Marshall: Armstrong is extremely well established in the marketplace and enjoys a strong position, but how are you finding the general business climate at present? Lowes: We are very positive. However, for many laundry equipment manufacturers and distributors, the effects of the last recession havefinally come home to roost.

Too much rationalisation, too many plant closures, too few customers, too much secondhand equipment on the market and too much discounting have all reduced the number of UK manufacturers and distributors to only a handful of serious contenders.

In the industrial laundry sector especially, much has changed from 20 years ago when a business could charge a decent price per piece—the resulting profit enabling launderers to invest in new equipment.

Marshall: Armstrong was founded in 1878—can you tell me why the company is still ahead in the game? Lowes: We have always been at the forefront of equipment innovation. Don’t forget that we installed the first Voss batch tunnel washer system in the UK, which in itself followed on from our world famous semi-automated tipper washer systems.

Today, I’m pleased to say, we leave batch automated tunnel equipment to others whilst remaining, in every other respect, a full line laundry equipment supplier.

But the real answer to your question, I am sure, lies in our flexible capability to deal with customers in so many different market sectors and in an ethical commitment to back any equipment we sell with the kind of serious technical support that is so necessary when little new blood is entering the industry.

Marshall: Are you, perhaps, referring there, amongst other things, to CE requirements? Lowes: They certainly are vitally important, although, I am sorry to say, they are still consistently flouted by some manufacturers and distributors who view them as a needless cost increase on their products. Research necessary to understand exactly which regulations apply, and how to correctly interpret them, has been time-consuming and problematic over the last few years and these factors have been unhelpful.

However, let me add that those companies which have faced up properly to meeting CE regulations will reap great rewards.

On our own ranges, changes have been made to bring products fully into line with the new Standards required, and, in conjunction with the manufacturers, we have taken the opportunity to incorporate product features wanted by our customers but which were not available before.

Marshall: Can you give me an example? Lowes: Certainly. Our Loadstar tumblers from Huebsch and Speed Queen between 25 lb and 35 lb capacity—the drum volume is between 220 and 350 litres—are completely new. Features include low voltage controls, positive action tamper-proof door switches and third party approved gas systems.

The new design also takes a major leap forward in performance, giving energy savings of over 20% with no loss of drying performance. The machines are also more compact and less tall—important considerations when space is so often at a premium in the laundry room.

I should also mention that all Loadstars are exceptional value for money and nowhere is this more true than in the case of 120 lb and 170 lb models in commercial or hospital laundry applications.

Marshall: I am very interested in what you say about dryer performance, but can you prove such savings.

Lowes: Absolutely. The Loadstar test of a 35 lb gas-heated model with 30/30 drum was compared against the old model 30/30 Loadstar it replaced—the test was conducted for us in May this year by the FCRA and was based on International Test Standard ISO 7772. It showed that between 21% and 27% less gas is used, depending on the load being dried.

Marshall: Fair enough. What other products have benefited from a recent re-design? Lowes: Unimac washer-extractors were already fully CE compliant, but is it worth mentioning how excited we are about Unimac’s new range of UW washer-extractors—these are unique hybrid washers which combine the longevity of a floor secured machine with the high performance of a free-standing washer at remarkably low prices for an industrial quality machine.

Thanks to an incredibly versatile microprocessor, they are suitable for any laundry process including wetcleaning operations—with minimal modifications. I should also say that the UW through-door spray rinse system is an incredible time saver which, due to shorter cycle times, can give up to 40 days’ extra production per machine per annum on an eight hour daily basis when compared with a conventional bath rinse-only washer. Think of the money that feature alone can save customers over the lives of their machines. This sort of performance and efficiency gain is typical of the key design targets being pursued by the likes of Speed Queen and Unimac in the US, and Lapauw in Europe.

Marshall: What developments are there from Lapauw? Lowes: It has a superb product range. The Laco Eco ironer, which is available with a roll diameter from 500 mm to 1200 mm and a working width from 2 m to 3.3 m, can be supplied as a return feed or straight-through machine. The Laco Eco has an inverter drive and built-in hydraulic pumps for adjustable bed-to-roll pressure.

Combining correct temperature and high bed-to-roll pressure delivers excellent ironing quality. Of course, a particular benefit with this gas-heated machine is that the purchase of a steam generator is unnecessary for the small laundry—or for a large laundry where the boiler is on maximum output. Indeed, for a large plant in such a situation, the ironer could be introduced without consideration having to be given to replacing the boiler.

Another new offering from Lapauw, an example of which was recently installed by us at Bourne Services, is a Super Reverse 1600 ironer which incorporates the principle already established on Lapauw’s Triquarter ironer—three beds on one 1600 mm roll—together with an extra roll with a single bed to iron the reverse side of the sheet. This is an arrangement which combines maximum performance with super quality.

Marshall: Do you offer other products that might be of particular interest to commercial launderers? Lowes: An analysis of the Armstrong range would not be complete without mention of our Amazon towel winder—which was developed and patented by Jack Boyle of Buckleigh Laundry. It is an extremely useful and economic piece of equipment, bolting directly onto any existing folding machine or, in the case of a dedicated roller towel ironing line, onto the rear of the ironer. Normally supplied as a 10 or 11 lane machine, a smaller four lane model is available for the smaller contract run. Our towel flaker is a substantially built, freestanding unit of single, two or three lane operation to work with the towel winder.

Marshall: What is Armstrong’s policy on spares and service? Lowes: Spare parts are especially important for the customer, who needs to be certain that the machine bought today will still have parts available 10 or even 20 years hence.

We make a point of ensuring that our spares inventory can cope with spares enquiries concerning machines which have seen long service. Also, we only stock genuine manufacturers’ parts for obvious reasons.

We do try very hard to ensure a rapid despatch of parts. Delivery of a part should be within 24 hours of an order being received. Everyone is familiar with “just in time” delivery, and nowhere is this more important than in the spares supply chain.

As I indicated earlier, we take service very seriously, and our in-house technical department and service engineers are fully supported nationally by locally based Armstrong approved dealers fully capable of looking after the customer’s best interests as they will invariably have had engineers on our machine courses at Newbury.

Marshall: Briefly, what are your goals for the future? Lowes: To continue to develop our different businesses in a sensible and sustainable way, and to serve the industry in the best possible manner.