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Looking Ahead to 2022 (Part 1)

Cleaners who have learned to adapt will see a brighter future

CHICAGO — As we open the book on 2022, the drycleaning industry — like society itself — is in a much different place than it was 12 months ago. While the pandemic hasn’t vanished as we had hoped it would have by now, vaccines have helped turn the tide, and things have largely reopened.

The return to the office — and the business attire that goes along with it — hasn’t fully materialized, however, and dry cleaners have had to adapt and evolve to meet the needs and demands of today’s consumers. Still, there’s room for optimism as the industry heads into a new year.

Looking Forward

“I’m very hopeful,” says Sassan Rahimzadeh, president of ARYA Cleaners in San Diego, California. “Twelve to 15 months ago, I was not hopeful at all. Hope versus hopelessness is the main difference I see at the beginning of 2022 as opposed to the beginning of 2021.”

Rahimzadeh, who is also the president of the California Cleaners Association (CCA), bases his optimism on returning business — but it’s important to know this business might not look the same. 

“I think the fears we all had about the need of our services to the general public going away has been proven wrong,” he says. “People are coming back — but they’re coming back in different ways for different levels of service. We’ve absolutely had to look at other services we provide.”

Peter Blake, executive director of the Northeast Fabricare Association (NEFA), South Eastern Fabricare Association (SEFA) and the Mid-Atlantic Association of Cleaners (MAC), agrees with Rahimzadeh’s assessment of what’s to come for those who learned the lessons of 2020-21.

“There were a lot of unknowns at the end of [2020],” he says. “There was a real hope that, with a vaccine coming out, everyone would be going back to work, and we’ll be getting back to business as usual. I think a large part of the industry was holding on to that hope. But I think the ones who were making changes, were investing in their education and information base, were better prepared for the changes that were really long-lasting.”

“I think in 2022, we’ll see a return to people taking advantage of experiences, of people traveling and wanting to have a life,” says Nora Nealis, executive director of the National Cleaners Association (NCA). “That means getting out of their own homes and participating in the world a little more. If you look at the sale of dryclean-type clothes, they’re starting to tick up, so that’s a good sign.”

“We’re a hell of a lot better off now than we were at the beginning of 2021,” says Mary Scalco, CEO of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI). “I think that most of the surviving operators have recovered to anywhere between 60% and 70% of where they were in 2019, and I think that will only continue to grow as we move forward. Remember that, last year at this time, many were down 70-80%.”

Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll look at how learning to pivot could make all the difference in 2022.


Man looking into the future


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