Article | Category: Spa Operations

SHEETS 101: A Crash Course in Linen Management
by Jamison Stoike and Ella Kent

If you stepped into—or are currently stepping into—a role in spa management with little idea of how to manage your spa’s linens, you’re not alone.

The 2018 ISPA Spa Workforce Study found that only 31 percent of spa managers received internal management training when they stepped into the role; 24 percent received external training; and 13 percent received no training whatsoever. Even among those who have received formal training, it would not be unusual to receive little or no instruction in the art of linen management.

“No one talks about it, and then you run out of sheets,” quips Ella Kent, director of rooms at Sea Island Resort. Kent is a longtime spa director, having previously served as spa director at The Broadmoor Hotel, executive director of spa at Wynn Las Vegas and director of spa, fitness and racquet sports at Sea Island; she also served two terms as ISPA Chairman.

“It’s a trial by fire, more than anything else,” Kent continues. “We talk about treatments. Vendors talk about retail and products. But no one will come educate you about the laundry process.”

But, as every spa director knows or will soon learn, laundry is just as essential to the operation of a spa as treatments, menu design and products. Without sheets and towels, treatments and services cannot be performed. And without treatments and services…well, let’s just say that your spa could find itself ‘sheet’-out-of-luck.

Thankfully, Kent has advice and insight for spa directors looking to refine their linen management process.

How much linen and terry do I need?

“The first thing you have to do,” says Kent, “is understand your PAR levels.” PAR—short for Periodic Automatic Replenishment— is the amount of linen and terry needed to complete the treatments booked on any given day. Kent recommends maintaining three PAR; in her experience, this is a good number for most any spa. The first PAR is the exact amount of linen and terry in-place and in the rooms that is necessary to complete that day’s services. Therefore, three PAR is three times that ‘daily use’ amount. When a spa is operating with three PAR, the first PAR is being used, while the second PAR is folded and on shelves, ready to be used tomorrow. The third PAR, meanwhile, is currently being laundered.

However, exactly how much linen and terry constitutes one PAR unit will vary from spa to spa. Since not all days are equally busy, it’s best to calculate an ‘average daily use.’ Kent recommends skewing this average towards a slightly busier day, saying “you have your minimum day and your maximum day. Most of us talk about a medium-high day as our PAR level.” To find your spa’s PAR, count up the amount of linen and terry needed to make it through one moderately-busy day. Don’t forget to add in extra terry for use in locker rooms and wet areas, too—women typically use more than men, according to Kent, and in her own calculations has found that her spas average six towels per spa guest.

Ultimately, exactly how much linen and terry you have on hand (i.e. one PAR) depends on your spa’s facilities and bookings; however, maintaining three PAR is a good rule of thumb for all spas. Don’t fret, though, if you don’t quite get there: the vicissitudes= of monthly budgets often make 2.5 or 2.8 PAR a fact of life. In the end, how much linen and terry you have depends on your spa’s budget: the goal is to have just enough linen to be able to comfortably run your spa, freeing up excess money to go towards other areas. That’s a difficult needle to thread, though, and it naturally leads into the next question:

How often should I order new linen and terry?

“You have to do an inventory every month,” Kent says. “And then you have to order enough to replace what is missing or damaged.” Kent repeatedly stressed the importance of staying on top of tracking a spa’s linen and terry, because linen and terry both have a limited shelf life. Towels lose their softness. Sheets get stained. Robes seem to ‘wander off,’ as it were, with guests. If your spa is frequently short on towels, it’s possible that therapists and estheticians will squirrel away a small stash of towels in a hiding place to ensure that they have enough for their treatments; this can cause you to order linen and terry you may not need.

It’s a necessity to budget for new linen and terry every month, even if you don’t need new linen and terry at that time. For example, a newlyopened spa may not need to purchase much during their first year of operation. But because all of their linen and terry was purchased simultaneously and was used equally over the course of that year, it will soon begin to wear out at the same time. That can mean unsightly—and unaffordable—linen bills during the second year if the spa is unprepared.

If you don’t order monthly, it’s likely that you’ll one day realize you don’t have enough pillowcases or hand towels to complete the day—in other words, you’ll be hung out to dry.

“It will kill you if you don’t stay on top of your inventory and have the fiscal discipline to order what you need every month no matter what is going on,” Kent reiterates. “That can be a challenge if you’re a small spa.”

What should I look for when sourcing linen and terry?

Two things: durability and luxury. To test the first, let your laundry facility or outside laundry service test whatever linen and terry you’re about to purchase. “We have our own laundry facility at Sea Island,” notes Kent, “so we’ll send it to laundry, and they’ll wash it ten times to make sure it’s a good fit for the chemicals we use and the machines we have.” Part of this involves working with your property’s laundry director or the outside laundry service to help decide which linen and terry represent the best compromise between cost, durability and luxury. “A smart laundry facility manager is your best friend,” adds Kent.

You’ll also need to think about folding: does your laundry facility use a folding machine? If so, make sure the sheets you purchase will fit in the folding machine. Otherwise they’ll need to be hand-folded, which adds additional cost. For that reason, says Kent, many spas are moving towards sheets and terry crafted from materials that are wrinkle-resistant and don’t need to be folded.

For the second criteria, Kent finds you often get what you pay for. Quality terry and linen are expensive, but will typically last longer and offer a better experience to the guest than
cheaper options that need replacing more frequently. They can also generate additional retail revenue for your spa: if a customer falls in love with the sheets and towels used by your spa, they may be interested in purchasing them through your spa’s retail.

In addition to providing a sense of luxury, having quality towels in particular is part and parcel of delivering superior results at a spa: Kent notes that providing a guest with a scratchy towel after they’ve received a facial can essentially undo the benefits of the treatment.

Should I outsource laundry or bring it in-house?

Kent suggests bringing laundry inhouse if you can. For a small day spa, this might mean having a few machines in back. For a large resort, this can mean a full-scale laundry facility. Obviously, the upfront costs are huge, notes Kent, but there’s a key factor driving her recommendation to bring laundry in house: “When you outsource laundry, their goal is to make as much money as they can from you. When it’s in-house, their goal is to keep cost down as low as possible.”

Should I have different kinds of terry and linen?

When it comes to material and quality, Kent favors having the same towels and sheets across the board rather than using more luxurious materials for customer-facing applications and lower-quality materials for ‘back-ofhouse’ uses. This is because managing multiple kinds of terry and linen is much more difficult—now you have to sort out the ‘good’ towels from the ‘bad’
towels and make sure they get to the right place. It also makes it impossible to pull linen and terry from one area to another when necessary.

Kent provided the following example: “We had a fitness center that was separately managed from our spa for a while. They had different kinds of towels than we did, and the fight for hand towels happened every day. Eventually, we decided to all be on the same towels so we could share as needed. Same thing for if you have multiple properties: it’s good to use the same sheets, the same towels, so that you’re not fighting over yours and theirs. It’s not a good cultural thing. It’s funny— people will draw blood over laundry.”

Putting the Matter to Bed

“The joke is that linen is the lifeblood of spa,” Kent says. “Our biggest panic moments [as spa directors]—except for a therapist calling off—is running out of linens and knowing that you’re not getting a delivery.” By understanding PAR level—how to calculate it and use it to manage your spa’s inventory of linen and terry—you can make a daily task more manageable and avoid panic moments. In doing so, you’ll be freed up to focus on managing what matters most: your team and the experiences they provide to the spa’s customers.

Linen & Terry: “Linen” consists of sheets, while ‘terry’ consists of towels and rugs. Depending on the spa, robes can fall into either category or both.

Be sure to fully rotate your linens: room to laundry, laundry to shelf, shelf to room. Don’t directly replace used sheets and towels with ones fresh from the laundry while leaving the same unused linen and terry on the shelf. Doing so will wear out your linens much more quickly than a proper rotation.

For new spas, Ella Kent recommends overestimating the amount of linen and terry you’ll need. After six months, recalculate PAR now that you have data on how many treatments, towels and sheets you use in a typical day.