Construction Details Key to Meeting Customer Needs by Peggy Williams and Ammar Khan

When it comes to your customers, your company, and your reputation, you shouldn’t make purchasing decisions lightly—especially in regard to textile products. So, how do you make purchasing decisions that will meet your customers’ needs, match your market demographics, and reflect your cost and pricing goals? The key lies in knowing the construction details of the products you plan to purchase. There is always a right product for your business and your customers; it all comes down to optimal production in your laundry and the wants and needs of your market.

Market Demographics
Markets change and demographics change. When deciding on the most appropriate textile products for purchase, consider: is yours a high-end market or lower-end market? Is your customer base stable or in flux? Are their needs constant or constantly changing?
Ask yourself: what are the big drivers for your customer base? Appearance? Performance? Product-life? Cost/price sensitivity? Durability is a spectrum — providing longer lives for products that often appear less soft and harsher to the eye. Is the appearance of a product more important to your customers, or is the number of washes before a product wears out a more important factor? Each end of the spectrum must be weighed appropriately against the market for a product. How does the fact that products can get lost, damaged, or stolen factor into your purchasing decisions, particularly in regard to cost and price sensitivity?
Your goal is to have an appropriately engineered textile product for each end customer.

Textile Specifications
All textile products are constructed for specific uses. When choosing a textile product, be sure to request its specifications in order to accurately compare one product to another. Look at fiber content, yarn quality, yarn count, thread count, and other construction details (the secondary specs).
For example, a bath towel is 100% cotton for softness and absorbency. A bar towel can also be 100% cotton, or it can have a specified amount of controlled polyester to increase its durability.
The details are in the specifications. Generally speaking, differences in specifications will mean differences in the end product. Think of it as a spectrum of textile qualities with strength and durability on one end and softness and absorbency on the other. Every textile product you purchase will fall somewhere on that spectrum. Knowing the construction details of specific textile products will give you the edge on meeting your customers unique needs.

Cost Controls
Bottom lines are on everyone’s mind—whether it’s yours or your customer’s. The cost of a product in relation to its appearance and performance as well as to you or your customer’s overall expense profile is an important consideration.
As an example, think of a bar towel. The ideal bar towel will be durable, absorbent, and will retain its white appearance. Controlled polyester in the ground (warp and weft) adds strength, and ring spun cotton ensures whiteness and absorbency in the pile. These are all ideal features. However, these are also all features which can lead to a higher price.
The good news is, price can be controlled. For instance, a less expensive bar towel can be created using the same construction. Weight is the number one thing in a bar towel that affects price, so decreasing the weight will decrease the price. Bar towels typically weigh 32 ounces. Decrease that to 30 oz. or even 28 oz. and you still keep a high-performing product. But note that less weight means less strength. So, if the weight of the textile is decreased too much, the life of the product will also be decreased because it is less durable. It’s a trade-off.
Another option for controlling and reducing price is to change the construction of the bar towel. Using 100% open-end cotton instead of 100% ring-spun cotton or even an 85/15 cotton/poly blend will effectively reduce the price of the product. The tradeoff is less whiteness, less absorbency, less durability. But you will achieve a better price and better market rag out.
Price can also be controlled by changing the yarn count of a textile product. However, when using a lower quality yarn, the twist count must be changed to increase durability. Optimal yarns are always identified and used when appropriate (for instance, French silk yarn would never be used in a bar towel). There is no “one-size-fits-all” yarn or construction that can help to keep costs down — these types of opportunities or issues must be explored on a case-by-case basis in order to keep costs and prices in line.

The Skinny on Fiber Content
Cotton, of course, is a natural fiber. It is grown from a plant and processed before being woven. One hundred percent cotton textiles offer some color fastness and durability, but their biggest selling point is softness and durability. Polyester, on the other hand, is an artificially manufactured fiber that is woven into fabric for better color fastness and durability than cotton, particularly over multiple washings. When making purchasing decisions regarding fiber content, it is important to consider end-user demographics, market size, and customer needs.

The Reality of Thread Count
Consumer perception is that “the higher the thread count, the better” when it comes to sheets and other textile products. However, perception is not always reality.
A high thread count—some online even claim counts as high as 1,000—may not be an accurate representation of the construction of the textile or of its quality.
For example, in an ideal T250 thread count sheet there are 125 yarns in the warp and 125 yarns in the weft. Due to limitations inherent in the weaving process, a perfectly balanced construction is not possible. However, having the most balanced construction possible is one of the most important aspects your textile products. Yarn quality is derived from a single ply yarn (if a cotton product) or from single-pick insertion (if a polyester product). Plying is the process of taking one yarn and doubling or tripling it by twisting multiple yarns together. Double-pick insertion is a similar process done with polyester yarns. Both processes create a coarser yarn; so, although technically a higher thread count is achieved, the fabric in question does not necessarily produce a superior product.
Would you rather sleep on a T200 thread count sheet made from the finest cotton fibers or on a T1000 thread count sheet made from fishing line? There is more to a product than simply the thread count — many other details must be taken into account to ensure an accurate comparison between products.

In Summary
When making textile purchasing decisions, the goal is to understand why you buy the products you buy, to know what factors—market demographics, construction details and specifications, price and cost—influence and affect those choices, your customers, and your bottom line.
Informed decision-making means better quality, happier customers, and a more successful business profile.