Cleaning up in the world of laundry

THE secret of success, according to the managing director of JLA, is innovation and customer service.

And the privately-owned company, which is the biggest independent distributor of commercial laundry equipment in Europe, has certainly made its mark in both areas.

The firm, which is based in the village of Ripponden, in West Yorkshire, is behind a revolutionary commercial laundry system now used by nearly 40 NHS Trusts, which destroys superbugs such as MRSA. The company was also recognised in the National Customer Service Awards 2008.

Founded in 1973, JLA has stepped up its game in the last decade, more than doubling its workforce to 350.

Managing director Stuart Wilkinson said: "We can only be as good as the people within the business, and we are constantly investing in staff."

In spite of the current economic climate, the company continues to expand.

Turnover for 2008 is 50m, with earnings before interest, tax and depreciation, of 17m.

Mr Wilkinson said: "The credit crunch doesn't seem to be affecting us. We are not despondent about the marketplace because laundry is a necessity and relatively recession-proof.

"I suppose someone could make the decision to repair rather than replace a washing-machine, but we are looking at growth."

The two major factors behind JLA's success, according to Mr Wilkinson, are the company's willingness to invest heavily in the research and development of ground-breaking new products and its commitment to high quality repair and maintenance service.

Recent JLA innovations include SAFE Sensor Activated Fire Extinguishing system tumble-dryers – machines with built-in extinguishers to combat the relatively common occurrence of spontaneous combustion in dryer drums.

The company's biggest development to date, however, is another commercial laundry system known as OTEX, which the firm spent 3m developing.

The system destroys bacteria, viruses and even superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile, on all wash cycles, eliminating the need for special high-temperature thermal disinfection wash programmes.

Hospitals, including York Hospital and Calderdale Royal Hospital, in Halifax, are using the system in their fight against healthcare-acquired infections.

More than 900 care and nursing homes throughout the country have also opted for the system, including dozens in the Yorkshire region.

Mr Wilkinson said: "One of the system's major advantages is that it kills the superbug Clostridium difficile, whereas high-temperature cycles do not. This has proved a key factor in nearly 40 NHS hospitals and almost 1,000 care homes and other sites opting for the system.

"These customers are also enjoying the additional benefit of making substantial energy savings because the system uses mostly cold water."

The healthcare sector makes up JLA's biggest customer base, but other major markets for the company include hotels, schools, universities, Army barracks, prisons, sheltered housing, football clubs and cruise liners.

Almost every UK prison and most universities have JLA equipment.

The company employs more than 100 engineers across the country, who are co-ordinated by a national service call centre which uses satellite technology to ensure they are despatched as quickly as possible to the nearest job, seven days a week.

Mr Wilkinson said: "Ten years ago, we had 40 engineers covering the country, compared with 120 now. The more people we have, the better our performance."

So confident is the company of its service operation that it guarantees to pay customers 100 if an engineer is ever late attending a call.

It was this unusual offering which impressed judges in the recent finals of the prestigious National Customer Service Awards 2008.

JLA beat fellow finalists Fujitsu Services, Royal Bank of Scotland Insurance and RM Education to win the Customer Service Award for Field Service Management.

Mr Wilkinson said: "As we continue to grow and invest, we can continually improve and better our service.

"We are not complacent. We are continually investing in innovation and improving the performance of our business."