September 29

How the drycleaning industry is innovating during the recession


Drycleaner wearing mask opens store during the recession

As the last quarter of 2020 begins, we find ourselves in another economic recession. Among the hardest hit are the small and independent business owners who have been forced to cut staff, reduce operating hours, spend time filling out lengthy financial forms, and waiting on pins and needles for a phone call from the bank. It has been a particularly rough period for drycleaners who have seen a decline in demand for their services while the majority of professionals trade in their work attire for more relaxed ensembles while working from home. But, as the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”, and drycleaners are applying their entrepreneurial spirit to adapt to the changes. 

We asked industry experts what they’re seeing as far as trends and innovation during the current recession.

“The industry saw a sharp, off-the-cliff decline in sales as the pandemic hit. Businesses were forced to shut down and consumers sheltered at home. This was nothing we could prepare for but, like everyone everywhere, the fabricare industry made changes. There was no thinking about starting pick-up and delivery, routes were started. Some businesses even went with just routes and closed the retail portion of their business. Wash-dry-fold became a front and center part of the business as households provided the majority of pieces in the early parts of the pandemic. The industry adapted to consumer needs—consumers needed more household items cleaned and less drycleaning. Customers didn’t want to leave their homes so we found ways to accommodate them. We are still adapting and some of the changes the industry made will become the ‘new normal’ way of doing business.”

“There has been a lot said about pick-up and delivery, wash-dry-fold, and some of the other areas that have expanded, but I feel some of the greatest changes have been in marketing. Now is the time to invest in your brand and community awareness. Small businesses and industries like drycleaners are struggling, but they are very resilient.  

I am humbled by the optimism and the community spirit we are seeing from our industry. Cleaners all over the country are digging in and helping their communities, and that involvement will pay dividends. From free cleaning to first responders to food and clothing drives, drycleaners have been answering the call. I am proud of all we have seen.

Drycleaners also need to recognize the value they sell is free time, and the shift in marketing is highlighting those benefits. Drycleaners are looking to change the perception of dresses & shirts, blouses & skirts — to “If you can wear it, we can clean it”. The industry is becoming more than “dry” cleaning — and more complete “Fabric” care.”

“Innovations? Sure, there are obvious ones to consider: Initiate, or grow, your route business. Start, or promote, your wash dry fold service. Advertise your alteration department. On and on it goes.

My contention to you is that the greatest change or innovation you can make is this: Take a long hard look in the proverbial mirror. What do you honestly think that you do well? How about not so well? Are you running your business to its peak efficiency and profitability? Are there necessary changes that need to be made? Are you ready to do what needs to be done? It’s a whole new world out there!

If nothing else, the past six months should have given us time to pause and reflect. Many in the industry have been dropped to their knees, with their financial survival in the balance. Are you prepared to get your message out to your customer market and back it up with the quality and service required to keep standing? Here’s to better days ahead!”

“Drycleaners wasted no time in adjusting their business model when the world changed in March. With their in-house expertise, they were among the first to make available cloth masks, and now advertise that they can clean them. They also let their customers know that any other soft materials that may need sanitizing are welcome. Many shops ramped up their routes to service customers who want to stay home, and one business I know of closed all their brick and mortar locations in favor of routes exclusively. Everyone knew that drycleaning supply outstripped demand, so now that many are closing some interesting referral partnerships are being formed. Drycleaners will continue to service their customers in innovative ways while markets return to a more customary level.”

“It has been a very surreal year and I know that many businesses are doing all that they can to survive right now. One bright spot I’ve seen come of this time is DLI and the Joint State Associations offering their weekly Zoom meetings – These meetings have provided an easily accessible platform for busy dry cleaners to share ideas and information with each other. These meetings have really drawn attention to how much an already close and collaborative group has banded together even more and it has really proven how much we’re all working to ensure the success for the future of this industry. Dry cleaners have really adapted their businesses in different ways to respond to the current global pandemic, increase production and provide convenience to their customer base, who are by-and-large still working from home, and we’re seeing that by many cleaners adding wash-dry-fold services as well as providing pick-up and delivery routes for their customers.”

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