CHICAGO — Wash....dry....fold....and bank some green!
Making healthier profits is the goal of many drycleaning businesses. Competitive market forces drive owners to look around for new income streams. The buzzword getting spun in the air today is “diversifying.” That means offering services beyond traditional dry cleaning.
Many operators already offer wash and fold. But there are many who don’t. To the latter, we simply say this: It’s worth checking the action.
“Our return business is phenomenal,” says Rita Foley, president of Regency Cleaners in Durham, N.C. “Because clothes are clean, smell great, dried with a fabric softener which is folded between the clothes returned, folded professionally, wrapped in shrink-wrap and labeled with our logo and always ready when promised.”
She recommends that “If an operator can provide additional services: pre-spotting, hang-dry, hanging the dry clothing, then they should charge for it!”
Wash and fold, or fluff ’n’ fold as it’s called, is a topic on many drycleaning owners’ minds. Those business owners are reaching out for more customers who put convenience at the top of their list.
Who are you specifically reaching? Who do you want to reach?
Nicholas Sanderson, CEO of Laundry Locker in San Francisco, which has thousands of specially designed lockers located in and around the city and operates its laundry service as a wash-and-fold facility, says, “The trend in our area in businesswear is shifting toward a more casual appearance, requiring less of the owned clothing to undergo the drycleaning/pressed laundry service.”
“Wash-and-fold laundry plans are very popular,” Sanderson says, “especially with families that are doing a significant amount of laundry every week.”
Sanderson believes that, in the next three to five years, the service will outgrow his drycleaning service, as more multifamily high-rise residential is being built with no in-unit washers and dryers.
Reaching the specific segment of your wash-fold market might be the ultimate key to success.
Foley talks about her own company’s efforts: “In all of our locations, we offer full-service wash-dry-fold (wdf). In addition, we provide student wdf for two major local colleges. We work with two bobtailers instead of running our own routes. They are responsible for the pickup and delivery of the wdf to the two colleges and to multiple retirement homes and hotels.”
For the college students, she indicates that her company contracts with the bobtailer for a flat number of bags per week depending on student contracts. The students are contracted to pay for a 13-week service, whether they use the service or not.
“We have to provide the equipment, labor and supplies,” Foley says, “to provide the service regardless of the number of bags that come in. We receive about 97% of the contracts each week. The bobtailer is responsible for billing and collecting from the students.”
Businesses that set out on the wash-dry-fold path will no doubt discover challenges and surprises.
“One major challenge is tracking orders between scan-in, separated wash according to preferences, separated drying according to preferences, and folding tables,” Sanderson relates.
“There are a lot of touch points the clothing goes through, and the individual items are not uniquely identified as they are in the drycleaning service through ironed-on barcodes,” he adds.
Circumstances that differ from dry cleaning involve not only process but people as well.
Training is important in providing wash-dry-fold service to customers, Foley says. The challenge is making sure that the customer understands the limitations of the service. Communication is key, she emphasizes.
“A lot of operators want to cater to ‘soccer moms and dads.’ Great idea,” says Foley. “But as a woman, when I do my laundry at home, I pre-spot, separate into about four different loads, dry on low, hang-dry and hang up the clothes after they are dry.
“In the commercial wdf service, providing this detailed amount of labor is not profitable and is unattainable unless the operator is doing it on a very small scale.”
Foley notes that “The customer has to realize that their clothing is not pre-treated. Pockets are quickly checked, but not guaranteed; care labels are not checked (so that wool sweater you throw in there could get shrunk); and clothing is returned neatly folded. Not on hangers.”
It’s all about knowing your customers’ tendencies. Foley talks about some of the situations she’s encountered in the business her company has been in since 1984.
“College students are in a hurry. Making sure that the information on sign-up and on the website is followed is like herding cats. But you must state the obvious or else their parents are going to blame you for their mistakes. Such as putting that wet red towel in the bag against their new white Polo shirt. It has red dye on it before we even get it.
“Or putting their fraternity blazer in with the clothes,” she continues. “We train our staff to remove all garments which cannot be washed and return them to the customers with a note stating that those garments need to be dry-cleaned, hand-washed, scrubbed on a rock or whatever.”
Are there some tips for those ready to “open the lid” in pursuit of the wash-dry-fold customer?
In Foley’s words: “A wdf can be worth a lot of money if the order is damaged or lost in cleaning. It is a profit center to take very seriously, and I think that operators tend to think that it is ‘just washing laundry.’ It is much more than that.”
The proper use of equipment, applying ozone or not, detergents, fabric softeners, wash/dry temperatures, separation of clothing, checking pockets, folding and packaging are of utmost importance, she continues.
“My advice is for the owner to spend a day in the service just as his employee would. There is nothing that will solve a problem better than experiencing the service firsthand,” says Foley.
“Do you need gloves to separate? How do you track orders? How long does it take from start to finish? Does your back hurt after standing all day? Should you invest in a fatigue mat? Do you have enough space, equipment, supplies?
“Is your staff eating or drinking at the fold table? All of these questions can be answered if you occasionally immerse yourself in the job,” she advises.
Check back Wednesday for the conclusion!