The first TSA conference since 2019 was an event that educated, inspired, amused and invigorated and was just what the industry needed at this time, writes Kathy Bowry. It was a real zinger of an event at a time when circumstances seem to be conspiring against the industry, it was like finding a huge sparkling diamond in a dung heap. Waves of positive energy emanated from the speakers behind the lectern and 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 is determined to fulfil its remit to represent and support its members to the Nth degree. And what a great job that team of Stevens, Shyju Skariah, technical services manager and Emma Andersson, finance & membership manager, is doing.

Opening words
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 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 David, Shyju and Emma 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.”

CEO’s report
Next up on stage was TSA CEO David Stevens, cock-a-hoop at the increase in membership, both laundries and suppliers (since the last conference in September 2019,  the number added is Laundries – 23; Suppliers – 15). He also welcomed Ian Stubbs of Jensen, and Rona Tait of TDS Commercial Laundry and Helen Wood of Johnson Service Group as Mark Woolfenden steps down, to the board. “With this mix we are a bit more gender diverse,” said Stephens. 

Getting 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 to proceed with at the last conference, Women in Industry, unfortunately stalled over Covid “but it is still in there”. 

Fit for purpose?
Stevens 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 (covered below).  

In November, Stevens told delegates, TSA will be holding its annual congress in Birmingham, which is designed for the owners and CEOs of businesses.

Finishing up his 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 appreciation for that.

Knowledge sharing
Shyju Skariah took centre stage to inform delegates on the many initiatives and projects under way in the Knowledge Network set-up which, he said, is a team effort with lots of people in the industry putting time in to it. “It is a  knowledge management tool and not about business as usual. The industry is open to sharing knowledge and managing change. Some benefits are measurable, some are intangible,” he said. He reported on steering groups, Health and Safety reporting, ongoing research work with de Monfort University, sustainability and energy concerns and getting to Net Zero. Gas prices were addressed as he spoke of plans to introduce  a hydrogen solution proposal – a piped hydrogen supply to businesses in a 25 mile radius of the supply hub. New work on micro plastis is ongoing, with the possibility of using hydrolysis to break it down into gas and water. Results of this next year. 

On the apprentices scheme, he reported that TSA really needs end point assessors to make this happen and asked for volunteers with the right quaificaions to step up. He also posited that with current staffing issues, is the apprentice scheme a good way to sort it? “We need to look at that,” he said. 

He addressed TSA training in general, saying: “Lessons have been learned from remote meetings and we are looking at continuing virtual delivery, and we are looking at a hybrid solution, but somewhat complex logistics are involved here…” 

He also told delegates about other exciting projects in hand including PPE repair training. 

Emma Andersson and Simon Fry discussed the Laundry Cost Index and ways that it could be made more current. As it stands now, things stay the same with laundries ‘personalising’ to their own operational data. 

100% solution for textile recycling
Matt Hanrahan,  CEO  of  Reskinned  Resources,.is working with TSA to  deliver  more  circular  textile  operating  solutions  by  providing  innovative  textile recycling processes such as fibre to fibre, which enables textiles such as workwear and sheeting to be turned into fibres for new clothing. The TSA and Reskinned could well have found a way to provide a 100% solution to textile recycling. Laundries would simply need to bag its rag into 125kg sacks, go online to download a barcode and arrange pick up. Redskinned will then weigh the bags, an accurate figure will be reckoned for payment  to the laundry and it will arrange delivery to manufacturers. Everyone’s a winner including the environment. 

Hostages to fortune
Other highlights of the conference included a fascinating lesson on the life of a hostage negotiator, Talk Your Way Out of It with Suzanne Williams, who has worked  on  some  of  the  most  high-profile  and  dangerous  hostage  situations across the world. This has required negotiating in war zones, on the high-seas and on behalf of well-known families. A good person to have on your side when negotiating with clients…

Tim Morgan of Publicity Works PR has been working with the TSA for the past 12 months and shared some of the successes and challenges of how TSA can continue to engage with the end-user markets for the industry.

The motivational slot was filled by Nigel Owens MBE, widely regarded as the best referee in the world  of  rugby union.  He is also the world record holder for most test matches refereed. Nigel grew  up  in  rural  West  Wales  and  is  the  first  openly  gay  man  to  come out in professional rugby. He had everyone hanging on every word, you could have heard a pin drop.

Fun and games
The conference dinner on the previous night lifted spirits with an energetic and enthusiastic ‘drunken’ juggler, Steve Rawlings, and a rousing performance by industry band ‘Mark Stains and the Rejects’ with Richard Newton (TSA Consultant) and Jason Bell (Elis UK Ltd).