The first Textile Services Association conference since Autumn 2019 was a real zinger. At a time when circumstances seem to be conspiring against the industry to make tough times as tough as they possibly can be, it was like finding a huge sparkling diamond in a dung heap. Waves of positive energy emanated from the speakers behind the lectern and from delegates alike, despite the very serious situation of rocketing fuel costs, cotton hitting its highest prices, lack of tourists, labour shortages, shipping container costs spiralling ever upwards, and those examples are just a few of many dispiriting factors.
However, the commercial laundry and linen rental industry is made of stern stuff and TSA, under the leadership of CEO David Stevens, pictured, is determined to fulfil its remit to represent and support its members to the Nth degree. And what a great job that is.
TSA chair Charlie Betteridge opened the conference with a no-holds-barred summation of where the industry is right now. He told the room that for the TSA the onslaught of the pandemic was like facing Armageddon, and spoke of at the beginning of lockdown being at a loss as to what to do for the best. “What do we do? How can we adapt? How can we offer value for money in this situation?” were all questions the board asked. It was very quickly decided to change the programme “and how hard CEO David and his staff have worked to do that,” he said.
As 2021 dawned after what Betteridge described as “ a long hard winter – nobody had any idea about how long it would be”. The weather was not good, Easter did not happen and it wasn’t until May-June that there was the beginning of a renaissance. “The UK was one of the worst hit in Europe, along with Spain and Italy as all rely on a big tourist market. Teething problems on re-opening included labour and delivery driver shortages – we need to lobby for EU labour. On top of that, rising prices on fuel and raw materials are causing problems. Even timber prices have risen so that pallet wood is now 50% more expensive.
“And, look at Asia – everything coming form there is more expensive. It used to cost $1600 to ship a container. Now it is $18,000 and you have to bid to get the container on to the boat.”
Finishing up his introduction Betteridge said: “We have to hope lockdown doesn’t happen again, and I don’t think it will. It is very good to see everyone at this sell-out conference.”
Next up was TSA CEO David Stevens, cock-a-hoop at the increase in membership, both laundries and suppliers , since Covid struck. He also welcomed Ian Stubbs of Jensen, Helen Wood of Johnson Service Group (JSG) and Rona Tait of TDS Commercial laundry to the board as JSG's Mark Woolfenden steps down. “We are a bit more gender diverse, now,” said Stephens.
Moving on to the Association’s finances, Stevens explained: “This subject was hotly discussed at the recent AGM, a 25% reduction in membership fees was approved, the increase in membership helping to offset this along with delivering services on a lower cost base. Emma and Shyju have done wonderful work here. The purpose of all this is to support the industry and you guys.”
He went on to say that one project, which was voted on to proceed with at the last conference, Women in Industry, unfortunately stalled over Covid “but it is still in there”. He pointed to the appointment of three women to the board which indicates a commitment to change.
He asked, are we, the industry, fit for purpose? This is something he believes is important to find out and to that end a survey, with a questionnaire entitled Laundry Industry Culture Study 2021, has been devised which needs to be filled out by laundries, not suppliers.
The end of life recycling project for textiles is going great guns (and will be covered below). Stevens also notified the audience that TSA is working with the Mental Health Foundation.
Stevens told delegates, in November, TSA will be holding its annual congress in Birmingham, which is designed for the owners and CEOs of businesses.
Finishing up his first slot, referring to TSA supplier members, Stevens said that over the past two or so Covid-ridden years, “they have not had a great deal of value for money lately, but not one of them has pulled out.” He expressed his gratitude for that.
• This is a small part of the full report which will be posted shortly.