EVENT RENTAL COMPANIES are in love with linen, and it's not hard to understand why. “Linen is the highest growth area of our business,” notes J.P. Fritz, owner of Lasting Impressions Party Rentals, Columbus, Ohio.
But specialty linen requires special treatment. And many rental operators leave that job to specialists. Edina, Minn.-based Apres Party and Tent Rental sends 80 percent of its 50,000-piece linen inventory to professional laundries. “I have looked at the numbers over and over again, and it is still less expensive for us to send our linens out for cleaning,” explains president Charlie Feldbaum.
Other operators want to keep cleaning in-house. Dissatisfied with the level of service from its linen suppliers, management at Celebration Party Rental in Flemington, N.J., built an in-house laundry three years ago. “The investment allowed us to step up the level of specialty linen a notch, and offer fabrics that we would not even have dreamed of handling prior, including custom tent liner colors,” explains president Megan Jones. The new capacity has even allowed Celebration to take on local commercial accounts that generate weekly turnover. “We have expanded two times since we began the in-house laundry, and are looking to go to the next step of producing the linen ourselves within the next year or two,” she adds.
For in-house laundries, the right equipment makes all the difference. Fritz recently added another 100-pound washing machine, a reversible dryer (“Better to keep wrinkles out of skirting,” he says) and a 10-foot-long, 20-inch-diameter ironer.
Kirby Rental Service of Orlando, Fla., continues to invest in larger capacity washers to replace those that wear out, notes linen department manager Mary Garlick. Along with two flatwork finishers big enough to handle 132-inch rounds, the department also uses a steam tunnel for skirts, chair covers and specialty linens. Although the linen warehouse area has windows that don't open, cutting down on dust, Kirby must use special treatments to reduce the mildew common in Florida's humid climate.
But no matter how carefully the rental company handles its linen, customers can undo it all. Apres uses a tagging system both to track linen for inventory purposes and to share care tips with the customer. The customer tags instruct clients to shake off excess crumbs after use and put dry linen into the company's bags, noting that wet linen must be allowed to dry to prevent mildew. The tags also caution that linen care is the client's responsibility and permanent stains — wax, burns, mildew — will result in a replacement charge.
As in all aspects of special events, a little ingenuity with specialty linen goes a long way. Durant's Tents & Events of Danbury, Conn., invested in a Merrow sewing machine, which “is a savior,” says manager Elaina Mendes. “We were able to turn a large quantity of damaged, un-rentable cloths into $2,800 of rentable linen inventory.”
Apres Party and Tent Rental, 952/942-3399; BBJ Linen, 847/329-8400; Celebration Party Rental, 908/735-7368; Cloth Connection, 845/426-3500; Durant's Tents & Events, 203/744-2295; GBS Linens, 714/778-6448; Kirby Rental Service, 407/422-1001; Lasting Impressions Party Rentals, 614/252-5400; Tablecloth Co., 973/942-1555
HANDLE WITH CARE
Your star linen deserves star treatment. Here are tips from the experts:
Extreme temperatures and direct sunlight are hard on delicate silks, notes Michael Davis, vice president of Spring Valley, N.Y.-based Cloth Connection.
Hang it all
Hanging and bagging specialty linen avoids crushing embellishments such as tassels and keeps the linen safe from dust. If you must fold it, do so carefully to avoid leaving marks, says Bill Pry, vice president of sales for BBJ Linen, Chicago.
Watch your washing
Sheers that are 100 percent nylon or polyester can often be washed with gentle cleanser in cold water and tumble-dried on low heat. Avoid machine-drying for linen with adornments such as sequins or flocking, as well as direct heat from a mangle or iron. A 100 percent metallic tissue lamé should never be washed at all: “Simply wipe it down with a sponge and air-dry,” suggests Mary Kerr, vice president of operations for Tablecloth Co. of Paterson, N.J.
Go for the tough stuff
Some specialty linen is surprisingly durable. “Chiffons appear to be a very soft and flowing fabric, but they do surprisingly well in the washers,” notes Sujata Mody Kamdar, vice president of GBS Linens, Anaheim, Calif. Another tough guy: fabrics with metallic thread woven in, as opposed to those coated with metallic inks. “These types of fabrics, such as our Diamanté or Dorsée fabrics, are very sturdy and hold up to washing very well as long as no bleach is used,” Kerr says.
Take the test
The best suggestion for preserving precious linen: Test a sample piece to see how it handles. “Don't wash a whole load of an item and then find out that you handled it wrong,” Kamdar warns.