Alliant Conference: Routes to Biz Growth

Posted October 16, 2015 at 12:45 pm

A group of 131 independent laundry executives from across North America and beyond gathered in Fort Worth, TX, on Oct. 14-16 to address technological and strategic challenges associated with running successful routes. The gathering was part of a yearly educational conference sponsored by route-accounting software provider, Alliant Systems, Irving, TX.

“This is a record turnout for this event, and I couldn’t be happier with the people who are here today,” said Alliant President Jeff Belcher in his opening remarks. While the conference at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel focused primarily on advances in route-management technology, it also marked Belcher’s 30th anniversary as a supplier to the textile services industry with Alliant and predecessor companies.

Textile Services magazine Sr. Editor Jack Morgan presented Belcher with a 30-year TRSA Service Award certificate following the airing of a satirical Alliant-produced video that parodied the “Back to the Future” time-travel adventure movies.

The video concluded on a serious note that tied it back to today’s Alliant Systems. Specifically, Belcher acknowledged that when the Internet boomed in the early 2000s, he’d failed to register the domain name Belcher recently corrected that omission by purchasing the name from an online auction site. Now, the new website address is, although the company’s servers will automatically forward e-mails using the former “” title, he said.

Other advances in Alliant’s services announced at the conference included a new Web portal that will allow the company’s 187 customer locations to log in to the Alliant site and gain access to training materials and various technical documentation, including online registration forms for next year’s conference, which will be held Oct. 19-21 at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

But what Belcher cited as the most significant breakthrough on the conference agenda was a partnership with TSYS, a leading direct-merchant service provider that will make it easier for textile service companies to accept credit card payments from customers using encryption technology that will relieve launderers of the security headaches associated with maintaining credit card data. “I believe this credit card system is going to be a real game changer for all of our customers,” Belcher said.

While IT advances always are critical for route-accounting systems users, they aren’t the only issue facing companies running these operations. The video made this point as an ’80s-era Belcher look-alike (with hair) quipped that, “Technology will come and go, but if you treat people right, you’ll do just fine.”

The issue of managing route operations from a leadership/human resources perspective was the focus of a keynote address by Rich Sweeney, a Dallas-based consultant. In a one-hour talk, Sweeney addressed various strategic challenges, including the need to embrace “disruptive change.” Companies that fail to do this, from Borders to Nokia, Kodak, Circuit City and others have vanished with a “poof,” he said. Meanwhile, more nimble competitors such as Apple and the Container Store have thrived. “Are you going to be on the right side of the wave?” Sweeney asked rhetorically, using a slide of a tidal wave on a screen behind him for dramatic effect.

Sweeney cited textile services companies such as Metro Linen, McKinney, TX; and Wildman Uniform, Warsaw, IN; as examples of commercial laundries that have embraced change and experienced growth as a result. The key is adopting a “culture” that’s proactive, rather than reactive to shifting market conditions and communicating those values to every employee – particularly route reps who deal directly with customers. “How important is culture?” he asked. “That collective assumption, that collective belief is going to drive behavior in your organization. That behavior is going to drive results.” For today’s groundbreaking companies, such as Southwest Airlines, the business’ culture may even supersede its commitment to customer service, Sweeney said.

A key element in successfully managing market changes lies in understanding demographic trends, Sweeney added. Specifically, he noted that baby boomers will gradually depart form the workforce in coming years, while the ranks of millennials will increase. The good news is that these younger workers (born late 1980s to early 2000s) tend to be tech-savvy and willing to offer their input on business issues. Many will appreciate the opportunity to work for independent companies because they see opportunities to advance more quickly with such organizations, he said.

But regardless of demographics, effective managers must be willing to dismiss weak performers, and screen carefully to avoid mediocre ones. “One great person equals three good people,” Sweeney said. “It’s worth it. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Gold is under your nose. Drive the culture!”

In breakout sessions that followed the keynote address, two vendor partners to Alliant gave presentations designed to educate operators in areas including IT support systems and benchmarking analyses of the data collected by Alliant’s route-accounting software.

On the later topic, executives from Performance Matters, including President Troy Lovins, outlined how their company can review route-accounting data, such as statistics on uniform purchases as a percentage of a company’s overall budget. If they find the number is higher than industry averages, they can work with clients to help them reduce that figure, thereby saving the company tens of thousands of dollars in yearly expenses.

Another vendor, Matt Stearly, president of Infinite Systems advised attendees to take a proactive approach to ensuring that IT support systems, such as servers and e-mail software and hardware, are kept up to date to avoid equipment crashes that can disrupt both internal and external operations. Infinite Systems’ service includes a software tool for in-house IT managers that warns operators when a system, such as e-mail, is running slower than normal and may require maintenance in order to head off a near-term system breakdown. “Rather than wait for the failure to occur, now you can be proactive and get your IT people involved,” Stearly said.