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Adding Alternative Profit Centers to Your Dry Cleaning Business

SAN FRANCISCO — The lifestyle changes of consumers (most notably more casual attire), their extremely hectic lifestyles that limit time and/or desire to run errands, and the downward economic pressure in general have all been factors in the search for alternative profit centers to maintain the economic health of the fabricare industry.

I’m going to address some of the alternatives that are contributing to the sales and profit of cleaners. It is important to remember that any and all of them take careful planning and execution to be successful.


Disaster restoration divisions, with their large orders on the positive side, and the uncertainty of demand on the negative side, have been a common and welcome addition to many companies.

Anyone considering entering this business for the first time is advised to thoroughly research the required initial investment, potential challenges of collection, and the extremely aggressive competition in the sales process. If these factors are manageable, a professional team is required to make this business a success.


Preservation, although not a new addition for most, has been a target of expansion. It often also requires restoration due to excess or set soil and garment abuse or damage.

Beyond the traditional bridal arena, preservation includes military and classic sports uniforms, life-event garments (such as christening and confirmation suits and dresses), vintage garments of all types, museum collections, important performance fashions, antique textiles, and cherished old and new handmade crafts such as quilts, crocheted pieces and heirloom needlepoint.

A narrow window of opportunity exists for preservation of World War II uniforms to be displayed at memorial services for veterans. Unfortunately, we are losing these men and women at a rate of more than 1,000 per day, according to the Associated Press, so this service is time-sensitive.

Preservation service is a good entrée into fashion-focused groups as well as textile artisans.


Tailoring and repair departments have long been a staple service that sets professional dry cleaners apart from the competition, but many are finding it difficult to staff these positions due to the demise of sewing skills in the general population and the high demand for those skills.

On a field trip to Nordstrom, staffing alterations was a topic of discussion that led the store’s manager to reveal that it is also one of their biggest challenges. This person shared that they actively recruit family members of current seamstresses and tailors because the skill tends to be taught within families of professionals.

One Methods for Management member has begun offering a “Tailoring-While-You-Wait” service that has proven popular. Customers are willing to pay a significant premium to make only one trip and be able to wear that new outfit that night!

Everyone has something in their wardrobes that no longer fits well, needs a hem or a replacement hook, or has a broken zipper or even just a missing button. Many consumers don’t have even minor sewing skills, time or inclination to do this work and would love to have a dependable source for it.


Many operators have attempted to deliver service to customers through some 24/7 variation, with most opting for the limited combination drop-box and locker alternative.

Although few have ventured into the 24/7 automatic drycleaning ATMs and kiosks from HMC, Metalprogetti and other makers, the cleaners that have done so have received extensive publicity for their innovation. They have also been surprised at the times during which the machines are used—often in the wee hours—and at the loyalty and sales of the customers that use them. It is absolutely essential to ensure that the hardware and software are expertly integrated to build a large, loyal following of customers with these units. Eliminating the necessity for the customer to get out of his or her car is a desirable goal yet to be achieved.


Of course, no one is a stranger to route service, but it may be helpful to note a few points that are relevant to this discussion:

  1. Route service eliminates the necessity to provide 24/7 service to the route customer because they don’t have to make the effort to visit your location.
  2. It is much easier to build the first route service in your market than to try to compete as the second, third or fourth to offer the service.
  3. Routes are more flexible than stores because you can adjust and move them to make them more cost-efficient.
  4. Route benefits must be sold to consumers, so create a sales plan, implement it, and monitor for adjustment as needed.
  5. Since you are visiting the homes and businesses regularly, offer a doormat-cleaning service to every route customer to increase your average delivery size.


With the rise of the predominance of multiple homes, ease of travel and general mobility of the population, there is a demand for wardrobe management among a certain level of clientele that extends beyond local markets. Management of this process is exacting, time-sensitive and logistically complex.


This is an unexpected service for the consumer that can set you apart from other cleaners. It will challenge the skills of experienced cleaners, but can be quite lucrative. A leather cleaning and restoration class is recommended as preparation for entering this field, as is practicing extensively on inexpensively acquired handbags from local charity shops.

Before-and-after displays are effective marketing tools. Many times, customers will ask if you are “selling new handbags now” when they see the attractively packaged finished work.


If your building has been a cleaning plant for a generation or two, you have likely seen hat blocks stored there. One entrepreneurial client cleaned and displayed a Stetson in his store, and suddenly the hats started appearing for cleaning.


Many hotels have delayed cleaning and/or replacing their draperies, upholstery and bedding during the recession. Since occupancy is climbing, they are once again spending on cleaning and refurbishment. Now is the time to approach them for thorough cleaning assignments throughout the hotels.

This service opportunity also applies to offices that are overdue for thorough cleaning of their textiles.


Most of you have private aviation airfields in your markets and those planes need the cushions, rugs, drapes, etc. cleaned. The crew uniforms also require cleaning, and occasionally the private passengers have cleaning done during their local stay. Make sure the aviation company management knows you are able and eager to do the work.


As owners of cars, trucks and RVs hold onto their vehicles longer, so, too, do the stains on the upholstery and mats remain. Help your customers extend the life of their vehicles by cleaning them. The floor mats are an easy, profitable cross-sell item for your customer service staff to suggest.


Once you are prepared to professionally deliver any new service, the primary factor that will determine your success in any of these ventures is your team’s ability to make your prospects aware that you offer the service and to sell them on the benefits they will derive.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].