CHICAGO — Thinking of making a sizable outlay at your drycleaning operation?
“The best advice I can give is: do your research and know what you’re buying,” says Mike Scuola, owner of family-operated Saratoga Cleaners, located in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
“Today’s markets are tough and when business is slow, it’s hard to think about taking money out of your pocket to reinvest in equipment,” he says. “There may be some good upsides.”
His business is located in a scenic resort town of 26,000 in upstate New York, known for its hot springs, just a little past the halfway point if you’re driving from New York City up to Lake Placid.
Scuola and his family opened their drycleaning operation in 2011. His family built their own store from scratch. His dad John has been in the business for almost 40 years.
American Drycleaner caught up with Scuola recently to find out what he thinks it takes to make capital improvements and upgrades today.
“In a rapidly changing environment, from fashion to fabrics, a wetcleaning machine might be a good idea for dry cleaners who have not started to utilize that part of the market yet,” he says.
It appeals to the environmentally conscious consumer and can be a better tool to get some of those tough, water-based stains out that are hard to remove on the dry side, he explains.
“I did just start chasing down some wholesale accounts and will have a large influx in linens,” Scuola says. “Now that we will be getting much more than we are used to, I will be shopping for a new, larger wetcleaning machine and other equipment.”
Timing is key, of course. So when does a dry cleaner decide to reinvest and revitalize their business?
“Everyone has their own theory of when this should be done. In my opinion, get the work first, then reinvest in equipment to support growth, rather than spending money and hoping the work follows,” Scuola suggests.
As far as revitalizing in terms of equipment, think about when it becomes too costly to keep replacing parts, or it’s consuming too much of your time working on it.
“When it comes to your call office and storefront, I believe that should be kept up on,” he notes. “When people are bringing their clothes, they want to walk into a clean, updated establishment. Make it look more like a bank rather than a cleaners.”
Many decisions come into play when a drycleaning owner/operator gets ready to plunk down for new stuff. Some of the factors, besides purely a need to replace, include: upgrading the look of the store; how much more efficient the store will be; keeping the cash flowing; and return on investment.
Griffin Quinones, who owns Vapor Sudden Service Cleaners in Monterey, Calif., says, “Capital improvements are ongoing, and we are always looking to improve production and replace existing equipment.”
The operation is in a unique situation “because we own our own building, 11,000 square feet, and are able to make any changes to the building without having to deal with a landlord.”
There is a lot of Spanish-style architecture in his area. Picture the environs near the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and the picturesque homes and businesses fronting the ocean.
“When we purchased the building, we wanted to maintain that look and emphasize that appearance as well,” Quinones says. “We wanted the colors to be warm and friendly, maintaining the old but with a modern appearance.”
Maintaining the look of his dry cleaner and upgrading equipment are equally important, he believes.
“We have recently replaced an existing dryer with moisture control, and two laundry washers. What works best for us is to lease (the equipment) so that we can keep our working capital solvent.”
When reinvesting with new equipment, “the first thing that comes to mind is parts availability and technical support,” Quinones says.
From there, “we start comparing different equipment and the advantages they offer such as labor savings, durability, user-friendly, and the last, of course, is price.”
BUYER BE AWARE
We asked a quartet of drycleaning owners to pass along some tips for those working their way up to a big purchase.
“Most purchases are long-term investments. Make sure whatever the purchase is, it will be a viable part of the business for a long time,” Quinones says. “Technology is changing all the time. Our industry has made great strides with better equipment, specifically drycleaning, laundry and finishing equipment.”
From Tom Markuszewski, a franchise owner of CD One Price Cleaners in the Chicagoland area: “Research, research and research. A strategic capital investment must be thoroughly researched, and planned for in advance.
“Site visits must be made to see the equipment in an actual production facility. Take the opportunity to talk to other owners who have made the investment, to determine their level of satisfaction before a final decision is made.”
Scuola advises, “Before calling to order equipment, I would think about what your needs are. Figure out the features you would like, then research the machines that have what you are looking for. This way, when you call your distributor, you have an idea of what you want and knowledge to ask the right questions.”
“Cash is king,” says Dave Coyle, owner of In The Bag Cleaners in Wichita, Kan., “so do not assume so much debt that you are unable to service the debt. If you can make it happen, have a strict eye on how much it will save you.
“While being focused on top-line sales is important, it is more important to focus on the bottom line.
“Quality equipment, along with proper training, is a critical part of providing an excellent product to your clients. And it helps with employee morale!”
The more you prepare — don’t forget site visits and gathering peer opinions — the faster you will turn the so-called scary decision into a sound purchase.
You’ve climbed the ladder and done your research. See the blue sky? You’re ready to buy!
To read Part 1, go HERE.