, we brought numerous new customers onboard early in 2023, with a healthy list of new installs to go.”
Particular attention by Kreussler Textile Care is onthe launch of innovative solutions and applications in the UK.
John Balman, director of business development, Europe for Alliance Laundry Systems also confirmed this, saying: “Among our achievements are the continuation of the rise of unit volumes shipped into the country, the successful introduction of connectivity solutions Finally, we introduced our Speed Queen condenser dryer, called C-Dryer, successfully in the UK. It is the fastest professional condenser dryer on the market made in Europe.” The company expects that the UK market will continue to grow in the years to come and focus will be on energy saving solutions. And, ‘connectivity’ will grow in importance.
“We expect in the years to come that all units will be connected, allowing operators to better and more efficiently manage their operations.”
Finally, Tabish Aiman managing director of TexID, the UK distributor for Stahl, ThermoTex and Barbanti in the UK and Ireland said the company has witnessed several market changes over the last three years. “For the first half of 2023, we have started intital planning for several projects, both RFID and laundry equipment for drycleaners and laundries. This upward trend is very welcome after two years of no/flat growth.
“Though demand for drycleaning and laundry services have been on a steady decline over the past two decades; the attrition of available outlets, shops and commercial laundries permanently closed, has led to increases in both pieces processed and sales price achieved since the start of the year. Challenges, as an industry, include loss of semi-skilled staff as Eastern Europeans repatriate after Brexit, much higher raw material costs, glut of used laundry equipment preventing normal sales of new equipment as well as higher wage demands/smaller available labour pool,” he concludes.
BREXIT SUPPORT U-TURNS?
At a TSA event in February for the top echelon of laundry businesses, Sir John Curtice presented a paper on the vexed question of Brexit and its repercussions three years on. He is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, and Senior Research Fellow, NatCen Social Research and the ESRC’s ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative. He is also a familiar gure from countless appearances on BBC elections specials as the resident statistician.
Curtice said now the economy has tanked, it is very hard for the Government to convince the public it is delivering on Brexit. “It’s a different zeitgeist to 2016. The decision to leave was sharply divided by age – 18-24-year-olds were mainly in favour of remain while the over 65s were for leaving. That average prole now shows a move to pro-EU. Around one third of the movement can be attributable to the demographic change as younger leave voters change their minds and a number of the original older leave voters are sadly no longer with us.”
Curtice said when asked in a recent survey whether Brexit is causing labour market shortages 25% said no and others said it is only part of the story. “However, the cries of the hospitality [and textile care] industry have not yet been recognised by the. Government.”
Summing up, he said that the Conservative Party (currently in government) is still in favour of Brexit and won’t change its mind. Labour (main opposition) and the Liberal Democrats have decided not to continue the argument about Brexit. However, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is and was against leaving and is still calling for independence. “Over the next two years, your guess is as good as mine,” concluded Curtice.