CONCORD, N.C. — Check the “weather.” Look to the horizon. Learn to read fabricare’s “signs.” Be the wind reader!

The way we do business is changing.

From point of sale (POS) systems to wet cleaning to social media marketing, the options available to the fabricare industry are expanding. If you are still doing business exactly as you did just five years ago, you are losing ground to your competition.

In 1990, dry cleaners were in great shape. This manifested itself in having a financial magazine declare that dry cleaning was one of the 10 best ways to become a millionaire.

But, this was also about the time that environmental interests began taking a hard look at chlorinated products, including perchloroethylene (perc), the solvent of choice for about 80% of the dry cleaners nationwide.

The knee-jerk reaction to get to no environmental impact has turned into a headlong rush to mediocrity, leaving the customer believing that he or she can do it at home.

The growth of casual attire in the business sector began a slow decline in office dress that required professional care. A growth in turnkey plants lead to oversaturation, with each cleaner getting a smaller slice of market.

All these factors softened the market for dry cleaning.

When we look around today, we see a continuation of this trend. Home appliances are coming to the market pre-programmed for the “dry-clean-at-home” products and tout microprocessor controls that allow the user to get (at the touch of a button) a specialized cycle in a home washer based on fiber, construction, and staining material.

There has been an increase in plant operators who settle for only processing garments. The attitude: Let the machine do all the work. With no follow-up stain removal or touch-up finishing, these operators are working overtime to perpetuate a negative stereotype of the industry.

While the fad of home dry cleaning seems to have faded, the stigma of the possibility of “doing it at home” has remained.

When the buyer of a cleaners fails in the area of gaining knowledge of the profession, they don’t differentiate themselves in the marketplace, with the exception of price.

The spiral continues downward to a level that will not support a return on investment, maintenance and repairs, or reinvestment in up-to-date equipment.

Management is more than having a set of keys and making payments on a bank note. Management is overseeing the effective use of all assets: employees, equipment, utilities, supplies, even the cash flow.

Many drycleaning owners are trying to maintain piece count at the expense of profit. While many large corporations have downsized over the last 10 years, many dry cleaners have reduced their prices to try and maintain piece counts and poundage.

Cross-training good employees to split time between two departments can reduce your payroll. An example would be having an employee spend six hours in shirts and two hours on the counter.

Making sure that equipment is being used, and used properly, can increase cash flow. If the shirt washer is idle, it can be cleaning comforters, at a profit.

If a department is finishing early, cut the utilities to that department. You don’t need 110 pounds of steam pressure if the shirt finishers are gone.

Order supplies from a master list, with a “par” for each item. Take the time to know what you are using and order only that amount. Excessive stock slows cash flow.

WHERE WE’RE GOING

The pressure from environmental interests and regulators will continue as rules and procedures are refined.

Companies recognizing this will try to cash in by bringing new products and equipment to market. Cleaners will need as much information and insight as possible to separate true advances from smoke and mirrors.

Home appliance manufacturers will continue to aggressively pursue a share of the consumer’s fabricare dollar. Plant operators will have to prove to the consumer that their product is superior to anything that can be done at home.

Managers will have to apply tighter controls to maximize quality and productivity, while maintaining or reducing overhead.

The best place to meet these current and future needs is through publications, association benefits, meetings/networking, and continuing education through seminars. That’s reading the wind and being ready for what’s next.

Success in fabricare is yours for the taking. Increased knowledge leads to better preparation and that preparation allows you to take better advantage of each and every opportunity that comes your way.

To read Part 1, go HERE.