Machine Mania (Part 1)

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Gleaming Machines! Drycleaning machines and wetcleaning machines are both in use at many plants today. (Photo: Tim Burke)

Tim Burke |

Three drycleaning owners talk about their machine purchasing habits

CHICAGO — Rise of the Machines!

That might make you envision Terminators. But machines, for purposes of this article, are drycleaning machines and wetcleaning machines working reliably and efficiently in your plants today.

You’re using both. But what goes into the decision-making process when drycleaning owners get ready to buy machines? We really wanted to know.

An unscientific Your Views survey by American Drycleaner polled subscribers back in February to ask: How many drycleaning and/or wetcleaning machines do you have? The results came back showing a nearly 50/50 relationship in machine types.

It’s telling that drycleaning and wetcleaning machines seem to be needed just about equally today.

Recently, three drycleaning owners spoke individually to American Drycleaner about what goes into their decision to use both wet and dry machines in their plants.

Bonnie Engler is president and owner of Pilgrim Dry Cleaners Inc., based in Minneapolis, Minn. She describes her business and the machines she uses.

“We are a three-generation family business that has been providing drycleaning and laundry services to the Twin Cities area since 1940. We have 26 locations with same-day service; provide home and office pickup and delivery; 24-hour drop boxes; 24-hour kiosk; and an on-demand app called PilgrimGO,” she relates.

“We have wetcleaning equipment in all plant locations. Our customers know: ‘Whatever the care label, we can clean it!’ Incorporating wetcleaning equipment has enabled us to provide the best cleaning capability for all fabrics, stains, and care labels,” Engler says.

Our “expert dry cleaners,” she explains, “can now decide if a garment should be dry-cleaned with our hydrocarbon machines, washed in our commercial laundry, or wet-cleaned for best results.”

She points out, “We have 65-pound wetcleaning washers with stack dryers for the most flexibility. We have been happy with our choice in drycleaning and wetcleaning equipment.

“We are able to successfully wet-clean khakis, wool coats, and wedding dresses beautifully! They work especially well to remove those Minnesota winter salt stains.”

Engler passes along a tip: “Training is imperative for an operator to feel confident in wet-cleaning the most items possible.”

That’s one owner’s view on machines. Let’s get another.

What is driving the purchase of the workhorse machines an owner and operator relies on?

Christopher White, executive director with America’s Best Cleaners (ABC) in Delmar, N.Y., has over 30 years of experience, from plant design, process and procedure development and technology integrations, to marketing strategy development, human resource development and executive coaching.

“ABC started in 2001 as the first independent quality certification mark for the drycleaning industry,” White notes. “Certified cleaners then take part in business development meetings, educational trips and in-house consulting and training services.”

Regarding making decisions about how many wetcleaning machines and how many drycleaning machines to own, American Drycleaner asks him to share his experiences:

“This is a question that has been on the forefront in plant design and general machinery upgrades for the last several years,” White opines.

“With the increase of ‘washable garments vs. dryclean only garments,’ there has been a definitive shift to the wet side.

“With a combination of government regulation, landlord requirements, consumer awareness, the increase in washable goods received, and advances in detergents,” he says, “operators are finally embracing this successful technology.”

Then American Drycleaner asks him what he thinks is changing today in how owners look at wetcleaning machines and drycleaning machines.

White says, “Cost savings!” He finds that “the equipment is easy to install and maintain, there is no waste removal, the utility consumption is low, the machines are flexible and can be used for all of your laundry needs, too.

“Most operators have already invested in tensioning equipment, so the investment now is much lower than in the past to fully embrace wet cleaning. The transition is much easier than in the past,” he adds.

Is the buying decision harder today for owners?

In regard to buying drycleaning machines and wetcleaning machines, White says, “Yes, since there is only one thing that is predictable now,” pointing out, “the cost will be going up, especially on the labor side. Piece counts are reducing and the mix of dryclean pieces versus washables is constantly moving. This makes it hard to set a firm plan in place,” he notes.

White continues: “In regard to the choice on which wetcleaning machine you should purchase, it’s quite simple: Does the machine have a microprocessor that allows for complete control of wheel action and extraction speeds, water levels, water temperatures, detergent signals? If the answer is yes, then buy from the local machine distributor that services your plant when you need them.”

He adds that price should always be a consideration “but the cost of being down will hurt you more than a few hundred dollars on the machine sale price. Buy from those that take care of you.”

White shares personal tips taken from what he’s learned going through the buying process:

“There are a few brands on both the drycleaning side and wash machine side that stand out for their efficiencies and ease of use, but I always suggest that you buy from the dealer or mechanic that is going to give you a great warranty and provide you continuous reliable service work,” he suggests.

“These machines should last you over 15 years if properly maintained.”

White notes to keep in mind: “Breakdowns will be unexpected and will cost you money in both repairs and production downtime. So seriously consider this when making your purchasing decision.”

White’s last tip is this: “Know your numbers! Not just the amount of pieces but the class of your pieces — such as dry-clean, wet-clean, laundry — that are coming in.”

He says that most POS systems “allow you to track this information. Take that data and build your best trend line looking forward, and take into account where your new business opportunities will be coming from.

“The trend, in general,” White continues, “is toward a lot more washables, and depending on your detergent technology, a majority of your ‘dryclean-only’ garments can be safely and effectively processed in a modern wetcleaning system.”

White concludes with this opinion: “Drycleaning machines are not going away but the capacity of the machines needed into the future is reducing.”

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.

About the author

Tim Burke

American Drycleaner

Editor

Tim Burke is the editor of American Drycleaner. He can be reached at 312-361-1684 or tburke@atmags.com.

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