CHICAGO — “We are seeing consistent growth in demand for equipment that is easy to use and produces high-quality finished garments,” says Wes Nelson, vice president of sales and chief operating officer at Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based Sankosha USA, a manufacturer of tensioning equipment for the drycleaning industry.
“Demand,” he adds, “for both semi- and automatic-bagging equipment continues to grow.”
Finishing equipment, like other segments of the drycleaning process, is going through a metamorphosis. The shift to casual styles in our world is partly the reason. But it has to do with the need for reduced labor costs as well.
“Tensioning equipment is now seen as the most efficient way to finish ‘relaxed style’ garments,” says Nelson.
About these relaxed styles, Tom Stites, sales manager at finishing equipment manufacturer Unipress in Tampa, Fla., says, “A shift in styles to a more relaxed look is a major concern to the industry, as a whole. In my opinion, we are a service industry that has prospered by offering a service that can’t be duplicated in a home laundry.”
By training consumers to accept less than a true professional cleaning and finishing, this makes it easier for the garment industry to achieve these results at home, he says. “We must maintain high quality standards to protect our industry.”
Quality is always important. It’s tops on the list. But there’s always the issue of cost and that drives innovation. You may already feel that you need to upgrade your finishing equipment.
Many manufacturers hear from store operators about this topic.
“The need to upgrade or replace shirt finishing equipment,” Nelson indicates, “continues to be the dry cleaner’s No. 1 priority.”
Yuriko Tanabe, vice president for Secaucus, N.J.-based European Finishing Equipment, which sells European-style finishing equipment under the Hi-Steam brand, says that many of her drycleaning customers “ask for less expensive, smaller, high-production shirt finishers.”
Automation is a keyword in finishing today. With it, drycleaning owners can more quickly train their operators to use more efficient machines to produce higher-quality finished garments at a lower cost.
Tanabe sees this: “Cleaners will look for more automation, less hand-finishing, (and) smaller, simpler and high-production finishing machines that are energy-efficient to create the cooler work environment.”
The ultimate outcome all dry cleaners seek is a high-quality finished garment to satisfy customers. Dry cleaners look at finishing equipment to help them get there.
“Overcoming fear of new technology,” Tanabe says, is one of the challenges in the industry today. “Once the cleaners discover that tensioning equipment is easy to operate and produces a fine finish, they change their minds.”
“Up-air boards are for those cleaners who are very particular and serious about producing a beautiful finish on fine garments. For other cleaners, vacuum boards will produce a good finish on most garments,” she adds.
American Drycleaner asked some of these industry experts where they see the tensioning and up-air equipment market headed in the near future.
“Our industry is becoming more progressive in areas of efficiency and (being) energy-conscious, while focusing on improving customer service,” Nelson says.
Before deciding if tensioning equipment is right for any plant, it is crucial that the owner and plant manager have a good understanding of their current production and quality levels, indicates Stites.
“Without this information, it will be next to impossible to evaluate the ultimate success of the investment. Converting to tensioning equipment typically increases production between 10 to 15%,” he says.
“One hidden advantage of increased production is being able to shut the boiler down earlier in the day, lowering utility costs. Shutting down the boiler 30 minutes earlier each day could save between 5-6% on gas or oil bills each month and that goes directly to the bottom line,” he adds.
What are the biggest changes going on? And how best can dry cleaners move forward to get the best bang for their buck—or double buck, as the case may be.
“What is new,” says Tanabe, “is the high-production, inexpensive shirt finisher, and self-contained pressing equipment.”
In regard to growth, she indicates that we need to embrace new technology to automate time-consuming tasks.
“Those include using a blouse-tensioning machine, instead of a hand-iron or on a lay-down,” Tanabe says. “Just as cars, washing machines and dishwashers changed our lives, automation will improve the lives of dry cleaners.”
John Harper, director of sales, pressing and finishing division of Denver, N.C.-based finishing equipment maker Leonard Automatics, sees this: “As the economy is coming back slowly, the market will be going in the direction of small, 300-500-pound-a-day package stores.”
There’s a shift in labor, Stuart Ilkowitz, president of garment pressing equipment manufacturer Trevil America, Mamaroneck, N.Y., indicates, as machines make it easy for an operator to learn and excel at pressing.
“Essentially, we are reducing the ‘skill’ level needed for the operator and putting it into the machine,” he says. “The operator essentially just has to load and unload the machine.”
Ilkowitz advises that rather than “simply looking at tensioning equipment the way it was looked at 10-20 years ago, today’s dry cleaners need to look further to understand how the machines can help them reduce labor costs, increase quality, and maintain or improve productivity.”
Tensioning-style finishing equipment was first developed to work in conjunction with the wetcleaning process, reflects Stites.
“Garments that were wet-cleaned presented a unique set of challenges when finished on conventional-style finishing equipment. Shrinkage and heat-set wrinkles were two of the main issues that were routinely encountered.”
The basic concept of tensioning equipment hasn’t changed drastically over the years, he says. “A major emphasis has been placed on making the units more user-friendly, requiring less training while enhancing quality and improving production.”
This has created an opportunity for tensioning equipment to grow and expand beyond wet cleaning and be used with more traditional solvents because of the advantages in production and quality, Stites says.
Better, easier training for employees and the flexibility to quickly learn how to use the equipment in a cost-saving way is where we find ourselves today.
At the end of the cleaning operation, after the garments have been cleaned, you want efficiency and high quality — you want to finish strong and impress your customers and keep them coming back.
The equipment opportunities in the industry keep getting better.
“We are bullish for the future,” says Nelson.
To read Part One, go HERE.