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Let Your Alterations Flourish (Part 1)

Put your alterations dept. right up front and let visibility (and revenue) grow

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Observe the alterations expert at work.

Watch a pair of pants being altered. The expert lays the pants out, folding on the crease, ironing the garment, turning the garment inside out and measuring the inseam, measuring again, and creating cuffs.

The expert, often a seamstress, smooths the cuffs into perfect rectangles. Irons the rectangles. Places each leg under the sewing machine and pushes the pant leg segment through. Reverses the pants and smooths them out. Then irons again.

The hands move confidently. The fingertips gain purchase easily. The focus is intense. Pure poetry in motion.

So why is the alterations department so often shrouded in the back room? Or hidden by a curtain? Or put off to the side, where you can barely see the work being done? Or in another location altogether?

Some dry cleaners may think of the alterations department as an adjunct business, and not the main focus. At any rate, rarely is the alterations department front and center, where it should be.

My advice is to put the alterations department in the front counter area. If you have foot traffic in an urban location, place the operation in the front window. If you’re in a suburban business, at least maintain the operation in the front of the store.

Why? Because it is the most interesting visual thing you have. Because it shows that you are a full-service dry cleaner. Because it reminds customers that the company does such work.

Customers might see an operation being done and realize that a worn garment could be repaired. Alterations demonstrate quiet competence.

Observing this work is fascinating for many of us who have never operated a sewing machine or even for those who have. The seamstress displays skill, dexterity, understanding of material, and speed.

This alterations expert shows knowledge of different fabrics. After watching a tailor or seamstress at work, you feel confident that this firm is competent. Furthermore, for many of us, it’s mesmerizing, even hypnotic.


There’s no room up front, some say. I answer: make room.

Rearrange your front space so that if you have foot traffic, the alterations work occurs in full view of passersby. If you don’t have passersby, place the alterations work in plain sight of anyone coming in to drop off or pick up an order.

Move the counter around in a kitty-corner arrangement to accommodate the alterations department. Push back the dividing wall between plant and front.

Break through a wall and set up an alterations area in the small additional space.

Take out waiting chairs because few sit on them and set up at least a sewing machine and small table and chair. Re-engineer your front to give yourself more footage.

Too much noise and hassle in front, some say. I respond that it is worth it.

Your front might be considered passive, dull, boring. No one does anything except the counterperson who stands behind the counter and presses buttons. That is no energetic activity.

In the old days, dry cleaners often had large windows showing the plant in motion. The practice has fallen out of favor. But I think it was a great advertisement, showing a clean cement-floor facility with newish machines and busy workers.

For many people who view this, it is the closest one will get to the factory experience. Having an alterations department in plain view allows for that “window” into the “back room” of operations.

It shows a hard-working expert tailor making pinpoint, precision moves, to turn out product as fast as possible. Most spectators are amazed at the skill and speed, just as the past-years spectators liked to watch the factory in motion.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.

drive cleaning sewing area web

(Photo: Tim Burke)

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