Behind Gaylord’s Glitter - A Quality-Driven OPL

As those who attended last month’s Leadership & Legislative Conference at the Gaylord Hotel & Conference Center already know, this is a hospitality venue that emphasizes quality—from its glittering glass façade to its distinctive fine-dining establishments and well-appointed guest rooms. Naturally, the operators of this high-profile resort/convention complex at National Harbor, just outside Washington DC, expect no less from their in-house laundry management partner, Five Star Laundry-Washington DC. Maria George, the director of operations for the laundry, is determined to give them the highest standards of quality, while at the continuous improvement in all processes. “I’m always looking to improve efficiency and conserve resources wherever we can,” says George, who transferred last June from the Gaylord/Five Star Dallas laundry. “At the same time, quality is our top priority.” We saw how George approaches these challenges during a recent tour of the Gaylord OPL.

Wash Aisle — focus on quality, efficiency

The Gaylord and Five Star focus on safety. They both have safety directors who visit the facility... These corporate safety specialists play an important role in ensuring safety for employees and guests.

As we start our walk-through of the Gaylord’s 39,000 square-foot plant operated by Five Star Laundry, we’re struck by its image as a seamless model of efficiency that’s addressed every issue associated with laundering and finishing hospitality, food & beverage textile (F&B) goods and employee uniforms and guest dry cleaning. In one sense, it’s like the laundry equivalent of the 2,000-room hotel located above that is its primary customer.They seem to have thought of everything and equipped with the laundry accordingly.

We begin in the soil sort area. There, an employee stands by as soiled goods in carts are emptied automatically by a cart dumper. The goods move up a conveyor belt to a sorting area with 14 soil-sorting ‘windows’ for various items such as sheets, pillowcases, towels, F&B items, etc. Employees sort the goods and toss them in the correct openings, which are labeled in both English and Spanish.

Sorted goods accumulate in carts fitted with slings below the sorting area. When full, these items are moved on an E-Tech overhead rail system in blue slings to the wash aisle for processing. Virtually all of the washing and finishing equipment is provided by G.A. Braun Inc., Syracuse, NY. The plant (and the Gaylord National) opened in 2008. Last year, Five Star’s Gaylord laundry processed 6.5 million lbs., including textiles for the host hotel and several other hotel properties. Production is down slightlythis year, but George is recruiting new business to keep the laundry operating as close to full capacity as possible. “Yes that’s what I’m trying to do,” says George. “I’m making phone calls to hotels to see how they do their linen, if they have their own laundry, and if they send it out, who they send it to. I’m trying to get the feel of who is maybe interested in looking at another laundry.” While an OPL operation may not face the same pressures to bring in new business as a commercial textile services company, the issues of costs and profitability remain.

An employee processes a chef coat on a shirt press in dry-cleaning.As for the plant, George says she’s pleased with its capabilities, though getting the right maintenance team on board has posed challenges. “When everything’s running right, it’s great,” she says. “It’s hard not having a lot of experienced people, especially with a new system because if they don’t know how it runs, or what to do, it’s hard to diagnose the problem.” The plant’s pounds per operator hour (PPOH) is currently running from 135-145; and water use per lb. is 1.5 gallons. The plant uses a mix of washer/extractors and a 13-chamber Braun tunnel washer. “I can do about 3,300 lbs. an hour,” George says, noting that the tunnel chambers are 130 lbs. each. Goods transfer between the tunnel chambers every 90 seconds, she says.

Moving to the front end of the tunnel, we see the “master control” panel from Braun with a computer screen that shows slings lined up for movement through the tunnel. The screen also shows what shuttles are available to move goods to one of five 250 lb. Braun dryers. As clean goods emerge from the dryers, they are dropped into carts fitted with white slings for movement by the rail system to the finishing area. “All the dirty linens are in blue bags,” George says. “All the clean linens are in white bags.”

The tunnel area and shuttles are fenced off and alarmed to prevent unauthorized entry. George says she’s satisfied that the plant is secure, and its record confirms her high regard for the planning that went into the wash aisle. “The last injury we had was about four months ago,” she says. “A guy was blowing down the machines at the end of the night. Another guy was walking through the laundry, and he got a piece of something in his eye from when we were blowing down.”

The Gaylord and Five Star focus on safety. They both have safety directors who visit the facility, she adds. In addition to Washington and Dallas, the Gaylord has properties in Nashville, TN; and Kissimmee, FL. These corporate safety specialists play an important role in ensuring safety for employees and guests, she says. “They go to all of the hotels. They’ll stay there for days at a time…just walking around looking for safety issues.” These visits often begin with a trip to the laundry, and George says the Gaylord team liked what they saw in Washington on their last visit. “The guy was really impressed because the laundry was clean; it was blown down,” she says.

Other wash aisle equipment includes:

  • 2, 450 lb. washer/extractors
  • 1, 250 lb. washer extractor

These machines mainly service F&B goods, such as those coming from the hotel’s six restaurants and bars, plus room-service linens. Other dryers include:

  • 2 Unimac 120 lb. dryers

Laundry chemicals/chemical-injection equipment are from Ecolab Inc.

Finishing Side — Eyes-on Inspection

, employees sort soiled goods moving on a conveyor belt and drop them through opThe plant’s 40 employees work one staggered shift that runs seven days a week, as one would expect from a hospitality OPL. Many of those employees are engaged in the more labor-intensive finishing area. Here, Five Star’s Gaylord National operation runs five ironer lines. Again, most if not of all the equipment here is provided by Braun.

In the first line, we see a Braun Delta ironer processing napkins and other small-piece items. “We can do 900 napkins an hour and 600 pillowcases an hour,” George says, adding that for this operator, quality trumps throughput considerations. “We could get more per hour, but we focus on quality.”

We next move to a line processing tablecloths and sheets using a sheet feeder and a Delta ironer. “All the employees’ production is tracked,” George says, noting that “Laundry Trak” software from Phoenix Scale is used to monitor throughput. Still, employees focus on quality inspection as the goods move through the finishing department.

We see this policy in action in a folder/stacker system at the back end of the ironer. Employees there look at the goods as they remove them from the equipment for packout. They’re empowered to set aside any items with stains, tears, excess wear, etc. And when they find a problem, they do just that.

Utility Room

An employee looks on as soil goods drop from a cart dumper prior to moving.The Five Star Laundry at Gaylord relies on a 700 HP boiler that the hotel maintains. “The hotel manages our air pressure and our steam,” George says. “If we have a problem with our air pressure or our steam we have to go to the hotel engineer.” Heat-recovery equipment for the laundry, however, is housed adjacent to the wash aisle. Laundry maintenance staff look after this area, which includes heat-recovery and water-recycling equipment from Thermal Engineering of Arizona. The utility room also has two tanks for hot water and tempered water. Air pressure equipment is provided by Ingersoll Rand. The massive hotel boiler is from Cleaver Brooks. The boiler also is equipped with a stack economizer that reflects the hotel’s focus on resource conservation.

An open-pocket washer/extractor.Dry Cleaning Department

Moving to the dry-cleaning washroom, we first notice a small fenced-in area with racks of men’s and women’s tailored clothing. These garments belong to various management staff. They get discounts on dry cleaning as an employee benefit, George says. This department also focuses on providing laundry and dry cleaning of the Gaylord employee uniforms and guests’ and managers’ clothing. Turning a corner, we move through a corridor and enter the dry-cleaning area. Here goods are cleaned and pressed for guests and staff.‘Green’ laundering, i.e., reducing waste and maximizing resource conservation, is an important consideration here as it is in the conventional laundry, George says. The dry-cleaning department operates 2, 50 lb. washer/extractor cleaning machines that run on a hydrocarbon solvent. No environmentally suspect percloroethylene, or ‘perc’ is used here. “It’s much safer than perc,” says George. All Five Star locations converted their perc machines to hydrocarbon as part of their “green” initiative.

The plant dry cleans a mix of up to about 1,000 lbs. of garments daily, plus blankets, bed throws and comforters that require delicate processing. Demand for this service fluctuates with the number of guests staying at the Gaylord.

Staff here inspect every garment before returning it to customers. The service includes minor repair work.

Processing equipment in this area includes:

  • 1 Colmac tunnel finisher for garments such as blended chef coats, cook shirts and checked pants ƒ
  • 4 Unimac 75-100 lb. washers
  • 2 Unimac 50 lb. washers ƒ
  • 2 Unimac 25-30 lb. washers ƒ
  • 3 Union 175 lb. dryers

Unipress pressing equipment is used for 100% cotton chef coats and other garments; including trousers.

Since she arrived here, George has focused significant time on this department to improve productivity and enhance its green initiatives. She implemented a hanger-recycling program, and encouraged the staff to step up garment inspections, among other efforts. “For the last two months, I’ve been working with the dry-cleaning team on a daily basis,” George says. “I’ve been going out there, saying ‘This is what we need to look for. You guys see this?’ “They didn’t have hanger recycling. I said, ‘No, we need to separate and recycle.’” Morale has improved as the department manager and other staff have learned new strategies and tactics for enhancing quality, efficiency and service.

Inventory Management

As with any hospitality operation, keeping track of linens and keeping losses and abuse at an absolute minimum is a critical consideration for Five Star and the Gaylord. For the laundry’s part, George keeps a computer record of every textile piece that leaves the laundry as well as a hand-written ledger, so there’s always documentation to back up how many pieces passed through the laundry. “We put it in the computer,” she says, standing by a terminal where information on each cart is keyed into the system. “We also have a backup so that at the end of the day it should match with housekeeping. Mostly it works.”

When goods are handed off to each department, housekeeping, Food & Beverage and the Spa, Five Star requires a formal sign off. “We actually get a signature on everything,” George says. “That way, if something goes missing, you’ve documented it. Everyone gets a copy of the paperwork.”

The Gaylord specifies and orders its own linens, and they maintain par levels for the hotel at 4.5-5, George says. This is usually workable, but when the hotel is at full occupancy, linen must be turned faster and that reduces linen life, she says. It’s something of a trade off, but most of the time the system operates smoothly, she says.

Five Star is always ready to shift into high gear in case of emergencies through their Emergency/Contingency Plan. This happened last August, when Hurricane Irene was threatening the Eastern Seaboard, including the Washington area.

Five Star is always ready to shift into high gear in case of emergencies through their Emergency/Contingency Plan, she adds. This happened last August, when Hurricane Irene was threatening the Eastern Seaboard, including the Washington area. "First we had an earthquake and five days later we had a hurricane,"  George says. The hurricane didn’t hit the area head-on, but heavy rains did, and for one night the hotel lost power. Fortunately, Five Star had worked ahead and was ready for the crunch. “We didn’t have power in the laundry when that hurricane came through at night. But what had happened was the hotel knew it was going to be a problem. So for that entire week we were doing extra linen for them. What was coming down the linen chute that day, we were doing that day. So by the time that Friday rolled around, there was nothing for us to do because we were so far ahead of the game. And come the day of the hurricane, we really didn’t get hit that hard. But we did not have power. The hotel ran backup generators.”

The laundry didn’t have access to emergency power, but as it turned out, advance planning kept the hotel supplied, George says.

'Insourrced/Outsourced' Service

The partnership between the Gaylord and Five Star makes it a bit of a hybrid in the world of textile services. Five Star owns and operates the equipment and runs it as a free-standing laundry located on the Gaylord property. That means the hotel can focus on doing what it does best: serving guests, while Five Star’s focus is on laundry quality, service and safety. At the same time, the Gaylord has more control over the process than it would with an outsource laundry provider. “The benefit is it’s on their property,” George says. “The linen never leaves the hotel. That’s a big benefit to them. That’s what they like.” In addition to this control, the Gaylord avoids the investment associated with planning, staffing, equipping and managing an OPL. “There’s a lot of benefits to them,” George says.

But efficiency and convenience are only part of the story behind this arrangement. At the heart of the Gaylord’s partnership with Five Star is the commitment that each organization has made to ensuring high quality in the linens and garments that the guests of this glittering DC-area hotel have come to expect since it opened in 2008.

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