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The Year Ahead, the Year Behind

Dry cleaners expecting better things for 2022

CHICAGO — The past year has been one of recovery for many dry cleaners, while others have struggled to remain level — or fallen further behind — as the pandemic receded but refused to go away entirely. Still, based on the results of our latest American Drycleaner “Your Views” survey, most of our respondents believe that better days are ahead for the industry.

When asked how their company’s 2021 overall results compared to those of 2020, just over a third (33.93%) reported a “vast improvement,” with the largest percentage (48.21%) saying there had been “good improvement.” Other owners didn’t fare quite as well, with 12.5% reporting business had been “about the same,” 3.57% said they witnessed a “downward trend,” and 1.79% were facing a “steep decline.”

It’s said that challenging times teach the biggest lessons, and many of our respondents reported taking those lessons to heart. When asked, “What lesson did you learn this year that you wish you had known as the year began,” the answers included:

  • “Putting prices up by 50% helped us attract more customers and a better type of customer.”
  • “Image and quality are paramount.”
  • “Raise prices twice per year without considering what others are charging.”
  • “I learned you have to satisfy the top tier and ask for referrals.”
  • “Focusing on loyal customers pays off.”
  • “Marketing is the key to getting your clients back in the door.”
  • “To be patient because things would eventually work out.”

We also asked what their company’s primary goal was for the coming year. The majority (44.64%) said that “adding new customers” was at the top of the list, with “building up route services” coming in second at 19.64%. “Providing/fine-tuning new services” were top of mind for 12.5%, and “adding/replacing equipment” was of prime importance for 5.36%.

Other answers included “more wedding dress cleaning,” “finding good employees” and “building a more efficient and larger production facility.”

Most of our respondents believe that 2022 will be brighter than the last couple of years. When asked, “How do you think your company will perform in 2022,” 48.21% said that “We’ll go beyond our pre-pandemic numbers,” and 17.86% said that “We’ll reach our pre-pandemic numbers.” A little more than a quarter (26.79%) believed that “2022 will remain below pre-pandemic levels,” and 7.14% said that “The coming year will be a struggle.”

Our respondents reported they had learned valuable lessons, which will serve them well when building that brighter future. “Through marketing and implementing new services, we will be stronger than ever in 2022,” one says.

“Having good customer relations, ensuring top-quality work and being willing to charge more for cleaning is crucial,” another reports. “Also, getting into digital advertising and having a good website and SEO is vital.”

“Part of management is crisis planning and maintaining financial flexibility during the prosperous times,” a respondent says. “The combination of 60-day statements and very little technical knowledge leaves no room for even a small downturn, much less what we have been through. You can market the sizzle, but the test comes when you have to serve the steak.”

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.      

The Year Ahead, the Year Behind
The Year Ahead, the Year Behind

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].