CHICAGO — Rising energy costs have forced many dry cleaners to evaluate how their businesses run and determining if investing in energy-efficient equipment would result in long-term savings.
In Part 1 of this series, we explored the benefits of high-efficiency boilers, solar panels and other equipment in the plant, and in Part 2, we examined how some cleaners are using alternative fuel vehicles. Today, we’ll conclude our series by weighing the short-term and long-term impact of energy-saving initiatives.
Making the Jump
While wanting to be more energy-efficient is an admirable goal, Esteban Corona, production manager of Greene’s Cleaners in Napa, California, sought to put those savings to a more immediate use.
“It was to save money and reinvest into the company,” he says. “But not only just for the company, but for the employees as well. That’s why we’re able to provide health care, 401(k) plans, paid vacation, and higher wages for all the staff. We’ve always supplied all that, but to keep supplying it as the cost of things increase, you have to look for other places to cut back, and that area was pretty big.”
Robert Strong, president of Country Club Cleaners and Brightleaf Cleaners in Alameda County, California, weighed the short-term and long-term impact the energy-saving initiatives he’s used for his company would have.
“The answer is the same for both,” he says. “It reduced my operating cost, and it reduced my tax liability in the short term and the long term. So, it was a good move for me to do this.”
Strong also enjoys that the equipment he uses runs in the background and doesn’t add anything to his or his staff’s workload.
“It did not take a lot of what I call ‘intellectual overhead’ to maintain the system. For the solar, it’s on and working in the background. If, for some reason, it fails, they notify you that your system’s down, and then they have to come out and fix it. It rolls automatically to the grid at that point.”
For Joe Ziccarelli, president of Owl Cleaners in the Pittsburgh area, he enjoys that more than energy is being saved with his efforts.
“With our boiler there’s significant gas savings, and there are also time savings,” Ziccarelli says. “It probably saves about 10 minutes a day in terms of it’s up to steam a lot faster. When you want to get started, 10 minutes a day adds up over the course of the year. As for the electric vehicle, I’m not paying for anybody to sit there and get gas, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but surely adds up. If it’s twice a week for five to 15 minutes per stop, it can be significant.”
Future Energy-Saving Plans (and Advice)
Corona, Strong and Ziccarelli are all looking for more areas to use increasingly energy-efficient technology when it makes sense for their businesses. The key is finding the right solutions for their particular needs.
“Every business is unique,” Strong says. “If you’re in a strip center, and you don’t own your building, solar power is going to be kind of tough for you. If your electricity use is low, it may not make sense.”
While he wanted to replace the vehicle his company uses to shuttle between stores and go with an electric model, the timing wasn’t right.
“The reason why I didn’t go electric (was) it was a year-and-a-half wait,” he says, “and I had to buy right then. But as soon as these become available, and I need another one, it will definitely be electric.”
Ziccarelli has explored using solar power, but for the moment, the technology isn’t quite there for him yet.
“I wish we were in a place where we could get more sun,” he says, “but (western Pennsylvania) and Seattle have about the same amount of cloudy days. Solar is still effective, but it’s just not worth the investment here like it is when you’re in the sunnier places.”
As for Corona, becoming more efficient is something that will come in stages in the future: “The only thing we’re going to do is, if something breaks down, replace it with higher-efficiency modernized technology.”
This strategy is based on using higher-efficiency tech while keeping an eye on the company’s bottom line, balancing today’s spending with tomorrow’s savings.
“I know all dry cleaners say, ‘Well, I’ve got to be more profitable, more efficient,’” Corona says. “But the thing they overlook is replacing really inefficient equipment that guzzles up water or gas or electricity. Going with a more efficient unit will save you in the long run, and then you will become more profitable once you see those statements.”
Ziccarelli recommends a “wait-and-see” posture — but don’t wait too long.
“Always be aware of what’s out there, and don’t be afraid,” he says. “You don’t always need to be the first to do something, but follow up right behind the first people. If there are known problems, you’ll find out if you do your due diligence. A lot of times, it’s just better to bear down and get it done.”
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].