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MEWA—

The German Name for Quality, Efficiency and Great Textile Care A family business managed by professionals—with a focus on long-term ROI

More than 700,000 European workers are outfitted by MEWA.

n Aug. 1, 1908, Hermann Gebauer founded the industrial and commercial weaving mill which he called MEWA in the small town of OstritzAltstadt in Saxony, eastern Germany. The name is an acronym for Mechanische Weberei Altstadt GmbH. Today, as the company approaches its centenary, MEWA operates more than 30 plants in Germany and nine other European countries including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland. Family delegates details With sales approaching $450 million per annum and increasing

yearly from $350 million achieved as recently as 2000, MEWA is widely respected in its service delivery areas—which cover more than 90,000 contracted customers—for its quality of services delivered and for the close attention the company pays to environmental management systems and staff conditions of service. Services delivered by the MEWA plants across Europe are focused on the care and maintenance of industrial wipers, and rental of any item from its stock of 65,000 different garments. More than 700,000 workers are outfitted in one or more textile items from the vast MEWA range, and this number continues to grow as new plants open on a regular basis each year. On the day of the TRSA visit, for example, two new plants opened: one in Belgium south of Brussels and the other in Hamelin, Germany. MEWA, as one can deduce from the preceding paragraphs, is a classic example of how successful a textile rental company can be when the focus centers on customer desires and a determination to deliver. The basis for this is the slightly unusual corporate structure

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By Irving Scott

Reprinted with permission of Textile Rental magazine, the official publication of the Textile Rental Services Association of America


MEWA conforms to the European textile laundry standard and is highly committed to environmental stewardship.

Passionate about people and plants “We also have a very strong policy commitment to the environment in which we live,” Küttelwesch adds. “As you know, Germany has an international reputation for the attention which is paid at both government and business level to the state of the envi-

MEWA stocks 65,000 different garments.

concerned with the quality of the wiper cloths in use by the customer that we weave our own fabric to a specification that we consider to be the best in the industry. Our wipers are specified to hold not less than 250% of the weight of the wiper in moisture absorption. Some wipers in the market weigh in at 25 grams when new; at MEWA we withdraw a wiper from use when it falls below 30 grams! In Germany and in most of the world, free-liquid industrial waste is classed as ‘dangerous goods’ and must be carried under very strict rules. Our wipers are classed as reusable tools and we carry them safely in our ‘SaCon’ under UN 3088 self-heating solid, organic. “Above all else we consider that at MEWA we are in the business of textile care. We do not consider that we are a laundry, because laundry and the wash process is only part of what we do. For example, in pure size terms at our plant here in Meissenheim, we have 5,000 square meters of productive space. Of this, only 700 square meters is devoted to the washing/laundering part of the

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well as in southwest Germany. “Our ownership and management structure means that the line managers and directors are left to manage,” says Küttelwesch. “We report as necessary to the Foundation and they are always interested in our progress. But they do not interfere, and they take a detached, but interested view of the business. Not only that, they do not treat the business as a ‘money-machine’ by taking out huge dividends. Indeed, the shareholders are very conservative in their personal approach to their company and are more concerned to build a strong future for the business than in their own personal enrichment.”

ronment. This is a ‘green’ country and we have determined as a policy that we will try and be the leader in our sector in environmental processing and conduct. This is why we qualified for the EN 14001 environmental standard in 1996 and why today, in every country in which we operate, we conform to EN 14065 (European textile laundering standard—see October 2003 Textile Rental, pg. 54) for all our processes in washing and quality control. “For example in our wiper business we are regarded as one of the best in this field, and for a variety of beneficial reasons. These include total concentration on the regulations governing transport, handling and processing of wipers after use. In addition, there is our provision of a unique identifying system for sorting, transport and storage of the wipers by providing over 300,000 ‘Wheelies’— mobile lidded bins called SaCon (Safety Containers) which are color-coded for easy recognition and storage, in a variety of primary-color combinations. Injection molded in high-impact-resistant plastic, these bins are found all over the MEWA business, transporting in secure loads more than 600 million wipers each year. “That is not all that is significant about our wipers. We are so

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of the MEWA business. The descendents of Hermann Gebauer have made—what seems to an outside observer—an extremely clever decision by creating a management structure that separates the family from direct involvement in the day-to-day management of the company. A ‘Foundation’ holds the issued share capital of the business and the Board of the Foundation meets regularly to determine progress and set goals for the continued progress of the company. Rolf Beisse, husband of Gabrielle Gebauer, the granddaughter of the founder, chairs the management company that runs the plants and is responsible for the commercial performance of MEWA. Day-today operations are controlled by a team of four directors responsible for sales and marketing, customer service and organization, technology and production, and finance and administration. Rudolf Küttelwesch is the managing director of the management team. He was host to the TRSA visit to the four year-old MEWA plant in Meissenheim on the edge of the Black Forest in southwest Germany. This location, near Strasbourg in eastern France, puts MEWA Meissenheim close to a large market in eastern France, as


Plant

Quality and durability are the watchwords for MEWA equipment, such as the centrifugal extractors shown here at the Meissenheim plant.

own sewing station. The result of this is that we achieve an efficiency/productivity gain of around 20%. The system is installed in all new plants as they are built and more gradually in older plants as refurbishment becomes necessary. The staff is happy with the solution, and indeed they prefer to stand, as this method is free of back problems and other aches and pains associated with handling the garments. “We are able to demonstrate one of the great benefits of our corporate structure here in Meissenheim. The level of profit to be delivered across the company and therefore from each plant allows us to pursue a purchasing policy which pays strong regard to the ultimate cost of owning any piece of plant or production equipment. This, we feel, means that price is not an absolute determining factor in selecting pieces of equipment which cost many thousands of Euros or even hundreds of thousands. The cost of ownership of installing the correct equipment is an important element in any MEWA purchase decision. We therefore invest for the

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process of managing the care of the 22,000 garments we process here each day. The rest of our space here is involved in garment control, stock issuing and inspection, quality management and repairs. “Take the case of repairs. We have studied this aspect of our service exhaustively. In conjunction with research people from the University of Munich and the Accident Prevention and Health Insurance Association of Germany, we studied the ergonomics of the actions, which a sewing machine operator has to use when carrying out repairs and inspection of a garment which has been rejected from quality inspection. As you can see, our team of repair staff do not sit at the sewing machine bench, they stand. “This is not a step back in time; it is the result of many hours of observation and consultation with the staff, which has resulted in this work method. The sewing table is controlled by the machinist and raised to the most comfortable height determined by that operator. Each staff member is able to select and control his or her


Plant

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Each staff member selects and controls their own sewing station.

MEWA studied optimal heights for sewing tables.

Our visit to this exceptionally smart MEWA plant at Meissenheim led us to try and seek out deeper reasons for the company’s business success. Rudolf Küttelwesch was emphatic in giving his reasons for the general air of contentment that was apparent from all the staff on duty during our visit to Meissenheim. “We believe in providing all levels of staff with the best possible working conditions. There is no attitude of ‘them and us’ in any of our plants. All grades eat in the same restaurant from a selection of freshly cooked menu items. We provide a 38-foot (12 meters) ceiling height with as much clear glazing as is possible so that everything in the offices and almost all sections of the plant is light and airy. We install truly ‘green’ areas of gardens and ponds all around and in between each building. All the staff have access to these areas at all times.” Service-led excellence

MEWA’s immaculate plant is light and airy.

long term and as a consequence know that our capital expenditure will repay its cost many times over. Our washer/extractors and CBWs will be as good as new after major overhaul after ten or more years’ service and good for many more years of trouble-free performance. “At MEWA we are passionate about training of all our staff at every level. This week, for example, at our new plant south of Brussels, we put in 60 experienced managers from plants across Europe to train the 140 new staff in all processes in the plant. Not only that, we sent staff who were, between them, competent to train in five languages, including, as a matter of interest, people conversant with ‘Belgian French’ as well as other people conversant with ‘French French.’ There is a difference and it is important that shades of meaning between languages are correctly managed where sophisticated machinery is involved, both from a production skill point of view and especially for safety reasons.”

With a consistently profitable business and sales volume increasing yearly, where is the growth to come from in what many consider to be a mature marketplace hide-bound by low-technology processes? Küttelwesch is clear on this. “We see very good opportunities for expansion in wipers and in uniforms. This plant at Meissenheim is now at full expansion. When the time comes we won’t increase capacity here. We will build a new plant nearer to a market some distance away, where we can give better service to existing customers and further develop that part of our geographical coverage. “There is huge potential in wipers even in Germany; but southern and eastern Europe and countries further afield hold interesting possibilities. Our service offering is a strong challenge to our competitors, who are realizing that even in ‘oily rags’ there is an important and strong, quality element when the facts are clearly explained to them. We will never be the ‘cheapest’ or the lowest quality, and we will always emphasize the benefits of a technically based product. We are not in the textile care business for the short term; we will be here for as long as the MEWA Company continues to lead the markets which we have chosen for our business efforts and where customers choose quality and reliability as well


as value for money.” As for the Meissenheim plant itself, it processes 22,000 pieces of rental apparel each day, using a highly efficient set of three tunnel washers, three washer/extractors, three other washer/extractors and a very well-designed overhead rail transport and sortation

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(From left) Rudolf Küttelwesch, managing director MEWA Textil-Service AG; Joachim Kunz, a production mgr. at Meissenheim; Uli Eckert, director, Milnor International, Brussels; Ernst Zimmerman, plant director, MEWA Meissenheim

system. The whole effort is supplied with a sophisticated detergent/ soap system, and backed up by a stock/storage, space-saving, set of vertical, closed-door, cabinets containing 31,000 items. A repair section, logo embroidery, warehousing and dispatch complete the factory scene, not forgetting the office area and staff restaurant which are themselves as we have come to expect—light, airy and spacious. This was certainly a visit to savor during long winter evenings. MEWA is an outstanding corporation endowed with a visionary ownership and managed by an extremely capable team of directors and 70 senior managers at the plant and divisional levels. A significant position in the European market built on the eternal verities of trust, competence in systems, high quality merchandise and service delivery, plus a belief in giving the customer more than he expects. As a result, MEWA is a genuine working example of a 21st century, service-led, textile–care business. A laundry? Never—this is textile care par excellence! TR

Irving Scott is a trade journalist who writes for publications in the United States and Europe.

Modern Workwear Processing  

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