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Lindström: Redefining workwear with global service standards

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, Managing Director, shares key insights of workwear segment in a developing market and how his company is looking at a strong growth and positioning in India.

Lindström is a leading textile service company in Europe and Asia. The company’s mission is to continuously improve everyday operations and benefit customers through the company’s services.

Lindström operates in 23 countries and employs 3039 people. In 2014 the Group turnover totaled EUR 301 million (approximately Rs. 2,160 crores).

Lindström provides workwear services in all of its countries of operation. Its services are available in 14 European countries which include shop towel services in Finland and Estonia, and personal protective equipment services in Hungary and Finland. In addition, the company provides hygiene and restaurant textile services in Finland. Lindström’s subsidiary Comforta offers textile services for the hotel, restaurant and health care sectors in Finland. Hotel and restaurant textile services are offered in Sweden, while hotel textile services are available in Russia and Estonia.

In India Lindström is focusing on workwear across key industry segments like food, pharma, electronics, automobile and engineering.

Today, the company serves close to 1000 customers in the market and Lindström workwear is worn by more than 1,00,000 users in India every day. Globally it clothes more than 10,00,000 users every day.

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
How has the workwear market evolved over the years in India and what is the estimated market size and growth level?
Anupam Chakrabarty (AC): We entered the Indian market in 2007. At the moment we operate ten business units in India serving our customers across India; the ten units are located in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Panchkula, Vadodara, Tinsukia and Pune.

India is one of our key markets for our workwear services business. Our growth rate is approximately 40-50 percent on an annual basis. For the next year we are looking to keep up with same speed and hopefully grow our business even more. As we grow, we are also looking at hiring new people and local talent into the organisation. Currently we employ approximately 150 people in the market and about 180 people in our workforce are outsourced. Overall, India is a growing economy with a huge potential of workwear users. Our goal is also to expand our service network to cover the whole country. Since we started the market has evolved a lot and as mentioned there is still a huge potential.

What are the key strengths that your workwear portfolio revolves around?
AC: Lindström develops the products in consultation with the clients as per the various application areas within a client’s requirement. As already mentioned above, we are concentrating on a couple of industry segments, this does not however imply that we are not working with the other industry segments.

Additionally we see that hygiene and safety are increasingly becoming two critical requirements in the workwear industry. In short, hygiene and safety regulations are actively under surveillance in India; the number of audits executed by authorities such as USFDA (US Food and Drug Administration) are increasing, especially in the pharmaceutical segments and the food industry.

At Lindström, the hygiene requirements of these industries have been taken into consideration in all stages from design to maintenance and quality control. Lindström’s collection meets the hygiene and safety requirements that apply to both the employee and the protection of the work. Workwear can be worn both to protect the worker, but also to protect products and equipment from various sorts of contamination.

The design and materials are selected with attention to ensuring that no foreign particles can reach the medicines or food items. For example, the clothes often have no pockets above the waistline. Lindström service centres adhere to the European Standard EN-SFS 14065, which guarantees the desired level of hygiene (controlling the micro biological contamination) throughout the service process.

Where do you see growth for Lindström? Which verticals? Which regions apart from its traditional markets?
AC:
We see that a big part of our growth will come from Asia, e.g. from India and China. Looking from the industry sector perspective, we believe that the above mentioned segments will bring the best growth potential for us in the coming years.

What is the core brand strategy you focus on to sustain this position in the Indian market and to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
AC:
At the moment we are competing against the traditional way of workwear management in the industry, meaning workwear procurement from traditional sources followed by home washing of garments by the employees and in certain cases outsourcing workwear washing. However, we are certainly witnessing a change in how companies see the benefits of rental workwear in saved time and money.
Our success is based on our unique business model of rental workwear service, including everything from renting the workwear themselves along with its maintenance, overall management and sustainable disposal of the garments. Our unique patented service concept has proven to be very good and it brings added value to our customers.
Lindström’s unique selling point is tied around reliable, user friendly and sustainable way of looking after workwear clothing, releasing more time for customers to concentrate on their core business. We put also a lot of effort in improving our service culture. One of our key competitive advantages is definitively based on creating excellent customer experiences.

Lindström workwear are regularly maintained according to highest hygiene regulations. All of Lindström Group’s operations are certified in accordance with ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management Systems) and SFS EN 14065 (Laundry Processed Textiles – Bio-Contamination Control System), guaranteeing microbiological cleanness for workwear textiles.

Also, in a performance based market like workwear, new product development is a key critical success factor for the manufacturers. What would be your key focus in product development?
AC: As a textile service company our product development work is based on: customers’ needs, workwear safety and sustainability; products are designed with durability and lengthy lifecycles in mind.

How do you integrate customer feedback into your innovation and R&D strategy?
AC:
Collecting customer feedback is very important for us. All feedback that we receive is handled, and actions are taken, if necessary. Our modular concept makes is possible for us to make adjustments for our maintenance and service processes quite easily, if necessary. And adjustments are easy to scale globally, if needed.

Please describe your manufacturing strength and how it is growing? Are you adding more units in the near future? What are the present capacities?
AC:
As a textile rental company, our business is based on renting of textiles. Products with big production volumes are manufactured in Asia and Africa. In addition to these, we have local suppliers in Europe and Asia to serve fast and changing needs on a smaller scale.

The Group selects purchase sources from countries and companies that pass a risk analysis described in Lindstrom’s purchasing policy. We are growing fast. For example in 2013 we opened 4 new service centers in India, Belarus, Ukraine and Croatia. We also established a subsidiary to Kazakhstan. In 2014 we opened 8 new service centers, and out of the 8, 2 are in India (Vadodara and Tinsukia). We also established a new subsidiary in Serbia. In June 2015 we opened a new service center in Pune. At the moment we have over 80 units globally.

How does somebody who wants Lindstorm product get it?
AC
: One can be in contact with the country unit or sales team. We have contact info on our website and feedback channels.

Tell us about the key distribution channel and retail mapping that you are following for your brand?
AC:
We have our own global service network in 23 countries, meaning that we take care of the entire activity of providing the customers with workwear service to our customer by ourselves.

With help of our systematic delivery chain we guarantee clean and well maintained workwear, always available on time, for the right person at the right place.

How far has Lindstorm able to enhance its presence Pan India including tier -I, -II and -III cities? What is the ratio of its business distribution across four regions?
AC
: If you see the presence of Lindström in India, it is almost a PAN India basis presence – with business units in Panchkula, Delhi, Vadodra, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Tinsukia, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai, showing that we are present in not just metros but various tier -I, -II and -III cities.

We are covering 400-500 kilometers radius from each of our business unit. For example, we are currently serving customers in Goa, Nashik, Vishakhapatnam, Pondicherry, Silvassa and Kandla from our existing business locations. Our business is quite well spread out in north, west and south, being almost of similar size in those areas, whereas in west our units are more in a start-up phase.

Tell us about the international presence of the company? Which are the markets it is presently and how is it exports growing in your business?
AC:
At the moment we are operating in 23 countries; Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine. Our vision is to operate in 25 countries by 2016.

The share of foreign subsidiaries to Group turnover (2014: EUR 301 million, approx. Rs. 2,160 crore) in 2014 totaled EUR 112 million (approx. Rs. 800 crore) or 37.1 percent.

Which international workwear brands do you admire and what do you admire about their models?
AC:
As an ethical business policy, we do not comment on other brands, but regarding the most interesting global trends we see five of them:

  1. Textile service companies have moved from process oriented to customer oriented, meaning that services are optimised according to customers’ needs.
  2. Textile service companies have paid and are paying more attention to sustainability.
  3.  Image has become more important for customer companies. Its importance for business is growing. Textiles need to reflect the company brand, culture and identity.
  4.  Importance of hygiene and safety is increasing
  5.  There is a growing trend towards outsourcing of textile services.

Tells us about your idea of sustainability and how is your company adhering to it?
AC:
At Lindström corporate responsibility forms an integral element of our strategy. In our corporate responsibility targets, we pay attention to the financial, social and environmental impacts of our operations.

The starting point is that textile use at Lindström is established on lifecycle thinking. In other words in order to avoid unnecessary waste the products are designed with durability and lengthy lifecycles in mind. Material efficiency is considered already at the design stage, for instance by minimising cutting waste.

Usage of new technology to ever optimise laundry processes results in lower consumption of water, energy and detergents, being wise from both an ecological and financial perspective.

Textile waste is disposed of sustainably or reused. On Group level the recovery rate of textile waste in 2014 was 74 percent. The target for 2016 is to improve the recovery rate, so that 90 percent of the textile waste ends up recycled.

To summarise, for us sustainability means daily actions carried out and influenced by each person at Lindström. Sustainable operations also support the sustainability of our customers.

What is your current turnover and what is the estimated growth percentage that you are looking for in the next 2-3 years?
AC:
Lindström’s turnover in 2014 was EUR 301 million. We are aiming to grow in India between 40-50 percent on an annual basis. Regarding the investments – the investments of the Lindström Group in 2014 increased by 43 percent from the previous year in terms of euros.

The most significant investments were targeted at increasing the capacity of service centres in Finland and establishing new service centres in India, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia and Estonia. In total, investments amounted to EUR 16.2 million (EUR 11.3 million in 2013).

LINDSTRÖM VISION
The company’s 2016 vision statement states:

  • We are experiencing strong growth and our business operations are profitable and we are financially independent
  • We serve our customers globally and we operate in 25 countries in Europe and Asia
  • The company image of Lindström is based on its long experience, fresh view and enthusiasm that drives forward
  • We guarantee to the customer a well-managed and high quality service experience.