It’s the last quarter of the year, which is usually the quarter where we grow sales to 120 percent of average sales. But with the Pandemic roaring through the economy, I’m calling this quarter ‘Crunch Time.’ It’s the quarter that I think is going to be the make or break quarter for a lot of cleaners, it’s the quarter that I think is going to be the predictor of what’s to come for the next year, maybe two.
Summer typically drives sales down because people are away on holidays, or spending time at summer properties, relaxing, taking their foot of the gas. This also impacts demand for dry cleaning as offices and workplaces relax dress codes and embrace a more casual attire policy, which again reduces demand for dry cleaning. But, this summer, we witnessed a much greater drop in demand due to people working from home, if they are working at all. There has been an immense change in fashion with folks working from home, which has caused one of the most dramatic drops in demand for dry cleaning I’ve ever seen. This has also caused one of the most massive pivots into new markets I’ve ever seen.
It’s like every dry cleaning plant in the world has suddenly converted into Wash Dry Fold palaces. There is an element of pain to watch once proud professional dry cleaning shops resorting to begging for baskets of laundry. But, it’s not all bad. It’s Crunch Time.
The dry cleaning industry has suffered from an identity crisis for a long time. Many cleaners have forgotten what this business really sells. A dry cleaner really sells a service, a service of cleaning, pressing and restoring items to a like new condition.
Notice, I said items, not garments.
Dry cleaning needs to recognize that this industry has suffered from a misidentified market position for a long time. While many of us use solvents and specialized machinery to clean, press and restore items to a like new condition, we need to expand our service offerings to include not just dry cleanable items like suits and suit jackets; we need to look at the other garments and items that are out there.
So many cleaners focus on ‘doing the work’ of seeking out and cleaning dry clean only items that they fail to focus on delivering what our customer’s really want: a life without laundry!
Clothing prices and choices of fashionable items to wear has never been cheaper or more plentiful. PreCovid I enjoyed shopping at Outlet malls. I watched folks buying suitcases so they could fill them with clothes to take home to already stuffed closets. If my house is like others, there are piles of wash and wear clothes that have been washed and dried, waiting to be ironed and pressed. But then again, is there? These days it is acceptable to simply wear clothes wrinkled and pressed by tumbling in the dryer (ugh!).
Let’s face it, our industry is a service that simply cannot be duplicated at home, professional pressing makes the difference! Presently, people think it’s perfectly acceptable to wear clothes that are wrinkled. It isn’t. Every TV show I watch shows people wearing clothes that look like they just picked them up at the clothing store, put them on, and make a presentation. I was commercials advertising products that you spray onto clothes that remove wrinkles and create the appearance of ‘freshly pressed’ without any labor required. I’ve bought those products advertised, and I’ve been sorely disappointed because those products DO NOT deliver anything close to the same result as a professional cleaner delivers.
Yeah, a professional cleaner; it’s the ONLY service I know of that truly delivers a ready to wear product without any labor save for putting a bag of clothes out and taking them back in to hang them in a closet.
Many of us have forgotten this critical point. It’s so obvious, its overlooked.
But it’s crunch time.
It’s time that those if us that want to survive get out there and chase down anything that people wear, anything made out of fabric, anything that covers a window, covers a bed and get it into our plants, processed and restored to like new!
But it’s crunch time.
We need to innovate new ways of delivering this service in an economical and affordable way. We need to devise new efficient systems to reduce costs of labor processing these items because our fees for providing these services must complete with the low cost of buying new items. It makes no sense to charge 8 dollars to clean and press a blouse or pair of pants when it costs 20 dollars to buy it new.
It’s crunch time.
It’s time for this industry’s equipment manufacturers to think even further outside the box than they have. If we can build robots that can build a car, we should be able to build robots to press clothes. If we can build vehicles that can drive themselves, we should be able to build devices to reduce processing labor. I’ve seen some equipment at equipment shows over in Europe, so I know there are some companies working on it. It’s time we cleaners demand and invest in such equipment, like we did on tensioning equipment, new solvents and new cleaning machines.
The dry cleaning industry has suffered from over supply for decades. The industry has been long overdue for a shake out and reduction in capacity. If it takes a pandemic to bring about much needed change, and as painful as it is to watch many operators suffer, it is really for the greater good. Its crunch time.