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Facing ‘Once in a Generation’ Challenges (Part 3)

Navigating the twists and turns of the supply chain

CHICAGO — While 2022 looks to be the year that society returns to normal — or at least something approaching normal — the hard-earned lessons of the previous two years should not be put aside, but should inform owners’ future plans.

That was the theme of a webinar that gathered four industry experts together to discuss “The Industry’s Response to ‘Once in a Generation Challenges.’” The event was part of the three-day WinterFest Expo, a series of virtual workshops staged in January. It was co-sponsored by The Northeast Fabricare Association (NEFA)Pennsylvania and Delaware Cleaners Association (PDCA) and the South Eastern Fabricare Association (SEFA) in cooperation with the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI).

In Part 1 of this series, we examined information about on the drycleaning industry as a whole, and in Part 2, we saw how cleaners could best use some of the information based on their own company’s performance and customer trends. Today, we’ll investigate some of the factors out of a cleaner’s control — and how they can navigate potentially choppy waters.

Ongoing Supply Chain Challenges

While the supply chain woes continue to affect the drycleaning industry, a cleaner’s location can lessen or worsen their impact, says Mike Ross, president of the New England division of Minda-Aristocraft Supply.

“I think a lot of it depends on where you are in the country,” Ross says. “If you are inland, not on the West Coast or the East Coast, it is much more difficult to get hangers because of inland transportation. There are a lot of people still having struggles that those of us on the coasts aren’t having as much of.”

Other significant shortages hitting the drycleaning industry have included plastic shoulder guards, comforter bags, and chemicals, including detergent.

“We were out of Tide, believe it or not, for two months because Procter & Gamble couldn’t get the boxes to package it in,” he says. “It really depends on the particular day what the issue can be.”

One of the major problems is with overseas shipping. This has become so severe that some companies are “reshoring,” or producing products once offshored to other countries back in the United States. Unfortunately, Ross says, this isn’t an option for many types of drycleaning supplies.

“One of the problems we face as an industry is that we’re not big enough to cause a push for reshoring,” he says. “For hangers, in particular, there are only two domestic manufacturers, and they can’t keep up with production, and nobody else is opening up. That’s the case with most of the products that we’re importing.”

As is the case with most suppliers, Minda-Aristocraft has been attempting to widen their own supply lines to get materials into the hands of their clients, says Ross, but at the moment, it’s an uphill battle.

“We’re trying to find substitutable items that will allow our customers to continue to operate the business in the way that they want to, but it’s a challenge every day, and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon,” he says. Container space is as difficult, if not more difficult, to get today than it was three months ago. “I thought container costs had peaked at around $20,000 to $23,000, but now I’m being quoted $28,000 for a container of hangers.”

The key to dry cleaners riding out this challenge, according to Ross, is keeping the lines of communication open with their distributors and staying flexible.

“Work with your distributor, talk to them,” he says. “It’s critical to communicate, and it’s critical to be open to some changes. If a black shirt hanger shows up one day instead of a white one, understand that it’s because black shirt hangers are what your distributor had that day. Try to work with them to help get through this together.

“There’s absolutely no way we’re all going to get through this if we just stick to what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years. That’s the advice I’d like to give to the cleaners and distributors out there — just communicate and work together to fight through this mess.”

Come back Tuesday for the conclusion of this series, when we’ll examine how to best utilize the strongest asset any cleaner has — their team. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.

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Caption: (Image licensed by Ingram Image)

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