National Clothesline
National Clothesline
Top annoying issues with shirts
A few months ago, I got an idea to poll a large group of drycleaners and ask them what they
consider to be the biggest annoyances in the shirt laundry business.
Aside from one notable exception, there are not any real surprises in the feedback that I
received. I do wish that the list were an array of annoyances for which I had the coveted
solutions, but no.
The point then is closer to a
“misery loves company” sort of
thing, where you take comfort in
knowing that others deal with
the same trials and tribulations
that you endure.
The most repeated responses
were complaints about how annoying it is to get shirts from a customer that still remain
buttoned. More on that in a minute.
Puckering on the front
The second most common comment was the “puckering” along the fronts of shirts that is
caused by the interfacing in the fabric shrinking.
I certainly understand this! What a pain this is!
This can easily quadruple the amount of labor required to process a shirt and the resulting
product will probably be merely marginal.
There really is no easy way to fix this. There is no “trick of the trade.”
On some shirts, a hearty pull and stretch can help a great deal, but there are some
poly/cotton blends that, try as you might, you aren’t going to succeed in stretching that button-
hole placket to the correct length.
Your only chance at arriving at an acceptable product is to iron out the wrinkles and sort of
disperse them along the length of the placket. Hmmm. Certainly a work-around, and an
expensive one at that, given the extra labor needed.
If any of my shirts ever develops this shrinking, I hope that my drycleaner just throws it away.
Buttonholes, sewn up shirt front
There were some “honorable mentions.” One was buttons that have only three holes. In
another, one cleaner lamented about a customer who had the bottom 2⁄3 of the shirt sewn
together (rather than using the buttons). This meant that the shirt didn’t fit on the shirt unit and
had to be done by hand.
Sewn-in collar stays was a good one. How do you deal with that? Hopefully your pads, covers
and steel mesh are practically new when you press those.
Someone mentioned colored paper left in pockets and the dye from the paper bleeding
everywhere. The root cause of that, obviously, is that pockets weren’t checked properly, but that
issue reminds me to share a little tidbit with you.
Bleeding stain stickers
You are all familiar with “stain stickers.” These should never be used for shirts! The dye is
water soluble and the adhesive is solvent soluble.
You could leave a stain sticker on a pair of pants during drycleaning and the solvent will
immediately dissolve the glue and you’ll never see it again.
If you put stain stickers on a shirt and they aren’t removed before washing, the results could
be much less benign. The sticker stays on, the orange dye runs like a dog and you have your
hands full. The dye can be removed, but you will have to rewash the shirt. Oftentimes, the stain
that was being highlighted by the sticker was removed easily by quality detergent but the
stickers compounded the problem five-fold.
Unbuttoned shirts
So, it annoys you that shirts come to you still buttoned?
I have heard many a tagger/inputter complain about this. I have never heard anyone simply
take it in stride. I have read discussions about this on Internet forums.
I hear you, but it’s just part of the business.
I have heard that some charge the customer ten cents more for each button that is still
buttoned! That reminds me of a drycleaner who charges the customer ten cents for each drop of
chemical used for stain removal! Really?
In every business, some paths are paved more smoothly than others, but not every garment
will be processed easily.
When you wash and press a shirt that comes off the shirt unit perfectly, no touch-up, no
broken buttons, you simply can’t even dare to wish that every item should be like that. It is the
reality of the business that some garments are easy, some are harder, some are challenging.
Charging a customer for not doing “their part” is short sighted.
If you look at two random shirts that are probably in your plant right now, you’ll find one that
is unsoiled, unstained and just the right size to fit the shirt buck perfectly and it is truly perfect,
hot off the press.
Diametrically opposed to that is the shirt with a dirty collar, a mustard stain on the front,
tailored to fit the wearer but not your shirt buck and in need of attention at the inspection/touch-
up station. And it probably came in buttoned. (I used to do Dom DiMaggio’s shirts years ago. His
maid used to button every button on the dirty shirts, every one, and then fold the dirty laundry
better than many drycleaners fold cleaned and pressed shirts!)
The simple fact is that — pardon the pun — it all comes out in the wash. It all balances out.
We can’t get terribly excited about the profitability of that clean, easy-to-press, unbuttoned
shirt any more than we can blame our dwindling profits on the shirt that comes in buttoned and
is a general pain in the butt.
And if we charge more for the shirt that comes in buttoned and is soiled, are we prepared to
give a discount to the customer whose shirts are unbuttoned and easy to press?
I bet you think not, but that is fair. To use absurdly simple numbers to illustrate a point, let’s
say that you charge $2 per shirt, unless they are a challenge in some way — dirty, hard to press,
buttoned. In that case you charge $3.
Now, the stickler: Do you charge only $1 for the easy shirts? If you vote yes, then I ask “Why
Why not take the confusion for the customer, the necessary accounting for you and the tedium
involved out of the equation and simply equalize the price at $2 across the board, knowing that
you make more on some and less on others?
Alternately, you don’t even consider for a second discounting the easy shirts to a dollar. But
you maintain that you need to charge more for the problematic shirts. Aren’t you saying, in no
uncertain terms, that you aren’t charging enough?
If you charge $3 for shirts that are buttoned (or whatever), you are doing so for one of two
reasons: You need to offset the losses that you incur by processing such a shirt (Read: $2 isn’t
enough to truly cover all of your expenses which includes a myriad of bumps in the road), or you
are aiming to punish your customers for spilling the wine or failing to unbutton the shirt. That’ll
teach ‘em, you reason.
That’s surely the opposite end of the customer service spectrum that you should aspire to be
This pricing discussion is the perfect segue to my favorite comment of all. It comes from
Gordon Shaw, Hangers Cleaners in San Diego. It goes like this:
Honestly, ever since I took the mindset to charge enough that a shirt-only customer makes me
smile when he comes in, I find nothing irritating about doing shirts. I love them. Nothing looks
better hanging in the plant than a long row of perfectly pressed shirts with butterflies on. Have
you ever noticed how many ads for drycleaning use a picture of a clean pressed shirt?
Mike Sitz of Holiday Cleaners in Grand Jct, CO chimed in with this:
Like some others here, we are priced to make money on shirts in our market ($2.95) and I
don’t feel any dissatisfaction with that part of our business.
The one or two customers we have that can get out of a shirt without any unbuttoning it are
about it and that was all I could come up with. We have a number of our customers who bring
their shirts unbuttoned, stacked collars up, and one who sorts by color also. They like the service
and us. Our main CSR has been here a long time and knows most customers by name. Most of
us know many of them by name. Having a relationship with the customers reduces problems
since the issues don’t escalate.

So the lesson learned is that any garment is a profit center if it is priced accordingly. If certain
items are priced incorrectly, they surely will find a way to annoy you, sooner or later. Thanks to
all of those that contributed to this research.
“If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got!”
Don Desrosiers has been in the drycleaning and shirt laundering