The efforts of the TSA and others in trying to persuade government of the injustice of failing to see the sector as an essential service, is recognised by Ken Cupitt, exams board chairman of the Guild of Cleaners and Launderers (GCL).
“Our laundry and drycleaning industry has just gone through a horrendous year, never before experienced by any previous generation, with revenues being squeezed through constantly repeating lockdowns changing the way of working for many and putting in jeopardy the earning power of others,” he says. “Government-led initiatives were introduced allegedly to provide some financial benefits, but whole swathes in our business community have been left out – putting these businesses, and the livelihoods of its dependents, at a very severe risk, because we were left outside of the rules and regulations put in to control the schemes.
For the government, this error was on top of the massive early mistake of not stocking in the NHS reusable (launderable) gowns, which led to shortages at hospitals, causing a crisis at the beginning of the pandemic.” Cupitt believes this was a ‘massive error’ in not recognising our industry could have provided a valuable backup service in the early days when PPE was in such short supply, by washing and turning around in short cycles, but with only single use items this was made impossible. Like others, he has become a huge fan of Zoom type meetings: “These can save thousands of pounds annually for a business and make it more efficient by keeping employees working longer at their job rather than the long commute for a company meeting. “This technology was not developed for a virus-infected economy, but it certainly has found its place, and will be here to stay for the future.”
Cupitt has followed with fascination research into the hygiene of textiles carried out on behalf of the Guild, supported by the Company of Launderers, by Northumbria University, and the TSA project with the De Montfort University, Leicester. However, you sense some frustration that although this is for the benefit of the whole industry, it’s only paid for by those who belong to these industry bodies. Where do we go from here? Cupitt says: “Sadly, some businesses will not have survived because the cash help made available either did not reach them because they fell outside of the rules applied, or it proved insufficient to provide an adequate cashflow to cover all commitments. This gap in the market created will be quickly taken up by those who have survived and are eager to replenish their now near empty coffers. Business debts will have risen over the course of the pandemic, and this also will have to be paid back but we will still have an industry and we will have a market to serve.”
He expects that some laundries with the high standards required will pick up the re-usable gowns within hospitals, but profit margins will be tight on this market or the pressure to return to single use PPE will bring back old decisions.
Drycleaners, already affected by the likes of polyester fibre in clothing making home washing and finishing much easier, face tough times with the ‘work from home’ expansion and ‘dress down days’. Countering some of this will be the return of social functions encouraging people to dress up and dine out, often staying in hotels.
One thing the buying public will not wish to give up is their love of home deliveries and our retail sector, if not already satisfying this requirement, may have to adopt, or buy in, an arrangement with a professional transport business, some form of home delivery or collection and delivery,” he believes. “Quality of service, however, will always be of paramount importance and being in the clean business we should practice what we preach and provide a level of service equal to the task, free from stains and well finished and returned on time.”
Guild members subscription fees have been discounted by a 25 per cent reduction for the coming year and to help those with cashflow problems there is a facility for making monthly payments. The Guild’s valuable collection of technical books now has three new entries introduced during the pandemic and online and distance courses will have a part to play for both newcomers and those wishing to expand their knowledge.
The Guild, in cooperation with CINET, uses bespoke or template framework online learning, each course dedicated to a sector of our industry, to provide flexibility and personalised approach to an employee’s need to succeed. All are built to work flawlessly on multi-device platforms ,meaning they can be accessed from anywhere and on any device. And expanded networking, whether online monthly seminars and e-bulletins are tackling problems and industry issues, meaning advice and knowledge can be quickly shared.