Charles Betteridge, vice president, global corporate accounts at Christeyns and chairman of the UK Textile Services Association. (TSA) moderated a session at the recent ETSA Congress in Rome to debate the ‘new normal’. The panel included Thomas Krautschneider from Salesianer , Juha Laurio from Lindström, Marcel Willems from TenCate, Miguel Pablo from Chainge and Joseph Ricci, pictured, from TRSA, the North American linen rental association. So just how did laundries cope in Covid?

Willems explained  he operates in different markets to his fellow panelists – Asia and Africa. “Out of 100 laundries, none closed and the industry was valued during the crisis.” However, Krautschneider observed that different states gave different aid and different sectors fared differently. “Hospital laundries saw a big dip, but hospitality came to a complete halt and were in general very badly hit.”

Ricci said things were very similar in the USA. “Geography was a big factor. Some laundries shut down. In healthcare the lack of elective surgery was a big factor but now they are 90-92% per cent recovered.

“Hospitality will not be bouncing back until business travel starts again, including commuters because people working from home. New York is a prime example. There is frustration and that will lead to consolidation,” prophesied Ricci. On sustainability, it was good to hear from Ricci that TRSA looks to Europe and the UK for inspiration, which he says is well ahead of the curve in this area.

Lario commented: “We are back to 2019 levels, but the mixture of travellers is very different. Business travellers are not yet back. Hotels may be busy in different areas than before…it is harder for them to adjust to this situation. But then we are hearing the pandemic is gone, but at same time, look at China, where restrictions are still very much in place.”

Pablo pointed out that although there was a drop in demand because of elective surgery being put on hold, there was a massive increase in demand for PPE gowns where the industry reacted in a good way to help out. “The whole supply chain coming from China collapsed a and then we saw the local supply chain reprocessing. I do hope this message is picked up. Hopefully people won’t forget when the supply chain picks up again,” he said.

Willems commented on his particular market saying he is still seeing the automotive sector suffering, but utilities are picking up quickly. “However,” he explained, “after cutting back on ordering during the pandemic to adjust stock levels, we’re having problems now to adjust up. It is quite a challenge. Hyper-inflation is a factor and it will last quite a while after the effects of the pandemic.”

On attracting labour back to laundries post-pandemic, Krautschneider said: “People are not queuing up in front of the plants. The labour market is tight. In Dublin (ETSA Congress 2019) we were discussing this then. Covid has not been beneficial to any sector in this regard.”

Nevertheless, he believes there are some positive outcomes to be laid at Covid’s door. New products, for example.  “In the first weeks and months of Covid, hospitality laundries were sewing masks and gowns…and these new products are here to stay. Hygiene in our DNA and is now so important in hotels where we might expect a shift from OPL [to industrial laundries] where there aren’t the same hygiene standards [which would lead to] investment in machinery and personnel. It is not all bad for linen,” he said.