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What Does the Future Hold for Dry Cleaning? (Conclusion)

What will changing customer expectations mean for dry cleaning’s future?

CHICAGO — When “standard operating procedure” has been as upturned as much as it has in the drycleaning industry, those new to the profession can often find their inexperience as something of an asset. They have no expectations based on how things were before; they just see where things are now and plan accordingly.

For this series we’ve asked both new and experienced cleaners how they believe customers will view the dry cleaning field in general, and what demands they’ll have. In Part 1, we spoke with seasoned dry cleaners about their experiences, and in Part 2, we asked a couple new to the field what they believe the future will hold. To conclude this series, we’re examining the experience of an owner who has transitioned within the industry, as well as a final look as to what might come.

Shifting Focus

Although the Atlanta-based Dry Cleaning Connection isn’t a new company to the industry, Glen Gould, who owns the business with his wife, Tammy, had to rethink his business model when the company outgrew its business model in 2019.

“We’re a marketing company with a drycleaning problem,” Gould says. For the first few years of the business, the company contracted out the actual cleaning of materials while it concentrated on pickup, delivery and marketing. Then, in 2019, as the business outgrew its cleaning supplier, the Goulds decided to build a plant and bring all the business in-house.

“I had the good fortune of not growing up in the industry, and I have the bad fortune of not growing up in the industry,” Gould says. While he might not have the experience that multi-generational operators enjoy, this perspective has allowed Gould to take a fresh look at the business model with an outsider’s eye.

“A lot of dry cleaners don’t talk to their customers,” he says. “They don’t have a proactive, ongoing system where they find out the daily things the customers are doing. They don’t respond quickly enough to see changes in fashion, for example.”

Gould points out that many younger clients buy more expensive clothing that can be washed at home, but if a cleaner has an ongoing relationship with them, they can educate them on why they shouldn’t.

“I think the ‘fast fashion’ trend, where you’ve got $5 and $7 items that we are charging more than that to clean, is going to continue,” he says, “but I think I can make the next generation a little more aware of the danger that is to the environment, and play on what’s important to them. And, even if they do buy the microfiber products, we can let them know that we do certain things they can’t that mitigate some of the damage they’re going to do to the environment by using those products.”

Facing the Future

The question many are asking is if the post-pandemic future of dry cleaning will go back to pre-pandemic conditions, or are we looking at a “new normal”?

“I think it’s changed for good,” says Kurt Lucero, owner of The Cleanery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Consolidation has already taken effect in the industry, but I think there are a lot of opportunities, as well. There’s much more casual dress, but there are a lot of household items, and many of our upper-tier clients still don’t want to deal with that. They still need their stuff clean, and I don’t think that will ever change. They may be home more, but they still want to look and feel good.”

“Shirt business is shrinking, and will continue to do so, as dress becomes more casual,” says Casey Walker, director of retail operations for Max I. Walker Dry Cleaners & Launderers in Omaha, Nebraska, “but there is potential for some drycleaning growth. It won’t look like the pieces you used to dry-clean, but there are a lot of high-end casual garments out there that will look better for longer when dry-cleaned. The challenge is communicating this to customers: ‘You’ve invested so much in these items. Why are you ruining them by washing and drying them at home?’”

As equipment gets more expensive and customers become more valuable, Joe Gagliostro, president of Muldoon Dry Cleaners in Auburn, New York, believes that it’s urgent to make sure your business is ready for anything that comes your way.

“You’ve got to be able to innovate and modernize,” he says. “You have to stay on top of the machines, and you have to keep on going. You have to upgrade and reinvest in your company, religiously, continuously, to stay valid.”  

For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE.