A good example of the hurdles faced by laundries serving the high-end city hotel market is provided by Royal Jersey, operating from premises in Dagenham. Director Wendy Westcott says that since reopening in July they’ve managed to build up to three short shifts a week, serving perhaps 25 per cent of the exclusive London market dedicated mostly to wellheeled overseas tourists they usually handle, and turnover has slowly but surely increased.
“With so many of the top hotels deciding not to open until perhaps mid-September it has been a difficult time,” says Westcott.
“We are remaining positive, though, and will look at the situation again after that, knowing that the full recovery may not be until next year.” Westcott and her husband Chris, who owns Royal Jersey Laundry, are determined to ride out the crisis, saving as many jobs as possible. While 100 or so agency workers have had to be let go, office staff have been furloughed and some employees are working, although not on their usual full pay. But the most obvious sign of how resolute they are is demonstrated by the fact that they have borrowed money to keep everything ticking.
Westcott reveals: “We’ve borrowed against the site by re-mortgaging and ploughed more money in. We believe in this laundry and what it does. That means there’s no alternative – it’s that or let the business go under after 105 years and we’re simply not going to do that.”
Overseeing the day to day running is MD James Lincoln, Westcott’s nephew, who is in constant contact with hotel general managers and housekeepers, providing advice and support as well as getting their input on the situation and predictions for the coming months to Christmas and beyond. It’s the optimism within this feedback from the industry ‘intelligence’ which has helped the Royal Jersey Laundry team to believe that at some stage much of normal life, including travel and hospitality, must return. They will be ready for that, even if some tough months are to come.
This positive outlook is shared at Birmingham-based Midland Linen Services, where they too face the challenge of studying an order book which is usually full of regular bookings from top class city restaurants and hotels. Director Duncan Myttion says they are back in production three days a week. Some 60 per cent of their client base has reopened, but smaller orders mean they are only handling around 45 per cent of the usual linen requests. “It’s still a tough time for those operating right from the city centres as the mixture of homeworking and reluctance to use public transport is limiting the number of people going out for meals, but you don’t need to go far to find that some hospitality operations are seeing increased business, in places such as Stratford-upon-Avon,” he says. Midland Linen do most of their deliveries and collections early in the week and then process the linen between Wednesday and Friday. They took advantage of flexible furlough schemes and made sure staff were kept fully informed of what was happening. “As they’ve returned we’ve found that many have missed the place, even if they hadn’t missed the work!” Myttion reveals. “It’s been 100 days or so and people like some structure and routine to their day.” The laundry reintroduced staff to new operating procedures by having in groups of 10 or so at a time for training sessions on the ‘new normal’, including everything from the need for temperature tests to operating protocols necessary for safe handling of linen during collection and on the premises.