Healthy, wealthy and very green24 September 2020
Canada is a very green nation, not just in its natural splendour, but also in its environmental outlook. However, Covid-19 has taken its toll on businesses as it has elsewhere in the world as Penny Wilson discovers
In health-conscious Canada, environment matters and innovative ‘green’ laundries ride high. But beware those flouting the rules. Serge Forest, owner of Net-Escompte-Serge Daoust in Laval was fined C$77,000 last year after pleading guilty to four counts of violating tetrachloroethylene regulations - a timely warning to a drycleaning industry somewhat under pressure and in which some might be tempted to cut a corner or two to save money. An IBISWorld analysis warns the sector, is “in the declining stage of its life cycle”. Over the 10 years to 2023, industry value added (IVA), which measures the industry’s contribution to GDP, is projected to fall by an annualised 1.4%. A fall per capita consumption is partly to blame. But, says the report, there is hope, for those disrupting the industry’s traditional bricks and mortar.
One example is Groupe Daoust/Forget (no relation to the fined Serge Daoust.) Founded in 1979 as a traditional drycleaning company, the brand merged with Michel Forget Cleaners and became Canada’s largest chain of its kind. The company has since grown through franchising to 130 locations in Quebec province, bought in 2015 by Lionel Frérot.
His plan? To convert every location to 100% wetcleaning. His advisors told him around 5% of garments needed other treatments. So Frerot simply told customers some garments couldn’t be cleaned due to Daoust/Forget’s eco quest. Instead, his team developed a system that claims it now processes more garments than previous volumes using Perc. Every franchisee invested a hefty $200,000–$700,000 for a facelift, town centre outlets got pedal vans for deliveries. Stain removal technology was overhauled and the company created its own dosing system to ensure consistency, manufactured in Portugal and Bluetoothenabled. Miele washers and dryers are modified with proprietary programs and dosing systems.
Miele allowed Groupe Daoust/Forget to exclusively sell Miele Professional laundry equipment in Quebec. Machines range from 20 lbs. to 75 lbs but larger-capacity machines for industrial installations are available. Proprietary detergents, branded Daoust/Forget, are manufactured in Germany. Finishing equipment is Trevil. Daoust/Forget currently is collaborating with the textile industry to develop a cleaning label allowing garments and fabrics to be labelled as ‘wet clean’. And there’s a planned Shanghai outlet in 2021. But has it been derailed by Covid-19 and a looming world recession? Nope, says business development director Alexandre Goupil-Levesque. The pandemic “inspired everyone to grow and plan their next move”, such as a new pickup and delivery service, Daoust Valet. And, says Goupil- Levesque, the chain is 100% ecological.
Perc was confirmed toxic in 1997. Industry insiders say while some alternatives like CO2 are expensive upfront, EcoSolv, made by Chevron Philips Chemical Co and a hydrocarbon solvent, is a more popular choice for Canadian drycleaners. An estimated 2,000 reportedly are equipped with GreenEarth’s siliconebased solvent (chemicals biodegrade into silica, water and carbon dioxide.) Marco Niccolini, marketing director of Italian-based Renzacci which produces and supplies both wet- and drycleaning machines such as the water cleaning Oceano system (pictured), says there remains much consumer education to be done. They are confused about the differences between wet and drycleaning and are unaware of current eco-friendly products and methods used. The outlets and chains which keep to good practices, educate their customers and become a staple household backup to support lifestyles will thrive, he warns.
Retail cleaning market
Chris Tebbs, executive director of the International Dry Cleaner’s Congress, says decline of the number of the businesses – around 2,500 at last count - doesn’t necessarily translate to reduction of the volume of business. He says the drycleaning market should really be referred to as the ‘retail cleaning market’ because a large part of turnover is retail laundering – not just shirts but lightweight washable trousers and jackets. Many outlets have been taken over and converted into ‘dry stores’ - receiving shops and outlets. Tebbs says anecdotally, dry cleaning is down by up to 80% in some parts – the pandemic has forced people working from home into jeans and T-shirts, so dress clothes stay in wardrobes. The new norm, he reckons, will be increased pick-up/drop off services, more customer contact and marketing via technology, ‘playing the green card’ and water recycling investment.
Meanwhile the Industrial Laundry and Linen Supply industry in Canada, dealing with linen, uniforms and dust-control items for foodservice, hospitality and manufacturing operators, experienced growth over the five years to 2019, says another IBISWorld report released in December. Revenue was on the rise, increasing at an annualised rate of 1.3% to $1.3 billion over the five years to 2019, sustained primarily by a decline of around 2.6% in the national unemployment rate and rising demand from the healthcare, food services and manufacturing sectors. Industry revenue increased around 2.1% in 2019.
Prospects for other laundry sectors, such as those in healthcare, also looked good for 2020. Then came the Covid-19 rollercoaster ride. On 11 March, Canada declared the pandemic. By the third week in March, hospitals were pestering their laundry and linen suppliers for a plan. While the US health system navel-gazed and grappled with loss of income from inpatient revenues versus beds on standby for virus victims, Canadian-based Ecotex swung into action, straddling both sides of the border and with North America’s largest hospital laundry in Toronto, handling 74m lb of laundry a year. The privately-owned Ecotex faced 15-20,000 beds taken out of the system Canada-wide, in-patient activity dive-bombing and a surge of Covid-19 victims predicted at the end of March. Randy Bartsch, chairman and chief executive, said the demand for disposable gowns was disproportionate, hospital stockpiles of single use PPE dried up in three weeks. Isolation gowns were scarce. In Toronto, Ecotex instituted pick up and return every 12 hours. Then it made isolation gowns, re-useable up to 60 times and ramped up its logistics and supply chain, leaning on established relationships in China. By the end of April it had 100,000 new product. At time of writing, it was processing 500,000 pieces a week. Bartsch says it was like running a “bi-polar” business – running at a loss yet with a core group working 16-hours a day on supplies and logistics. The future? A “new normal” says Bartsch, because Covid isn’t going away. Healthcare funding will go to wait lists catchups. But the pandemic sped up technologies to accelerate outpatient treatment. That means the industry’s moving into a different world. For starters, says, Bartsch, reusables will increase – a logical conclusion given disposables go to landfill and take a disproportionate time to source, buy and deliver.
Meanwhile, Canadian giant, K-Bro, which expected rich fruit when it bought the UK’s Fishers in a £35 million deal in 2017 – its first purchase outside Canada and a platform to springboard UK growth – has announced the mothballing of Fishers’ Perth site – one of six across Scotland and England’s north-east. A spokesman said the pandemic’s devastating impact on the UK’s hospitality sector was to blame.
Back in Canada, hospitality has also been hard hit. But Tom Washbrook, head of Electrolux Professional Laundry for North America, identifies Canada as a significant market, supported by nine distributors cross-country, servicing multiple services and industries. Electrolux says the hospitality market has been focused on operational cost reduction. Its high-speed equipment was recently installed in the trendy Hotel Arts in Calgary, Alberta.
Girbau, too, has been busy. Its EH090 washers, CG75-85 dryers and an X20125 ironer adorn the new Alt Hotel’s laundry in St John’s, Newfoundland. The hotel, delivered pre-assembled from Europe, is considered ground-breaking.
The pandemic’s effect has been slightly offset by the federal government subsidising business payrolls (75% of a wage up to $847.00 per week), plus interest-free loans up to $40,000, less $10,000 if paid back within three years. A Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program kicked into place for employers seeing a drop of at least 15% in March 2020 and 30% of their revenue for April and May 2020. But is it enough?
Sidney Chelsky, executive director of the Canadian Fabricare Association, said many members had faced sales losses of over 80% and struggled to keep their plants and depots open. “I have found it difficult to hear the sad stories that our members have reported.” Furthermore, lack of landlord co-operation in subsidising rents for a three-month period has ramped up pressure. While provincial governments offered to subsidise 50% of gross rents for small businesses which then payed 25%, some landlords refused to pay the remaining 25% balance, despite the threat of vacant, unleasable properties for the foreseeable future, said Chelsky.
The International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook published in June expects Canada’s gross domestic product to contract 6.2 per cent this year - an eightpercentage- point decline from its forecast of 1.8 per cent growth in January. Covid-19 and an oil price slump are to blame. But the IMF sees a partial rebound of 4.2% in 2021.
Canada’s 37.74m population is concentrated into three major cities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and three minors – Edmonton, Calgary and Quebec. Economies vary between provinces. British Columbia thrives on forestry and tourism, Alberta and Saskatchewan on oil, gas and mining, Ontario on manufacturing, agriculture and some mining, Quebec on manufacturing and tourism and the Maritimes on tourism, fishing and some offshore oil. Low oil prices have led to Alberta in recession for three years, but Ontario’s manufacturing has plumped up the coffers. Girbau says low oil prices have stifled many high paying jobs, worker camps and resulting laundries which have not returned. A weak Canadian dollar has promoted US travel but limits trade.
Canada is one of the developed world’s four largest consumers of water per capita and rides close on the heels of the United States. Interestingly, most of Canada’s freshwater drains to the north, away from the 85 per cent of the population that lives within 300 kilometres of the southern border. This makes harnessing and managing water resources a significant challenge, reports Water Canada.
Ecolab, American-based global provider of water, hygiene, energy technologies and services, markets to the Canadian market its circular water strategy – BlueOcean, Aquabatch and AquaDrain filtration systems. The company says the systems are designed to help laundries filter, recycle and reuse water, reduce freshwater demand and cut gas consumption in boilers and dryers.
New to Canada is Ecolab’s OxyGuard40 which reduces water and energy consumption. Recent tests and installations in the Asia Pacific region show total water savings across 22 laundries saving 446 million gallons annually. The savings represent 1.3% of that region’s commercial laundry use. Ecolab has also just taken to Canada its PolyVantage laundry detergent – it attracts oils to the surface of linen and lifts them at low temperatures.
Meanwhile a brand new training programme aims to improve wastewater management and treatment in textile supply chains, reports Water Canada. The programme has been developed through a collaboration between the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme, and Nike. The ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme Wastewater Guidelines standardises wastewater testing requirements in the global apparel, textile and footwear supply chains. Suppliers share their wastewater testing results with clients through a ZDHC gateway. Test analysis identifies opportunities to improve wastewater operations and quality, plus increased and improved operator training, says Water Canada’s report. It is hoped the programme will extend even further along the textile chain.