You are here

Taking — and Keeping — Stock (Part 1)

Spare parts and preventative maintenance can head off disaster

CHICAGO — Most dry cleaners are busy enough keeping up with customer demand, staffing issues, marketing efforts and a host of other activities. When a machine in the plant breaks down, though, all that effort can come to a screeching halt.

Having the parts on hand to get a machine back up and running, along with taking the time to maintain equipment to avoid major repairs, are crucial to continuing smooth operations. This, however, is an area that many dry cleaners may neglect.

Spare Parts Will Save Broken Hearts

Having some commonly used spare parts on hand can save a dry cleaner a world of hurt when — not if — they are needed. And, as we come out of the pandemic, that’s never been truer than now.

“The way things are in the global economy, and with everything that’s happened with the pandemic, parts are in a very limited supply,” says Lou D’Autorio, owner of Skylou Mechanical, a Florida-based repair service. “A perfect example is a check valve I use for a boiler. Normally, I could go to my supply house, pick up the part and install it. Now, it’s taking me three days to get the part. If it comes from China, it can take up to a week, and a piece of plant equipment being down a week can be very detrimental.”

“The drycleaning machine is the heart of the drycleaning operation, so a spare parts kit is vital to keep it up and running,” says Steve Henley, western sales manager of drycleaning machine manufacturer Realstar USA. “If a drive belt on the machine breaks, for example, garments cannot be cleaned. If the cleaner has a spare belt on the shelf, however, it can be replaced and the machine can be back up and operating in a few minutes, instead of having to wait for a part to be ordered and shipped to them.”

Jerry Moore, owner of Moore Services in Cleveland, Ohio, knows that the ability to be able to pull a part off the shelf, rather than having to order it, can save a cleaner from having to deal with the dreaded phrase of “next-day shipping.”

“Overnight shipping is ridiculously expensive these days,” he says. “And, in addition to that, the shipping guarantee that we’re used to regarding next-day shipping is nonexistent right now. It’s even more critical now to have a couple of items on hand.”

Worse than shipping delays, Moore has found that in some cases, the part needed might not even be available.

“I don’t think manufacturers are stocking things like they were before,” he says. “The piece could be on back order because the entire supply chain for parts and machinery has been absolutely turned on its ear, partially because of shipping issues. It’s a real problem, and it even more exemplifies how critical it is to have a spare parts kit on hand.”

What’s in Your Kit?

CHICAGO — Before going into the particulars of what dry cleaners should keep in their spare parts kit, D’Autorio has a general suggestion.

“First, I think everybody should go to a home-improvement store and spend $100 to get the 200-piece tool set to keep in your facility,” he says, “because you can’t repair anything if you don’t have the adequate tools.”

When it comes to the contents of your kit, the first step is to look around your plant.

“The easy things are pretty straightforward,” Moore says. “You want to look for ‘wear’ items like belts. While it’s hard for everybody to stock a belt for all of their machines, most dry cleaners will have a washer and a drycleaning machine. It’s not that expensive to have belts for those on your shelf. We also recommend having hoses — specifically water hoses — and maybe a drain valve for the washer. Having a small assortment of fuses for the machines you have isn’t a bad idea, either.”

“When it comes to the equipment, I’d look at what your most common parts are,” D’Autorio says. “On a lot of presses, the foot pedals have little electronic switches. They’re common, but they can take two days to ship. They all have serial numbers, and you can find those switches on the internet through various electronic warehouses. Order them and maintain a couple in your stock.”

“We recommend having belts, common gaskets for the different tanks to prevent leaks, temperature probes, lint filters, solvent pump seals and some electrical fuses on their shelves ready for use,” Henley says. “Fuses are inexpensive but sometimes can be difficult to find. If you blow a fuse and have one on the shelf, you can pop it in and you’re back up and running.”

In addition to wear items, D’Autorio also recommends having a spare air regulator on hand: “With the moisture and the oil that’s involved with air compressors, sooner or later, they all go out. So, if you have one available, that’s a five-minute swap.”

D’Autorio points out that the task of keeping a spare parts kit can be simplified when cleaners use the same manufacturer for most of their equipment.

“Look at the commonality of parts,” he says. “I would standardize your equipment as much as possible. You could have two spare parts that cover 20 different pieces of equipment.”

Moore offers a word of caution when it comes to storing your kit: “It’s important to keep it secure. People will go to their spare parts kit, pull it out and the part they need is gone. It’s been gone for a year. Now, did they use it, or did someone ‘borrow’ it? So, it’s important to keep the kit secure — and remember to restock it when you use the part.”

D’Autorio believes that assembling a parts kits doesn’t require a cleaner to spend a lot of money at one time.

“When it comes to building a parts list, order minimally on a monthly basis,” he says. “When it comes to building a good plan, be proactive and spend some money upfront, because if you do that, you’ll save a lot of money on the back end.”

Come back Tuesday for Part 2, where we’ll examine how having a regular preventative maintenance schedule can head off disaster before it starts.