HLS Linen Services: Business World Magazine
Making the Most of Operational Knowledge
HLS Linen Services thrives on recognizing its customers’ needs
Business World Magazine
There may be those who discount the importance of a linen and laundry service provider to the customers with which it works, but rest assured that Rocco Romeo is not one of them. Instead, the chief executive officer of Ottawa, Ontario’s HLS Linen Services – which counts acute-care hospitals, long-term care providers, rehabilitation centers and mental health facilities among its roster of clients – considers the work his company does as nothing short of vital to its business partners, and has helped tailor an in-house service mindset that corresponds to the magnitude of the function.
“There’s no such thing as tomorrow. Everything’s today,” he says. “When it comes to our major customers, linen to them is like water and electricity, it’s the lifeline of their organization. A hospital without linens, sheets, bath towels and pillowcases simply can’t operate. OR (operating room) procedures could be canceled if we don’t deliver.”
And, to him, recognition of the role has led to respect in the marketplace.
“I think that’s where we’ve advanced,” Romeo says, “because we understand our customers’ businesses and we understand the importance of the services we provide to their day-to-day operations. We also understand that there’s no such thing as tomorrow; that now is now.”
HLS, which is celebrating 40 years in business throughout 2014, began operations in 1974 as a co-operative laundry and linen service for six hospitals in and around its Ottawa home base. Its customer list has since expanded to more than 100, which includes entities throughout eastern and central Ontario and stretches as far as Toronto – a swath comprising six hours of travel time from end to end.
Romeo arrived in 1995 as chief financial officer and became CEO in 2000 while helping oversee a spurt of corporate progress in which HLS has earned credentials from the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) and certification as both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 compliant, which testifies to a dedication to quality management principles and a commitment to environmental stewardship.
“As an organization, we’re at the top of our game,” he says. “We’re recognized for and proud of our efficiencies and our people are very important to our success. We spend a lot of time on people engagement and in terms of recognizing staff as well. Our success is based on the contributions of everyone, and I think we recognize that daily.”
Romeo is a past president of the HLAC and is now the vice president of the International Association for Healthcare Textile Management (IAHTM), a Kansas-based organization whose members provide service to approximately 7,000 healthcare facilities in the United States and Canada and process more than 900 million pounds of clean linen annually.
HLS alone handles more than 50 million pounds each year, Romeo says, with approximately 90 percent of that work coming from healthcare and long-term care clients, while the other 10 percent is taken up by companies in other industries.
“It’s a very broad amount of business,” he says. “There’s a lot of potential, too, for example, in the mat services business. Geographically, we set up a depot down in the Toronto area that will allow us to service that market a lot better. That provides us with a strategic ability to deal with that market in a different manner than we had in the past.”
The recent purchase of two double-decker trailers will allow HLS to achieve greater efficiency on the transportation side of the business, and Romeo says the company has saved more than 25 percent in costs since it moved seven years ago into a state-of-the-art 185,000-square-foot facility, which houses a four-kilometer monorail system that moves all the linen that’s being serviced in the building.
Also key to the mandate for doing things efficiently: quality interactions with business partners.
“We’re always looking for improvements,” he says. “That one of the key objectives of the business and always an area in which we want to get better. We have regular benchmarking studies done by outside organizations that report our efficiency as among the best in North America.
“We’ve developed relationships with equipment suppliers, chemical suppliers and linen suppliers, and we think that’s very important for the success of our business. We’ve been pleased with those relationships and we think part of our success has been by fostering strong working relationships with our suppliers. You’re only as good as your weakest link.”
Going forward, expansion is the buzzword – both in terms of capability, and geography.
HLS is considering imminent investment in a garment-sorting system that would incorporate RFID (radio frequency identification) chip technology, an improvement Romeo says would be “very robust” and intended to encompass all of the company’s OR scrubs and uniform operations.
Its ongoing mission, he says, is “to continue to be known as the premier laundry in North America” while continuing to focus on customer service and quality to grow the business – an objective that includes a desire to be recognized as a “one-stop shop” for existing and new customers.
And if that means crossing the international border into the U.S., Romeo says, so be it.
“There is opportunity,” he says. “We have a unique geographic location. Ogdensburg (N.Y.) is 45 minutes away and Watertown (N.Y.) is about two or three hours. There’s definitely an opportunity, but obviously the concern is one of time. There’s only so much time to be focused on certain markets, but it’s definitely one that raises possibilities.
“It’s something that we haven’t ruled out and it’s an area that we may go into in the future.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: HLS Linen Services
WHAT: Linen and laundry service provider to acute-care hospitals, long-term care, hotels, rehabilitation centers and mental health facilities.
WHERE: Ottawa, Ontario
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