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Talent Replacement

We have all heard the warnings from trade associations, vendors and peers – the supply of experienced industry talent is decreasing as veterans retire and less trainees join in all the fun. The shortage especially seems most apparent with chief engineers, linen rental plant managers and cross trained GMs.

New talent filtered into our industry several ways through the years. The route based operators in linen supply or uniform rental hired a route sales rep who after a year or more “out on a route” would aspire to do more. “Be careful what you wish for,” they would say, as the promotion to route supervisor often meant more hours for comparable (or less) pay, or transferring inside to a production supervisor position, taking away the freedom of the road.

New management talent often started as production supervisors, especially in larger plants. The better supervisors have progressed into plant management quicker in the uniform rental plants as opposed to the linen rental plants, due in part to the complexities of flatwork finishing and, especially in food and beverage linen plants, with its roller coaster of daily requirements.

Many chief engineers started out as a mechanic, and often were promoted more because of their trade skills than their ability to train, delegate and plan. Today’s demands of technology, safety training and PC based PM programs require a bona fide manager willing to develop people and work in unison with production.

In my opinion there are significantly less management candidates available in our industry today than thirteen years ago when I started Remember all those consolidations and acquisitions? The left over candidates filled in when the seasoned veterans retired or the “bad apples” got kicked out of our industry. Meanwhile there have been less and less high quality “rookies” coming on board. Large companies like Unitog, RUS and National Linen who used to hire and develop “manager trainees” became part of other organizations. Unfortunately, in the past ten to fifteen years the better entry level talent went to other industries willing and able to pay a slightly higher dollar. Now that talent is 30 to 45 years old in the prime of their careers and, subsequently, we don’t have them as plant managers, service managers and general managers.


One of my barometers are the resume databases of the major job bulletin board firms. Every year my business invests many thousands of dollars for access to their database of candidates. Eight to ten years ago I could put in obvious keywords and seemingly hundreds of laundry industry candidates with various level of experience from all over the U.S. would show up in a database search. Granted, that may seem like a lot, but factoring in the typical high percentage unwilling to relocate across the most 20 populated states and the ratio translated to a relatively small talent pool.

Now for the scary part – on any given day those same databases may show less than 20 experienced candidates within our industry and most of those are “first line” supervisors, and often not wanting to relocate. Good second line managers are critical to our industry – these are the plant managers who can train and develop production supervisors, service managers who can train and develop route supervisors. They are the future GMs, though ideally they first get the opportunity to manage multiple departments (e.g. production, maintenance, sales, service, and office). Unfortunately, not too many employers are willing to risk cross training their plant managers and service mangers, that development chapter seems to have gone the way of the last century.


Some of the larger companies in our industry, especially in California, are taking advantage of the unemployed talent showing up from other industries. Production managers from vehicle manufacturing plants, food processing operations, and other sophisticated production facilities are being forced to layoff individuals with fascinating credentials. Often these are managers who know how to drive efficiencies, run safety meetings and figure out ways to get good results without complaining about equipment issues or union shop rules. Maintenance managers from other industries can make the transition even easier than their production brethren, just make sure you don’t set them up to fail.

The key is to assign the right person to coach the “outsider” on what he or she does not know about laundry. The manager needs some time to build trust and credibility, and if they have the support of a well respected “coach” then the odds will be in their favor.

What the more savvy employers are finding out is looking at more than just the candidate’s experience and salary history, they are also looking at what their previous commute had been. If a good candidate, laid off from a $80,000 production manager position in a different industry, had to travel an hour and a half to get to work, they could be real open to a lower salary at a laundry plant twenty minutes from their house. Especially if they don’t want to (or can’t) sell their house in today’s depressed real estate market.


Often I hear the grumbling in the background, “I don’t want to train someone only to lose them to a competitor or back to the industry they came from.” It is a good point, as trained employees do change jobs, and sometimes to work for direct competitors.

What I say to them is we can always learn a lot from baseball. The best teams have three elements going for them – they hire the best available talent into their farm system, they train them their way and they have good coaches. They don’t seem to miss a beat if one of their best players leaves for free agency. Those same teams will also blend in some experienced players, even if they are from the opposite league or Japan. They are confident they have a good system in place and can surround their employees with good coaches.


Like most facets of business, you have to “play the numbers” when it comes to hiring talent new to our industry. Don’t let the failures discourage the strategy, but learn enough from the failures to tweak the strategy.

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

A Gruesome Laundry Surprise

PHOENIX, Ariz. — A body in a bin was discovered by employees at a Sodexo commercial laundry facility. The body arrived on a delivery truck from medical facilities in Tucson. Team members who were unloading the bins first noticed blood on the sheets then discovered the body in one of the bins. The man, a transient, had previously slept in the laundry-bag area near the Tucson medical facility. It is believed that the man either died from a medical condition or was suffocated by the plastic bags. The body showed no signs of trauma or foul play.