CHICAGO — Where were you in the summer of ’22?
We’re talking in past tense about a point in time five years from today. But by that time, changes in the fabricare industry that are already forming on the horizon will come to pass. You’ll have evolved your business and adjusted with the market.
That’s not mere time-travel talk. It’s, in fact, what dry cleaners have been doing since cleaning began: adapting with their times. Changing. Creating new dynamics.
Suddenly you’re feeling wobbly...
You grab hold of whatever’s close as you morph into a dream-like state, just like the movies, spinning and dissolving, only this one is so real. You are losing touch with your world, being stretched through a psychedelic time-hole and then somehow, impossibly, you’ve reappeared, and you find it’s summer in the year 2022...
“With rents rising at a rapid pace — along with higher wages, strict environmental regulations and declining sales — the number of plants will drop significantly,” says Bobby Patel, owner of Orange, Calif.-based Kona Cleaners, the business he bought with his family in 1995 and has since expanded to 14 locations.
“I think we will see more of a hub-and-spoke model, central plants serving multiple drop stores and locker locations,” adds Patel, past president of the California Cleaners Association (CCA) and current Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) board member.
“There will be a shrinkage of cleaners,” he soothsays. “Current owners are getting older and looking to retire. There are fewer buyers wanting to get into the business.”
And this: “With millennials flocking to urban areas, we will see more growth in dense urban areas.”
American Drycleaner reaches across fabricare for opinions to help us scoop our future.
Gazing into a crystal ball doesn’t just mean having wild visions full of unfounded highs and lows. Signs of things to come are with us. If you’re progressive, you’re reading them and taking action.
“We see the industry evolving into a more professional climate with entrepreneurs orchestrating larger organizations and utilizing technology to manage and reach a larger customer base,” says Poseidon Textile Care Systems co-owners Michael “Stucky” Szczotka and Jeff Quail, who together have more than 70 years of drycleaning and textile care experience.
“While there will be more alternative solvents, water and wet cleaning will lead the way. We also see more operators turning to advanced automation, including tensioning finishing equipment and matching systems,” the men indicate.
Their Troy, Mich., company works with drycleaning and professional fabricare operations to provide plant design services through their wet cleaning machines, shirt laundry plus washers, dryers and ironers.
“If we adapt to the buying habits and culture of the millennials, we should grow business,” both men says. “The millennials are looking for greener options, a more casual look and convenience. These things will drive much of their buying and determine with whom they do business.”
Quail and Szczotka add that they are already seeing it happening with home and office pickup and delivery services, lockers, and on-demand services like DRYV.
About perc, they note, “The phasing out of perc will only increase due to new laws and regulations and the increase in solvent cost. In many states, the cost of perc alone has already begun to phase out its use without any new regulations.”
How well dry cleaners adapt to our new world will depend on if cleaners can reset their ways. That, along with the ability to be flexible, will tell all. You might just call it the survival instinct.
“With the shrinking number of pieces being processed on the traditional side of our industry, we as operators must become more efficient and open-minded,” Quail and Szczotka say.
“In return, opportunities will grow for operators willing to change by learning new techniques and adapting to the changing habits of the marketplace. Challenges are opportunities. Those that embrace the challenges will make the most of those opportunities,” they add.
Part of the view of this future world seems to include not only outside forces but our willingness to change with the so-called “prevailing winds.” Youth will be served, it’s often said.
People are not going to suddenly start wearing suits and ties again, asserts Mary Scalco, president of the Laurel, Md.-based Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI).
Her organization exists to help dry cleaners succeed, as she says. The Institute was founded in 1883 by a group of cleaning business owners who decided to seek strength in numbers.
Even in church, she points out, “We see people in shorts and T-shirts. Convenience is the key to getting more casual items.”
The Millennial Generation continues to enter the workforce and even outnumber baby boomers, she notes. “They are at the beginning of their professional careers, they are always pressed for time, and they are prime potential customers for wash-dry-fold services.”
Scalco relays this message: “Routes have been growing for some time. The best thing we have to offer the customer is no longer ‘a perfect appearance.’ That worked well in the 1980s, but now the key message is ‘We’ll do it for you.’”
Can the past teach us about how to go forward, and will we listen to those voices, learn those lessons?
“We have a lot of options today, something that we did not have years ago. Options allows us to tailor our business to today’s and future customers,” says Scalco.
“Styles change and that means we have to change as well. We have to adapt, and options allow us to do that,” she adds.
Steve Davis, the CEO of Jim’s Formal Wear located in Trenton, Ill., seems to concur with many of the industry voices you’ve already heard. “I foresee fewer small operators, with consolidation of plants to maximize efficiency.”
Davis believes that some delivery and pickup routes that offer consumers greater convenience seem to be the way of the future. And that operators should think in new ways about how to provide this to their customers: “Lockers, at workplaces or office buildings, is one example of this.”
He notes a theme we know to be true: “Casualization of our society and those lower-maintenance ‘performance fabrics’ are trending in the marketplace today and will likely decrease the need for traditional drycleaning services.”
Operators will need to adapt to remain relevant to today’s consumers.
“While they may have less need for dry cleaning, people are very busy today and look for services that offer convenience to simplify their lives,” says Davis. “Home delivery laundry service, for instance.”
Cleaners know only too well the actions before them: to be as ultra-convenient with the services as possible.
“Improve the quality of the customer service experience as a whole,” advises Richard Atack, vice president and general manager of Chicago-based Barry-Regent Dry Cleaners, a business “that provides quality dry cleaning since 1950.” He will celebrate 25 years in the industry next year.
“Dry cleaners should look to other industries that provide non-essential services for ideas on how to retain customers and elevate the customer experience,” Atack says.
For example, movie theaters have responded to the competition of early release of movies on demand by offering a superior experience.
“Many theaters in Chicago now offer online reservations for plush reclining seats, with upscale food and beverage options, and show digital 3D movies on large screens with amazing sound systems,” Atack says.
The message resounds: Embrace the “new.” Let’s listen to fabricare voices tell us more about the way of the future.
LOOKIN’ AT YOU, IN 2022
Can owners really “future-proof” themselves and their businesses? Not really. That’s the truth. Someone wise said the future is promised to no one. But owners and operators can prepare for what’s next and take action now.
“I see a lot of businesses making a mistake by milking the business to death and not putting anything back in the business,” says Bobby Patel, owner of Orange, Calif.-based Kona Cleaners. “I also see that most cleaners have no budget for marketing.”
But he says he sees a bright side to the future: “I see a huge opportunity for cleaners that want to expand by acquisitions. The cleaners are selling at a much lower multiplier.”
Tim Maxwell, president of Kansas City, Mo.-based GreenEarth Cleaning, sees this five years from now: “We have seen that if we focus on providing solutions for challenges the industry faces by including the needs of our constituent groups, such as landlords, garment manufacturers, regulators, and the consumer, we can be viewed as a cooperative and vital part of the garment life cycle.”
Challenges will be in management decisions that affect the future of each business, says Henry Parker, co-owner (with wife Jan) of Safety and Environmental Compliance Consultants Inc. (S&ECC), a Riverside, Calif., consulting firm. “Changes that are occurring in the industry must be dealt with progressively. My observation of the younger owners and operators: they are thinking in new ways.”
Having been in the industry for nearly 20 years, Frank Dubasik, director of U.S. operations for Metalprogetti, situated in Phoenix, says, “I realize many dry cleaners are reluctant to change. Of course, aren’t we all. Routine provides us everyday comfort but at the same time, if we are not aware, it will hinder our growth and cause us to lose opportunities.
Dubasik sees his work “as a calling versus a job,” adding, “I believe (self-help author and speaker) Dr. Wayne Dyer said it perfectly: ‘If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.’ Progress demands we open our ‘real eyes’ and ‘realize’ the possibilities.”
The fact that the drycleaning industry is ever-changing means you have to change with it to stay competitive, notes Tim Rees, CFO at Dependable Cleaners in Denver. Just being a brick-and-mortar business is not enough, he indicates.
“Equipment is becoming more technologically advanced and we have to stay on top of the technology changes to offer the best service,” he says.
Evaz Fanaian, an electrical engineer with a master’s degree, an entrepreneur in the computer industry since the early 1980s, and owner of Alpharetta, Ga.’s, ScanQ, reminds of the need to embrace technology, which is always changing. “Those who are in the forefront have a better chance of surviving and thriving.”
David Cotter, CEO of the Textile Care Allied Trades Association (TCATA), based in Fairfield, N.J., says that cleaners must find and keep good and productive employees, as well as increase their customer service to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
“The cleaners who will survive will be financially astute – this means they understand their real cost of doing business,” he adds.
Ringing true now and certainly five years from now, Szczotka has a word to the wise: “Be certain of nothing and open to everything. The only thing that is for sure is change. So be willing to change.”
Quail implores that the greatest lesson he’s learned is “there are many different ways to get the job done. Our job is to provide the tools most needed by textile care professionals in order to meet their customers’ expectations.”
“We have seen boom and bust in the industry since 1883,” Scalco reminds. “In our experience, best practices never really change. Learning best practices helps cleaners reduce costs and increase productivity.”
“I expect the traditional drycleaning side of the industry to further shift from being a necessity to being a luxury,” says Richard Atack, yet notes, “Every challenge is an opportunity in disguise.”
“The only thing constant is change,” adds Davis. “Instead of fighting and resisting, operators must learn to adapt, embrace change, and find new ways to profit from it.”
Profit. There’s the magic word to close the future-casting session. Profit to stay in business. To do well.
Operators continually relearn how to satisfy customers and meet new cleaning needs wherever they are and in so many ways.
You’re feeling wobbly once again—2017 is pulling at you...
Hold on! You’re spinning and dissolving back thru the time-hole as it draws you back home. Images float past: your dry cleaner morphs into an app and that app becomes your web platform and that web platform becomes your delivery service and...
You’re back. The trip wasn’t bad. In fact, you understand the goal, since voices from fabricare’s future helped you: Change with the market, they said, and thrive, like you always do.
So you’ll adapt. These new times will demand it. 2022 isn’t so far off.
To read Part 1, go HERE.