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Finding Staff in a Lean Labor Market

Business is returning, but finding workers is a challenge

CHICAGO — Many dry cleaners are facing a resurgence of business as society starts to return to something approaching normal. Based on the results of our American Drycleaner “Your Views” survey, however, we see that some are facing a new problem: They don’t have enough staff to handle the increased load.

When asked how they would describe their current staffing situation, more than 70% of our respondents said that they need more people. Of these, 31.4% reported that they are understaffed to the point of impacting their ability to serve their customers, and 39.2% said that it’s difficult to get all the work done some days. Only 2% found themselves with too many employees to keep everyone busy, with another 2% facing the prospect of cutting their staff.

Applications have been slow to come in for many of our respondents. “For the first time in 25 years, I don’t have a single application,” one cleaner reported. “We have had three open positions for four months,” another said, “and we can’t find employees.”

Increased government unemployment benefits, passed as a measure to lessen the impact of the pandemic, are the reason many of our respondents blamed for the shrinking labor pool. “The Federal help has allowed employees to make higher demands,” one cleaner said. Another reported that while “many apply to work, they never respond to a call for an interview or, if scheduled an interview, never show up.”

Because of this lack of available workers, many cleaners are actively searching for more help — and the way they conduct this search has changed over the years.

More than half (54.9%) report that online job search sites are their primary method of adding members to their staff. A third (33.3%) of our respondents said that word of mouth is their preferred way of finding people. What many think of the “classic” ways to find help have fallen out of favor, with only 7.8% reporting that newspaper want ads are their primary focus when hiring, and in-store displays trailed the list at 3.9%.

Indeed was listed as the primary job board for this purpose, with 51.2% of respondents saying it had given them the best results.

When asked what changes they have put in place to make their companies more attractive to potential employees or retain their current staff members, most respondents reported that they have increased wages. Some have also added more flexible work schedules or other creative ways to fully staff their stores. Responses included:

  • “Have a policy to pay a bonus when a current employee refers a new employee — after the new employee has had six months of successful employment.”
  • “Our starting wage is $15 per hour. Our price for pants is $14, and laundered dress shirts is $4.25. No problems.”
  • “It’s time to pay our staff a living wage if you are not already doing so. We don’t need mandated minimum wages. Finally, market forces are putting pressure on employers to pay staff a respectable wage. Long time coming.”

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.