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Make A Template for Quality Finishing

Howard Scott |

Finishing in drycleaning is not given enough attention. Coming at the tail end of the process, it is often pushed through just to get the job done. The presser makes several quick swipes on his machine. He hangs up the garment. The inspector bags the garment, giving it a cursory once-over. And the garment is ready to be picked up. The job is done, and it’s on to the next item.
But finishing is probably the most noticeable aspect of the job. A carefully and fully-finished product looks and feels great. It has body. It fits the wearer, instead of hanging. The lines are straight. The curves are rounded. The collars are crisp. The creases are aligned. The pocket flaps are even. The linings are pressed into the fabric, not against them. There are no unsightly bulges. No seams or edges show.
Doing a great finishing job is a two-step process. First, the owner must recognize the importance of finishing and create a standard of excellence. He does so by doing the job himself on every kind of garment and seeing that the product is to his liking. Or he watches pressers do the work until it’s to his liking and conveys his standards to them.
It is conveying these standards effectively that’s the key to good finishing. It seems to me that this is the area where most drycleaners fall down. They don’t communicate their standards well.
The reasons are many. If the owner realizes the importance and sets a standard, most likely the pressers will do the work the right way. But pressers come and go — the second batch of pressers will not be quite as careful. The owner, now busy with other projects, will tend to look the other way. Or, those who are supposed to absorb his teachings don’t quite get all of it. Before you can say, “I’m a mediocre drycleaner,” the operation is turning out less-than-great finished garments.
One way to break this cycle is to create a finishing template for every garment in writing and affix it to the appropriate pressing station. The dictionary definition of a template is a pattern, usually made of thin metal, serving as a guide to mechanical work, but that’s not what I mean. I merely use the term because it conjures up the image of an operator using the tool as an overlay, like a connect-the-dots construct.
Instead, I’m referring to a set of explicit, step-by-step instructions that takes the operator through the entire process. This set of instructions should be a series of short, concise, 1-2-3 steps, with drawings showing exactly what is to be done and laying out the job from start to completion. This is, in the best sense of the word, a template.
There will be a template for women’s dresses. There will be a template for men’s pants. There will be a template for men’s jackets. There will be a template for sweaters. There will be a template for blouses. There will be a template for shirts. There will be a template for skirts. There will be a template for overcoats. And there will be a template for every variation — for example, a corduroy sportscoat might require a different template from a typical wool coat.
The advantages of this exercise are many. First, it will force the owner or manager to define the finishing process clearly. While doing so, he could discover better ways to do the job, or that he’s forgotten some steps. He may realize that he’s asking the impossible — like having the presser do two sides at the same time. He will rethink what has become second nature, and he might come up with an improvement.
Second, it will serve as a teaching tool. Every presser can learn better with a template for reference; they can teach by pointing to the steps on the template. At the end of his training sessions, he can point to the template and say, “Never stray from this, for this is your Bible,” reinforcing the lesson.
Also, the presser may not learn the lesson well, and need to jog his memory later. A new employee is naturally nervous. His concentration is less than 100%. He might misread the boss’s lessons. But with written instructions to study afterwards, he stands a better chance of getting the right procedure down pat. A template serves as a constant reminder, as well as a refresher course.
Third, it could help in problem detection. If one type of garment is giving the company problems, the owner can watch the presser finish the outfit and compare it to the template to look for a discrepancy.
Finally, a template is useful when the boss isn’t there — or when the boss would rather not be bothered. Say someone has to do a job that he’s never done before — he follows the template. The boss is on vacation and a new presser is called in to push out the work. The template is the teacher.
Here, then, are some guidelines for making templates as accurate as possible:
• Break down each job into the smallest possible steps and make the steps manageable, so that the job is not overwhelming. A job should be completed in no more than a dozen steps; if necessary, break each step down into sub-steps.
• Be clear, concise and brief. Write the instructions down, then rewrite them. Cut unnecessary words and tighten text. In each successive revamping, try to reduce the number of words. Go over the actions in your head to make sure they’re clear.
• Whenever possible, make diagrams show the process. For example, if a jacket lapel has to be rolled, have a hand with two fingers going up the lapel showing how it should roll. If a jacket lining must be aligned on the inside of a coat, show how to get the alignment square.
• Use symbols for common repetitive movements. Likely candidates are a symbol for hand-ironing, a symbol for turning the garment over and a symbol for forming a crease. These symbols will cut down on text and make the template more readable.
The exercise of making templates as well as the templates themselves will improve your finishing. I guarantee it.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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