CHICAGO — This year has been one of transitions for many dry cleaners. Between trying to meet the demands of changing consumer behaviors, adding more services, keeping workers in their positions and re-examining the very structure of their businesses, 2022 has been a challenging year, to say the least.
For this American Drycleaner Your Views survey, we asked our audience about the current state of their business, how they’re dealing with changing conditions, and what their outlook was for the future.
When asked what issue facing their business they considered to be their No. 1 challenge, one answer was far and away the “winner” — nearly two-thirds (63.5%) of our respondents listed “labor” as their major concern. “Inflation” came in second at 17.5%, with “meeting changing customer demands” ranking third at 7.9% and “supply chain issues” coming in fourth at 4.8%.
Our survey answers discovered some of the different ways dry cleaners are trying to combat these issues. These answers included:
- Raised wages, with more flexible hourly schedules — not working so far.
- Online advertising, less staff, work harder personally, and being flexible to solve problems in innovative ways.
- It's a daily battle. We're cross-training everyone, but we still have a lot of managers on the front lines covering call out and open positions.
- Increase prices, be more efficient, focus more on good customers and get rid of those too-cheap "problem" customers.
Although there are plenty of challenges for cleaners, most of our respondents are upbeat about the future. When asked to describe their expectations for the next six months, three answers tied for first with 25.4% of the vote each: “I’m extremely optimistic about the coming months,” “I believe we’ll see a slow recovery,” and “I don’t see much changing in the next six months.” Of those with a less-optimistic viewpoint, 14.3% answered that “I’m not optimistic about the coming months,” and 9.5% reported that “I’m just looking to survive in the foreseeable future.”
Part of the optimism about the near future stems from the results some of our dry cleaners have been seeing. When asked to describe their business’s health compared to pre-pandemic levels, 30.2% reported “we’re still catching up, but trending upwards,” while 25.4% say “we’ve recovered to above our 2019 numbers,” and 17.5% stated “we’re back up to our pre-pandemic profitability.” “We’re seeing flat numbers” was the response for 14.3% of our respondents, and 12.7% said, “we’re not seeing any recovery at all.”
So, what did our survey audience feel would give the drycleaning industry its biggest boost in the near future? Many said that people returning to offices, as opposed to working from home, would make a huge difference. Other hopes from our audience were:
- Supplier cooperation
- Unlocking the mystery of the lack of workforce
- Supply chain issues fixed so supply costs would come down
We concluded our questions by asking for additional comments on our respondents’ outlook for the near future. Responses included:
- We are reaching the age level that millennials will finally become the biggest age group in our customer base.
- We are at about 60% of pre-covid volume. I have accepted this as the peak of recovery, and I am adjusting staffing and planning accordingly.
- If we want to survive, we must charge accurately for our service and stop wholesaling to drycleaners "wannabees."
The “Your Views” survey offers a current snapshot of the trade audience’s views. The publication invites qualified subscribers to American Drycleaner emails to participate anonymously in the unscientific poll each quarter.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].