In 1991 many things were going to happen that would lead to my future in helping
After already spending over 10 years learning and sharing, I was offered the
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,
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
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
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
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
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
and others will not. Those who continue to move with the tide of change will
prosper. Although waves and storms may slow you down along the way, those who
threats and do not respond to the tides of change will fail. Recognizing the
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
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
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
Today, it is the general production process which has begun to change to achieve
real benefit from computer technology… it’s all about the tag.
We needed to eliminate the manual and error prone assembly process.
computerization and barcoding made this possible.
In 1991 we knew it could be done. We were applying barcodes to the backs of
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
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
Who would have guessed that we would have more than doubled our productivity
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
can still find them. We have improved employee work areas with steam being moved
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
automate assembly and bagging.
This all took about 25 years instead of the projected 10, but we finally got
Today it’s all about the consumer. They want service when they want it, not when it is
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
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
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
• 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,
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
legislation or voluntary creativity.
• Distribution through routes, stores, and lockers will routinely be used to
• Delivery times will continue to be faster and faster to meet the growing
expectations and there will be a dependency of on-demand apps.
• The distribution methods will have a mixture of ownership including company
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,
garments (blue and white collar), medical, aged care and alterations.
• Customers will expect you to know their individual garment requirements and to
the orders by household members.
• There will be horizontal conveyors systems along with the vertical,
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
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
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
industry in so many ways.