National Clothesline
In 1991 many things were going to happen that would lead to my future in helping this
After already spending over 10 years learning and sharing, I was offered the opportunity to
look into the future of the drycleaning
industry for the International
Drycleaners Congress and presented
my predictions at a convention in
Victoria, Canada. I provided some
food for thought, some proof that
there is always a better way, and
some incentive that we must look
Below is my historical “look back”
and the reality that emerged. I hope
you find it interesting and perhaps insightful for the future.
The horse and buggy period of 1991
“You may tell me that great changes have been made in the drycleaning industry. You can tell
me that this industry has come a long way. We have, after all, new, state-of-the-art equipment.
We have automated presses with electronic controls replacing electro-mechanical parts, and we
have the introduction of point of sale systems to achieve consistent pricing.
“Are these great strides? I contend that they are mostly bells and whistles on existing
technology. There are very little cost-saving advantages, no labor savings, and no changes in
the value added process. Foot-stopping presses are still in use. The heat and steam continues to
blow at employees. Jacket pressers still make multiple lays on a press. We excel in changing the
package without changing the basic design or process.
“The process still involves batch cleaning. We accumulate garments between major operations
and the movement of these batches is in fixed units throughout the plant. We load a basket and
wait until it’s full before we move it to the next operation.
“The first blouse, in the bottom of the basket, can wait several hours before it is ever worked
on. Smaller garments move through the standard process and only get segregated towards the
end of the day resulting in late or lost items. Packaging and wrapping hasn’t changed in years.
“Tags are sold and tags are bought. They are placed on garments and they are removed from
garments. We assume tags are indispensable. Heat-sealed barcodes won’t hold. We can’t get
them small enough. They won’t stay on through washing, cleaning and spotting.
“Change has come as individual operators have been threatened by competitors or
governments, but today, change is here to stay and positive change, in this industry, has been
and will continue to be made through innovators.
“The net affect of the speed at which change is occurring is that some operators will succeed
and others will not. Those who continue to move with the tide of change will continue to
prosper. Although waves and storms may slow you down along the way, those who ignore the
threats and do not respond to the tides of change will fail. Recognizing the opportunities
available to you and taking advantage of them will be necessary for your survival into the year
“The Chinese have the same word for opportunity as they do for crisis.”
By 2001, 10 years later
The single biggest step progressive operators took was related to computerization, but it
really took 20 years to get here.
To put this in perspective, in 1980, I spoke about a radical concept of point-of-sale computers
for the drycleaning industry.
At that time, people considered me absolutely crazy; I didn’t understand anything about the
industry; I had no idea about the true costs and benefits involved in this type of capital
Enough is enough, they said. This is all fiction after all. The drycleaner doesn’t need this. It
isn’t necessary nor cost effective.
Over the next 10 years, the industry had installed 5,000 such systems. Even in its infancy, it
reaped great rewards with automated pricing resulting in effective price increases of three to ten
percent and improved cash control.
But even by 2001, few had fully utilized their invested dollar to the full potential of this
technology. I want to know the dollars my customers spend. I want to know which 15 percent of
my customers spend 80 percent of my dollars. I want to know the product lines they are using.
I want to know if they are not giving me their shirts or household. I want to know how often
they use my services. I want to know when to anticipate their visit and to react when I don’t see
By 2018
Today, it is the general production process which has begun to change to achieve the next
real benefit from computer technology… it’s all about the tag.
We needed to eliminate the manual and error prone assembly process. Sophisticated
computerization and barcoding made this possible.
In 1991 we knew it could be done. We were applying barcodes to the backs of bumble bees
and tracking them entering and exiting their beehives. Prototypes were just coming out and two
were available during Clean ’93, but in 1991 drycleaners said it couldn’t be done. There are too
many problems with it. Our industry is different from the commercial laundries who were
beginning to implement it. Or maybe, but we can’t afford it. It won’t work in my plant.
These challenges were present, but they were overcome by innovative and progressive
Who would have guessed that we would have more than doubled our productivity with
drycleaning pieces per operator hour improving from  eight to 12 ppoh to 16 to 22 and beyond?
A look forward to 2040
As said in 1991, the step from fiction to fact is only a short one. The elite of the industry will
find ways to take this step and support the research and development that will be needed for
the facts of 2040.
We have moved away from foot-stomping presses, although there are some places that you
can still find them. We have improved employee work areas with steam being moved away from
them and fresh air into the plant.
We have reduced multiple lays of garments with increased steam tunnel usage, helped by the
change in fiber content of our garment mix.
We have presses better sized for smaller garments such as fitted blouses.
We have taken on-board computerization, combined with barcoding, and allowed us to
automate assembly and bagging.
This all took about 25 years instead of the projected 10, but we finally got there.
Today it’s all about the consumer. They want service when they want it, not when it is most
convenient for the operator to provide it. They want results the way they want it; not the way
that is currently most efficient to provide it. They want what they want, not what the drycleaner
wants to provide.
But drycleaners will say it can’t be done. There are too many problems with these
suggestions. Our industry is different. Or maybe yes, but we can’t afford it. It won’t work in my
These challenges were present in 1980, in 1991, in 2001, and today, but they were overcome
by innovative and progressive operators.
What will the future look like?
• Brands will drop the word drycleaning as it involves a process that has more negative
connotations than positive ones. The term “drycleaning” narrows the market focus and slows
• Ownership will become a mixture of out-of-industry and in-industry members to
accommodate the financial requirements of growth and the technical processing requirements.
• We will move from very large machines with the mixing of customers’ orders and the
required netting to smaller machines with individual customer orders.
• We will follow customer requests for detergent, hang to dry, or fold and ship, providing the
customer an opportunity to have it their way, not the drycleaners’ way.
• There will no longer be poly bags for packaging. They will be either replaced due to
legislation or voluntary creativity.
• Distribution through routes, stores, and lockers will routinely be used to service the
• Delivery times will continue to be faster and faster to meet the growing customer
expectations and there will be a dependency of on-demand apps.
• The distribution methods will have a mixture of ownership including company owned,
franchised owned and licensed operators, all operating under one brand.
• Route delivery and lockers will include products from other companies.
• Routes will continue to grow with an emphasis on morning and evening shifts.
• There will be improved coordination and/or cross-ownership with laundromats.
• Product lines will include athletic wear, casual wear, household, linens, wedding gowns,
garments (blue and white collar), medical, aged care and alterations.
• Customers will expect you to know their individual garment requirements and to segregate
the orders by household members.
• There will be horizontal conveyors systems along with the vertical, hanger-oriented
conveyors to process the packages.
• Individual pricing will be used alongside subscription services.
It was George Bernard Shaw who remarked “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world;
the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress
depends on the unreasonable man.”
Ladies and gentlemen, let us all be unreasonable.
A final word
Thank you. This is my last scheduled article for the National Clothesline, a first-rate trade
magazine. I want to thank everyone of my clients from whom I have learned so much over the
years, to some vendors so generous with their time and expertise, to others that support this
industry in so many ways.
Deborah Rechnitz has
been an independent
management consultant
to drycleaning industry
members since 1980. She
also held the position of
chief operating officer of
one of the largest USA
drycleaning operations in
2008. She holds a
Bachelor of Science
degree in Finance and
Personnel Administration;
a Bachelor of Arts degree
in Interpersonal Com-
munications; and an MBA
in Operations
Management from Case
Western Reserve
University. She can be
reached by e-mail at
drechnitz@gmail.com or
phone at (253) 405-7043.
Progress past, present and future