In Fous: Sarah Lancaster

About Sarah Lancaster

Sarah Lancaster is MD of Total Laundry Ltd in Chichester.

She purchased the business in 2013, having previously worked as a Civil Servant, a broadcast assistant with the BBC, a TV extra and sometimes voiceover presenter. She was also a trainee helicopter pilot, who nearly flew her first solo before business took over her time (and money)! Sarah also describes herself as an enthusiastic artist in her free time. She is mum to two adult children and step mum to another two. She lives near sunny Bognor, with Steve, her husband and two daft dogs.

Sarah is a Liveryman in The Worshipful Company of Launderers and is currently honoured to be Renter Warden within the Company.

On her industry career

Laundry? That was the last thing I intended to do. From a woman with an ironing pile to rival Mount Everest, there was no way I would ever have thought I would end up owning a laundry and becoming a Warden within the Worshipful Company of Launderers.

My journey in to this fabulous industry started with the running of a holiday letting company. After a varied career in the Civil Service and then at the BBC in Lancashire, I upped sticks in 2007 and moved down to West Sussex. My then partner, now husband Steve and I started to acquire property which we ran as a holiday letting business. We all know hospitality needs a good laundry, so to service several holiday properties we certainly needed a good one – and as there wasn’t one, we made one, and Total Laundry was born! We targeted other high end small hospitality providers, just like me.

My experience is in the small business sector, who were struggling to remain viable in the high street, with its ever-increasing rents and outdated rates system long before the pandemic. Although they have been able to stay open during recent and current lockdowns as an essential service, many don’t automatically qualify for grants and have to go cap in hand to the council for discretionary funding. That said, they are ploughing on, remaining open to service their remaining customers and doing what they can to help their community. What we need is to help and support these valuable businesses, because a small drycleaner/laundry may one day grow to be the new Johnsons.

On sustainability

Sustainability is really important. As a small business owner, I am luckily in a great position to make the changes where I can. From using less plastic and using recycled, biodegradable wrapping (though that’s not yet perfect). Choosing to buy my chemicals from an ecologically minded supplier, to turning off unnecessary lights et al. Every little bit helps.

I love the way innovations are being made to reuse and recycle in this industry, especially textiles. We have a ‘Bra Bank’ in our shop area, where the money raised from the bras goes to help fund research into secondary breast cancer.

However, I do wish someone would come up with a way to dispose of duvets/pillows, the cheap ones do not wash well, and it goes against the grain to shove them in the bin or take them to the tip. Yes, some animal shelters will take them, so do some homeless shelters, but they will still end up in landfill somewhere. I would love to see a solution here.

On industry developments

Laundry is an essential industry, but it is also an enabling industry, an industry which enables other sectors to operate. It is important that we empower our industry to continue to forge ahead with new innovations. To discover ways to enable and assist the circular economy with initiatives that reduce our carbon footprint, waste and reduce water consumption. We need to allow our staff to access quality training and to support them in their work. To help and facilitate part time working so our staff can have a quality work/life balance. However, all that ‘enabling’ costs money and where is that going to come from? Especially after the year we have all been through.

Sadly though, hospitality these days is facing its own challenges, it is now a buyers’ market. It’s a highly competitive business, especially in the accommodation sector that Total Laundry deal with. The booking websites have adaptive pricing so hospitality providers are constantly lowering prices and they expect us to do so too. The expectation of guests is 5* accommodation at 1* prices. Innovation is natural, as humans we innovate, we find better ways of working. So, if technology helps with workflow, systems and improves your end result and margins, then yes do it! But if it is for technology’s sake and doesn’t make the promised improvements, then obviously, I would exercise caution. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Data is great. I embrace the fact that with data you build up an accurate picture on what is going on within your business. That’s really important as this information can then be used to help make informed decisions.

On industry collaboration

The laundry industry is a friendly bunch. I have attended many TSA and Livery events where it is evident that people do get on. It’s a tight knit industry and when disasters happen, people come to help, including the competition.

We really need to up our game on the public perception of our industry. We all know that we are an essential business, one that isn’t always appreciated by our customers and the wider public, so it is essential that we act as a group to help promote what we do and how all industry, hospitality and healthcare would be lost without us.

Laundry is so undervalued, as it has been made glaringly obvious in the current pandemic, by being ignored by the government as far as grants are concerned and especially on the matter of re-useable gowns in hospitals. I can only say, thank goodness for the work the TSA have done on this and other matters.

About Sarah Lancaster

Sarah Lancaster is MD of Total Laundry Ltd in Chichester.

She purchased the business in 2013, having previously worked as a Civil Servant, a broadcast assistant with the BBC, a TV extra and sometimes voiceover presenter. She was also a trainee helicopter pilot, who nearly flew her first solo before business took over her time (and money)! Sarah also describes herself as an enthusiastic artist in her free time. She is mum to two adult children and step mum to another two. She lives near sunny Bognor, with Steve, her husband and two daft dogs.

Sarah is a Liveryman in The Worshipful Company of Launderers and is currently honoured to be Renter Warden within the Company.

On her industry career

Laundry? That was the last thing I intended to do. From a woman with an ironing pile to rival Mount Everest, there was no way I would ever have thought I would end up owning a laundry and becoming a Warden within the Worshipful Company of Launderers.

My journey in to this fabulous industry started with the running of a holiday letting company. After a varied career in the Civil Service and then at the BBC in Lancashire, I upped sticks in 2007 and moved down to West Sussex. My then partner, now husband Steve and I started to acquire property which we ran as a holiday letting business. We all know hospitality needs a good laundry, so to service several holiday properties we certainly needed a good one – and as there wasn’t one, we made one, and Total Laundry was born! We targeted other high end small hospitality providers, just like me.

My experience is in the small business sector, who were struggling to remain viable in the high street, with its ever-increasing rents and outdated rates system long before the pandemic. Although they have been able to stay open during recent and current lockdowns as an essential service, many don’t automatically qualify for grants and have to go cap in hand to the council for discretionary funding. That said, they are ploughing on, remaining open to service their remaining customers and doing what they can to help their community. What we need is to help and support these valuable businesses, because a small drycleaner/laundry may one day grow to be the new Johnsons.

On sustainability

Sustainability is really important. As a small business owner, I am luckily in a great position to make the changes where I can. From using less plastic and using recycled, biodegradable wrapping (though that’s not yet perfect). Choosing to buy my chemicals from an ecologically minded supplier, to turning off unnecessary lights et al. Every little bit helps.

I love the way innovations are being made to reuse and recycle in this industry, especially textiles. We have a ‘Bra Bank’ in our shop area, where the money raised from the bras goes to help fund research into secondary breast cancer.

However, I do wish someone would come up with a way to dispose of duvets/pillows, the cheap ones do not wash well, and it goes against the grain to shove them in the bin or take them to the tip. Yes, some animal shelters will take them, so do some homeless shelters, but they will still end up in landfill somewhere. I would love to see a solution here.

On industry developments

Laundry is an essential industry, but it is also an enabling industry, an industry which enables other sectors to operate. It is important that we empower our industry to continue to forge ahead with new innovations. To discover ways to enable and assist the circular economy with initiatives that reduce our carbon footprint, waste and reduce water consumption. We need to allow our staff to access quality training and to support them in their work. To help and facilitate part time working so our staff can have a quality work/life balance. However, all that ‘enabling’ costs money and where is that going to come from? Especially after the year we have all been through.

Sadly though, hospitality these days is facing its own challenges, it is now a buyers’ market. It’s a highly competitive business, especially in the accommodation sector that Total Laundry deal with. The booking websites have adaptive pricing so hospitality providers are constantly lowering prices and they expect us to do so too. The expectation of guests is 5* accommodation at 1* prices. Innovation is natural, as humans we innovate, we find better ways of working. So, if technology helps with workflow, systems and improves your end result and margins, then yes do it! But if it is for technology’s sake and doesn’t make the promised improvements, then obviously, I would exercise caution. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Data is great. I embrace the fact that with data you build up an accurate picture on what is going on within your business. That’s really important as this information can then be used to help make informed decisions.

On industry collaboration

The laundry industry is a friendly bunch. I have attended many TSA and Livery events where it is evident that people do get on. It’s a tight knit industry and when disasters happen, people come to help, including the competition.

We really need to up our game on the public perception of our industry. We all know that we are an essential business, one that isn’t always appreciated by our customers and the wider public, so it is essential that we act as a group to help promote what we do and how all industry, hospitality and healthcare would be lost without us.

Laundry is so undervalued, as it has been made glaringly obvious in the current pandemic, by being ignored by the government as far as grants are concerned and especially on the matter of re-useable gowns in hospitals. I can only say, thank goodness for the work the TSA have done on this and other matters.

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