Kenney’s Rules Of Thumb


Since being grounded from flying or driving alone, I decided to share some of my Rules Of Thumb I have passed out to customers along the way with my readers this issue. I have often said that our industry runs by guidelines, mostly established by our mother institute, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI). A lot of folks “fly by the seat of their pants” in running their plants, but to really be profitable and do quality work, one must use the guidelines set forth by the Institute. Along the way, I have picked up what I call Rules Of Thumb to guide by and I will share some here since I am rarely able to get out to plants anymore. These Rules Of Thumb are derived from institute procedures taught in school and learned on the job. I just tweaked them a mite.

Live Modestly With The Solvent You Chose

First, I will cover environmental concerns, since that is my specialty. Fact number one is that any and all solvents can and will be regulated eventually. There is no escaping the EPA by changing solvents. Pick a solvent and enjoy it. They all work fairly well and none of them as good as they should. Any new machine or solvent buyer will tell you his is the best in the world. I would feel the same way if I just spent $80K. The age old – my solvent is better than your solvent – is horse droppings. No solvent before or since perc has cleaned better or gotten better mileage. But, it is disappearing and you will eventually need to pick a new one in some states. That is no reason to trash the solvent that made you a living for so long. If you think perc is the first and last solvent to demonize our industry you need to read your history on carbon tetrachloride from 1940’s, or better yet gasoline and kerosene cleaning solvents from the early 1900’s. There will always be a Meany solvent as far as the EPA is concerned. They would not even approve of clothes cleaned in ice tea!

They are proving very fast they don’t even like water used as a solvent. Lesson here is to abandon all hope that any solvent will be non-regulated. Grief will continue, as they are opposed to solvent makers and users. So stop the fussing about your solvent. Pay more attention to cleaner, fresher, purer filtered and distilled of whatever juice you clean in and you will all be on a level playing field. End of sad story.

Rule Of Thumb. Keep good poundage records. I have heard every reason in the world why it is unnecessary, but it is necessary. I know the arguments. I grew up with no regulations, but even in the old days we all knew the best maintenance of solvents and filters is by recording poundage. You can use other methods like solvent clarity and filter pressure, but nothing is better than records for figuring the efficiency of your machine. The government agrees and that is why we encourage everyone to record your poundage. If you get inspected you will need to show proof of poundage, so why not comply? Solvent used, divided by clothes cleaned, will always be the most accurate way to check efficiency of your machines. Any and all record keeping required by the Clean Air Act of 1991 is imperative. Keep records and keep them forever. Most importantly, keep the hazardous waste records. You may need them in court some day!

Rule Of Thumb. In management, DLI has always suggested labor be at an average of 34%. That is not an arbitrary number picked out of the sky. It is the percentage of labor you need to maintain in order to have quality work and decent wages. Everyone thrives to cut on labor costs. It is a natural thing to do. Just remember that when you strive for anything under 34%, your staff and work quality will suffer. That is not an opinion – that is a fact. I know I will hear from some of you who will claim to be doing less than 34% and managing just fine. Naturally, a high-end couture cleaner will have far higher wage cost percentages. The discounter will strive for far less than 34%. To you, I say that it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. If you step back and really study your quality and take notice of staff moral, you will realize that things aren’t as great as they seem. I have not met a cleaner yet that did not think his or her work was the best in the world. Truth is, it isn’t. There is no 100% at anything. But if we strive for the correct percentage of expenses vs. gross, your business will be more efficient and you will still reach that 18% or better profit margin.

They Are Being Treated Like Wet Dogs In A Wagon

Rule Of Thumb. Annual sales or poundage for a year divided by 51 weeks should give you your “break even point.” With depreciation, ROI and office expense, an owner should be making between 18-25% net profit. RPP should be equal or greater than the price of a pair of pants. Real cash flow earnings are before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization. Just over one (1.3) employee per $1K weekly sales should equal the correct number of employees you need. Your 2-piece suit price is your base price in the plant. The base price should also be the base average hourly wage of your employees. Employees are getting a raw deal these days, some of them. As the owners cut back on labor due to poor sales, they cut back on numbers of employees below the critical point to where the quality is suffering and so are the employees. Some of them report to me that they feel as though they are being treated like wet dogs in a wagon! All I need say is: no employees – no company. Take care of them!

Suppliers And Customers Don’t Enjoy Seeing Sorry Tags, Neither Should You

Rule Of Thumb. Good finishing, cleaning and stain removal. At one time we had many, many prima donnas’ in this industry. Gus the cleaner or Mack the presser was top dog in the plant. Some of these guys were real jewels. However, even a prima donna can be wrong and annoying. If I meet one more cleaner who thinks he can remove 100% of all stains, I’m going to take a southbound train to nowhere! Hear me please; there is no 100% stain removal. Never has and never will be. If so, you have a love affair with a pair of scissors! A top-notch cleaner will prespot most everything (or at least look at it) and will inspect every single garment that comes out of the machine. He will average 5% stains that don’t come out safely with variances due to location, etc. of plants. That leaves a huge 95% of the clothes that should be stain free and eliminated those “sorry” tags that Jeff Schwarz does his best to make disappear. Why? Because too many people slap them on most stains because they are untrained, uninterested, under paid, unhappy with the company, unhappy with the world, who knows. But they do over use them. One put on the 5% that will not come out because of fabric or chemical dye damage is legit. But be brave enough to sign it and take responsibility for why you made that choice.

Rule Of Thumb. He will keep clean solvent. Expert finishing like the couture level finishers is a lost art without formal training and all of this newer finishing equipment. The newer equipment likes to blow and go but only the human hands can shape and form.

Before I stop I must address routes. I am no route specialist but I ran them for years and I know what the percentages should be as how I was taught in school and learned on the job. One defining factor remains. No route runs for free. I have heard every argument in the world from cleaners about how it is business that would otherwise not come in the front door. That may be so if you are not selling quality or convenience but the fact remains that it cost money to put someone in a truck be it you or a salaried person. Twenty five percent of your overhead will go out the door. If you don’t mind giving those kind of discounts, keep the routes. My rule of thumb is charge extra for route service. You are selling a convenience.

That is about all the Rules Of Thumb I have for this article. Keep posted for more throughout my articles and while they are not etched in stone, they will help you along the way.

I’m headin’ to the wagon now, these boots are killin’ me!


About Kenney Slatten

Kenney Slatten Training Company is a Dry Cleaning and Laundry Consulting Firm Specializing in Environmental Training and Certification. Kenney Slatten Training Company, or KSTC, is based in Texas with offices in Arizona and California. Kenney Slatten is a certified instructor/trainer for the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), is actively involved in the San Diego Drycleaners Association, the California Cleaners Association, is an Allied Trade board member of DLI, the Executive Director of Western States Drycleaners & Launderers Association, a member of the International Drycleaners Congress, and a columnist for American Drycleaner and Western Cleaner and Launderer magazines. The Kenney Slatten Training Company provides the only complete environmental training and inspection process. Started in 1987, Kenny became the first instructor for California E.P.A, OSHA, and state regulations. Kenney publishes a 36 point plant requirement every year in trade publications which is his guide for plant training and certification. We are the only company that provides dry cleaning and laundry specific environmental training. Kenney Slatten is a third generation drycleaner/laundryman from Houston, Texas. His company, KSTC, can teach you the skills you need to have a successful plant. His wagon is found all over the country parked under a tree just waiting for the next call to come to your plant. He can be reached at (800) 429-3990; e-mail: or go to: www.