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Building for the Future?

Many cleaners planning to expand in coming months

CHICAGO — Dry cleaners often shape their companies in response to fluctuating economic conditions, expanding when there’s increased opportunity, and sometimes shedding underperforming storefronts in lean times. For this American Drycleaner Your Views survey, we asked our respondents to think about the future size and shape of their companies.

When we asked our audience to compare their business today to where they were before the pandemic, the responses were, for the most part, promising, with 28.6 percent reporting that they have “fully recovered,” and 21.4% saying that they were “well ahead” of their 2019 profits. The largest section of respondents — 28.6% — say they are “slowly coming out of the dip,” while 17.9% report they “still aren’t seeing signs of recovery,” and 3.6% are continuing “to trend downward.”

With better numbers for most, there looks to be an encouraging trend toward growth in the coming months. When asked what they see for the size of their business in the coming months, 24.1% said they were “open to expansion opportunities,” and 17.2% are planning “to make a big push to expand.” Things are the “correct size for now” for 44.8% of our respondents. Of the rest, 10.3% are “considering downsizing,” and 3.4% believe they are “much too large for our current customer base.”

When asked about their top priority when it comes to building or maintaining their businesses, our respondents have different strategies. Some of these included:

  • Focus on commercial wash-dry-fold laundry and slowly changing plant operations to accommodate this shift.
  • Building by only going after (and accepting) the proper "right fit" customers for our routes. We just installed many new presses so that our plant is ready for the next 20 years. 
  • People are key right now. We would like to grow, but finding enough help is a challenge.
  • Building relationships; not only with customers, but also with team members. 

We also asked about their focus for increasing business. Half (50%) said they were putting emphasis on expanding route services, while 21.4% were working to attract more walk-in customers at 7.1% are looking to offer new services for customers. Some (14.3%) were planning on focusing on each of these activities, and 7.1% answered “other,” adding they were looking to maintain excellent quality and market more to the commercial laundry side.

Our respondents were also planning to put into action the lessons they have learned from the past few years. Some of these lessons included:

  • Maintaining our pre-Covid standards and services and keeping a top-level employee base. By not reducing our services, we have grown through acquiring customers from our competitors who have reduced their services. 
  • You have to continue marketing no matter what the situation is.
  • The dynamic of traditional drycleaning customers changed, and we stepped up and are meeting the new needs of our customer base.

Additional comments from our respondents included:

  • Start looking for acquisitions of "profitable" locations.
  • We will always be looking at ways to automate and take human error out where we can. We challenge ourselves to be better, even when we think we’re pretty darn good. 
  • Got to stay focused and ready to change as our customers change. 

The “Your Views” survey offers a current snapshot of the trade audience’s views. The publication invites qualified subscribers to American Drycleaner emails to participate anonymously in the unscientific poll each quarter.                                  

Building for the Future?
Building for the Future?

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