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Modernize: Making Continuous Improvements to Your Drycleaning Operation (Conclusion)

Being contemporary means you are responsive to your market today

CHICAGO — Modernize defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Having today’s views; characteristic of the present; contemporary, red-hot, space-age.

Modernizing means sometimes you make continuous improvements and other times you overhaul and come out swinging with a whole new mindset and new way of doing business.


“Brio Cleaners grew out of customer requests over the years at my laundromat, Brio Laundry. There is a strong desire for more natural food, cleansers, laundry soaps — all over the country. Bellingham, Wash., where we’re located, is no different. My customers are savvy and want laundry services that support how they want to live.”

That’s Colleen Unema, owner of newly-opened Brio Cleaners in Bellingham.

She describes herself as a 25-year veteran of the classroom with a Master’s Degree in Biology and Chemistry, and she taught high school and university classes over the years. “Laundry is my encore career!” She started her laundry business six years ago and is a certified woman-owned business, she notes.

Modernization, to her, means doing what is right by the planet. “I hold fast to the principles behind: People, Planet, Profit.”

She says: “My new operation is 100% wet cleaning. The newest technology is a far cry from having a washing machine in the back of the shop and saying you wet clean. We all know we do a lot of laundering; Now it is possible to wet-clean even the most delicate of items.

“Because of our company’s driving value statement and operating ethos, we modernized not just equipment, we overhauled the entire customer experience. We changed the experience from the front door to the hand-off back to the customer.”

Unema’s cleaners, she points out, “Is taking its place as a toxic-free alternative to traditional perc-based dry cleaners. People have always liked choices, and now they have one.

“A pleasant surprise is that our customers want to see and participate in the whole process! We have regularly-scheduled tours of the back of the house. They love it! We practice lean production principles so it is really interesting to see the work flow and equipment in use.”

How do customers like the modern operation?

Unema says: “They love the smell! The #1 comment after a tour is ‘Wow! I never knew it was like that!’ And, ‘I love the shirt machine! It is so clean!’”

For Unema, deciding to ‘go modern’ was only one part of the picture.

“For me it wasn’t just ‘modernize,’ it was build a brand new enterprise! It starts of course with customer demand, so I started studying the industry and talking to operators. I took a lot of tours.

“I created a scale model in a parking lot and moved laundry trucks and people around, pretending to be first a customer, then an employee, and then a production worker. Our production floor design was driven by employee ergonomics, movement, and increasing production, while maintaining a clean shop,” she says.

Unema notes that, “We are new, we are somewhat of a wild card. Customer-centric at our core. I talk to my customers and ask them what they want.”

Unema’s tip to other drycleaning owners is this: “Walk in like a customer: What do you see? What do you smell? Educate them on your processes and give them choices.”

Whether brashly new and innovative, or continuously looking, listening and adjusting to make improvements, to modernize means you are living in the now at your business. Let’s listen to yet another drycleaning owner talk about ways they stay tuned-in to the modern trends of their clients and the world in general.


In general terms, what does ‘modernize’ mean in our drycleaning industry?

“It means ‘looking out the window,’ so to speak, and emulating consumer-friendly relations that we all see in other industries and ‘turning’ them toward dry cleaning. Along with staying current with environmental concerns,” notes Craig Bamberg, co-owner with brother Chris, of Platinum Dry Cleaners based in Naples, Fla.

Specifically, at their own drycleaning operation, Bamberg relates that for modernizing they have: “Completed environmentally friendly cleaning; upgraded home delivery; utilized customer data in a POS system; re-designed our website; made a stronger, expanded social media presence; and coming soon, will be introducing consumer apps.”

Their operation is celebrating its 30th anniversary. “We were founded in 1989. We are a full service operation with dry clean, wet clean, and wash-dry-fold. We are known for our ‘select’ offerings focusing on couture fashion and high-end, designer-quality dry cleaning. Our area has a large concentration of high-net-worth households demanding this service,” he says

Modernizing takes time and energy.

Bamberg further notes that they acquired their business earlier this year, “So time and energy have been our ‘everyday,’ and we were aware it would be a process!”

He says their clients are favorably reacting to the new changes.

“We are seeing positive reactions at this time. In our case, the announcement of new ownership, coupled with rebranding, introduction of rebranding on new vehicles, along with new corporate uniforms for all staffing have become positive focal points for our clients.”

Bamberg points out: “This is a work in progress, but we feel the best method to begin modernizing is just to keep up in reviewing popular consumer trends and see if they apply to your core customer base, or could be slowly implemented.”

He offers this tip: “Each dry cleaner knows their core customer. Try to see what market trends, perhaps in other industries, appeal to that core customer. Maybe you will see something similar that you can apply!”

Are you making changes and modernizing your drycleaning operation, or planning upgrades, to fit your client’s needs today? You don’t have to be “red-hot” or “space-age” but being contemporary means you are responsive to the market now, and that can never be a bad thing, that’s modernizing!

To read Part 1, go HERE.

brio cleaners colleen unema owner with customer web

Colleen Unema, (on left) owner of Brio Cleaners in Bellingham, Wash, with a customer who won a year of free cleaning at their grand opening recently. How do customers like the modern operation? Unema says: “They love the smell! The #1 comment after a tour is ‘Wow! I never knew it was like that!’ And, ‘I love the shirt machine! It is so clean!’” (Photo: Levi Unema)

platinum dry cleaners craig left and chris bamberg web

Craig (on left), and his brother Chris Bamberg, owner of Naples, Fla.-based Platinum Dry Cleaners. “Modernizing takes time and energy,” relates Craig, adding that clients are reacting favorable to their new changes. (Photo: Platinum Dry Cleaners)

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