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Y takes action to conquer $30,000 loss in towels

Maryland Farms Y staff will soon have a new tool to help keep their white gym towels from walking out the door.

For Brentwood Home Page
The Maryland Farms YMCA has turned to advanced technology to keep from having to throw in the towel on a membership benefit that has caused the nonprofit to lose nearly $30,000 a year.

That’s the price tag on bath and hand towels that regularly go missing at the Maryland Farms Y, which has more than 2,500 members and is the second-largest of the 22 YMCAs in the Middle Tennessee association. Their disappearance is due primarily to members’ simply forgetting to leave the towels behind when they exit the premises following a workout, according to YMCA officials.

“It’s typically accidental,” said Bob Knestrick, group vice president for the Maryland Farms Y. “People may just throw the towel over their shoulder and forget they have it, or they put it in their gym bag as they’re packing to leave. That’s typically what it’s about.

“But as we’ve grown, the problem has become more intense.”

That’s where something called radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology enters the picture. RFID readers are being installed this month at the center’s entry/exit points, enabling members to know they’re still packing a towel as they head out the doors. Each towel will have a tag sewn on that will be detected by the RFID reader, which will emit an alert.

“These are similar to what you find in a library,” said Greg Lemon, who sits on the Maryland Farms YMCA’s volunteer advisory board and chairs its finance committee. “There will be a noise go off to remind members they have a towel on their person.”

Lemon was determined to find a solution to a problem “the center has had to put up with” for some time. As a partner of Brentwood-based Kraft Enterprise Systems, a technology consultancy and software company designed to help businesses, he talked with co-workers and others on the board to consider RFID readers as a possible solution.

The technology has been around for a while, but it has only recently become relatively affordable or even doable for how the YMCA wants to use it, according to Lemon.

“Three or four years ago, the technology was not there for a tag to go through a commercial grade washer and dryer, or else it was cost prohibitive,” he said. “But in the last couple of years, some things have come out to make it possible.”

From a win-win standpoint, the towels will actually be of higher quality, Lemon said. Plus, to install tags on the towels, the YMCA has enlisted a Lebanon company that provides support services and employment to people with disabilities. Prospect, Inc., which has provided a service for more than 40 years, has three work centers from which the tagging can be completed.

Another benefit to the new system is that savings from the lost towels – about $2,000 a month, according to Knestrick – will be put back into communities the YMCA serves.

And it could be implemented in other Middle Tennessee YMCA’s as well.

“We hope it’s something that works well here at Maryland Farms, and if it does, it will be easy to roll out to other centers,” Lemon said. “We really want our members to embrace the technology, and make them aware that the money we’re saving is going back into outreach programs.”

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