Choosing an apparel service: a checklist

by Brad Whitsel

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The cleanroom apparel service, once a specialist industry, is moving into the hands of the large industrial laundries. And now that your service selection may be based more on price, it is important to know that, when evaluating and selecting a cleanroom apparel service provider, there are two components to the cost of doing business: the quoted cost-per-change, and the sometimes not-so-obvious ancillary charge.

The quoted cost-per-change
Regardless of the program offered or chosen (flat-rate, rental wash, etc.), in order to compare one vendor to the next, pricing should be evaluated, vendor to vendor, in terms of cost per change.

Assuming the suppliers are qualified, the contract award is often based on comparing the cost-per-change-the front end. In this, suppliers often keep the cost-per-change low. After this cost is set, you must then concern yourself with the ancillary charges.

Ancillary charges
The following is a partial list of charges that are often associated with apparel service. It is the customer's responsibility to know whether or not these or other charges should be factored into the vendor evaluation process.

Loss/replacement charge: A charge for garments that are “lost” or need to be replaced for reasons other than normal wear.

It is important to know the replacement value before signing a contract. Is it reasonable? How do the vendors compare?

Criteria for replacing the garment should be agreed upon and documented proof that the garment was replaced should be furnished. Who pays for the garments that simply disappear, and what process control does the vendor have in place to track garments?

This is a charge that is often levied at the conclusion of a contract, especially when the customer is intending to change vendors. A huge bill for lost or damaged garments may be submitted that is usually waived if the customer renews the agreement.

Repair charge: A charge for repair that may include zipper replacement, holes, frayed seams, missing snaps, etc.

Determine how repairs are billed. Is normal wear and tear included in the base price, and can this phrase be defined?

What are the actual repair charges? If the term “Prevailing Rates” is used, can it be further defined?

Finally, how are repairs documented and is there a system in place that makes it convenient to request repairs?

Invoicing surcharge: A legitimate charge for special invoicing that is sometimes requested by the user. It is important to determine if there will be a special invoicing charge or surcharge before signing a contract.

Delivery charge: A legitimate charge that is discussed at the front end to cover an out-of-the-way delivery point.

Delivery charges should be discussed before signing a contract.

Transport container charge: A charge for reusable containers used to transport the garments.

What charges, if any, will be levied for boxes, pallets, bags, transport carts or containers?

Environmental compliance charge: A charge for disposal of wastewater, special reporting to supervising agencies, effluent testing and treatment, etc.

Will there be an environmental compliance or wastewater disposal charge and, if so, how much and how often?

Special cleaning charge: A charge for a special, additional wash or treatment to remove especially heavy soiling or to brighten garments.

These charges should be determined before signing a contract. Authorization, documentation and frequency should also be addressed.

Inventory make-up charge: A fee levied per item of apparel that is labeled and put into service. This may also be referred to as an installation or labeling charge.

This charge can be considerable because it is often on a per item basis. For instance, 40 people changing daily require a working apparel inventory of 440 garment sets. A garment set typically consists for four items, or a total of 1,760 items. 1,760 items x $1.00 per item make-up charge = $1,760.

Sometimes, the initial make-up charge is waived but there may be a charge for the installation of garments subsequent to the initial installation. It is the customer's responsibility to determine if such charges apply.

Restocking charge: A charge applied when garments are removed from service because of inventory reductions or size changes.

This charge is often used in conjunction with the make-up or labeling charge and can grow to a considerable sum, especially if levied at the end of an agreement when the apparel service provider withdraws inventory. It can be a significant parting charge.

Fuel or energy adjustment charge or surcharge: A separate line item on the invoice for fuel or energy use.

Before signing a contract, determine if there will be a fuel or energy charge or surcharge.

Annual price increase: A price increase that is typically based on the CPI or some other economic index.

Will there be an annual price increase and, if so, how much? Know that this price increase will occur at the maximum permissible amount.

Get it in writing
The preceding list is by no means complete. However, it illustrates the importance of thorough contract documentation to avoid unpleasant surprises. It also ensures a contract award based upon the true cost of service. The onus is on the customer to ask all of the right questions and to “get it in writing.”

Brad Whitsel has been involved in many aspects of microcontamination control since 1975. His experience includes engineering and cleanroom design, contamination control and sales training, marketing and management. He is president of Whitsel Associates Inc., a project management and consulting firm formed in 1986. Contact: [email protected].

It is the customer's responsibility to know which charges should be factored into the vendor evaluation process.


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