The Structuring of Dry Cleaning Pricing


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(Photo: ©iStockphoto/Bill Manning)

Sidney Chelsky |

TORONTO — There are dry cleaners that are confused about what to charge for their services, where that pricing structure places their operation within the industry, and how the consumer perceives them.

It is important to explain what goes into the pricing structure used when charging customers for their dry cleaned items. There are a number of ways to do this.

A cleaner could play a continuously looped video at the counter that illustrates how a garment is processed (including as many different processes as are used), place signage at the counter, or use various advertising mediums.

The cost of production starts at the cleaner’s front counter. When a customer drops off clothes, they should consider what system is in place to create the invoice and receipt they receive and how the cleaner identifies their items so what they brought in will be returned to them.

Proper identification includes a complete description of each article, indicating the type of item, color, label identification, and any stains or tears that may be on the garment at the time it was marked in.

As well, it is important that the counter person ask the customer if there were any spills, such as liquor or soda pop, that may have dried and are not readily visible. These stains should be identified both on the invoice and, if possible, by applying a sticker to the stain on the garment.

If an article of clothing is stained and is not pre-spotted, the stain could caramelize in the drying process and make it difficult if not impossible to remove later.

How the counter person attaches identity tags to the garment is important. Do they use staples, which can rust and transfer to the garment, or do they apply plastic tags, similar to those used in retail stores (these usually cost more to use)?

The counter person must check the buttons to see if they are fragile, broken, or must be covered or removed before the cleaning process to prevent breakage or dissolving in the solvent.

The invoice that the information is printed on should be clearly legible and, if possible, printed by computer. Information entered into a computer program is readily and speedily available for future searches to locate items in case they go missing. Also, computer-generated invoices and tags will provide more information to ensure return of the garment on time. A computer program costs more to incorporate in the business, of course. There are many companies that provide this equipment and software.

The size of a dry cleaner's operation can dictate the kind of care that the average garment receives when it goes through the dry cleaning process.

Too many cleaners do not distill their solvent after each cleaning process, because the solvent and the detergents are expensive. Fresh detergent should be added after each distillation process.

Because of the cost of the solvents and detergents that are used in the process, dry cleaners may not segregate customers’ garments according to type of garment, color and material (silk, wool, cotton, etc.). Clothes of different materials should be cleaned separately because they require different wash and drying times. Also, failure to distill solvent and add fresh detergent could result in redeposition, color loss, and loss of texture.

Another major cost factor is the amount of time a dry cleaner takes to inspect and spot garments for stains, check care labels, and properly segregate the garments to be cleaned. Should the garment be dry cleaned, wet cleaned or laundered? Garments should be inspected before and after the cleaning process. The knowledge and care that the cleaner has will dictate the wages that this person will earn.

If the dry cleaner provides a shirt laundering and pressing service, the type of equipment used can be expensive. Some dry cleaners launder the shirts, place them in a shirt press and then place them on hangers. Others with higher quality standards will first iron out creases in the collar and cuffs as well as under arms.

Many shirts are still made with fused collars, which causes shrinkage problems as well as dark stains at the collar points (due to poor fusing used in the manufacturing process). A smart dry cleaner will adjust the steam pressure on the heated press, which will reduce the temperature and this problem. But doing so is costly to the dry cleaner because longer drying times also reduce the volume of shirts that can be produced.

Next up for the garment is the pressing department. Hiring an experienced and knowledgeable presser can be costly, because he or she must know the materials and how much care each garment requires. The presser must prevent shrinkage and stretching of the garment, and has to be careful ironing around buttons and other fancy trims. Ironing out the garment linings is an added cost.

The inspection department is next, where each garment should be thoroughly examined. This includes checking for loose, missing or broken buttons; open seams; hems down; etc. A missing button should be replaced with a matching or similar button. If a hem is down, it should be tacked back. Open seams should be sewn up. Proper inspection is a costly process.

Next is bagging and packaging. The thickness, as well as the style, of the hanger is important to properly hold and display the garment. Garments should be hung in such a manner as to make sure they do not fall off, stretch out of shape, or incur indent marks. Tissue is usually necessary to hold the garment's shape and to prevent dust from falling through the opening at the top of the poly bag containing the clothes.

Many quality and environmentally concerned dry cleaners provide reusable garment bags (many at no charge to their customers) to cut down on the use of poly bags and tissue.

At this stage, the shipper is responsible for checking each tag on each garment to make sure it belongs with the accompanying invoice before it is attached to the bag.

Each of the steps described takes time and effort as well as additional cost. This is why there are differences in prices between dry cleaners. It is up to the consumer to decide what they require and what they are willing to pay for this service.

For example, if a customer owns an expensive suit, dress or shirt, are they going to take a chance on a low-price dry cleaner to exercise the care required to maintain the shape, color, texture and integrity of their garment, or are they going to seek that dry cleaner that provides all the necessary processes required to do so?

A dry cleaning plant owner must decide which of these procedures to provide customers. The cost of each procedure should be evaluated and built into the end price.

Dry cleaners must also evaluate the economic ability of their area's clientele, as well as the operations and pricing of other cleaners.

Are they surrounded by low-cost, medium-priced or high-end dry cleaners? Are they willing to process many items in order to achieve certain profit results, or will they clean fewer items at a higher price?

Are they able to offer a deluxe service at a higher price (requiring knowledgeable, talented operators and proper supervision to prevent mixing service types)?

When it comes to service pricing, how do you want your company to grow, and what segment of the market are you looking to captivate?

About the author

Sidney Chelsky

Careful Consulting Services


Sidney Chelsky has been president of Careful Consulting Services, a laundry, dry cleaning and hospitality consulting firm, since 1997. He is past president of Careful Hand Laundry & Dry Cleaners Ltd., Toronto. He can be reached at 416-733-2111,


Great article.

Hi Sidney:






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