The economic climate may be clouding over but Massimo Sanvito from Pony says the demand for multifinishers and shirt finishers is still growing globally. However, he admits that the company’s most popular machines in Europe are still vacuum and up-air ironing tables, while presses continue to dominate in Asian countries.

In some European countries, such as France, environmental regulations controlling the emission of fumes have led many drycleaners to replace spotting tables with spotting cabinets. This may be more expensive but they are also much more eco-friendly and easier for operators to use, Sanvito adds.

Pony is continuing to develop its Pony 405 shirt finisher, increasing productivity by reducing processing time and also improving the quality of finish.

For the more price-conscious end of the market, the company has introduced a low-cost ironing table that incorporates both vacuum and blowing functions.

Although the global recession has yet to make a significant impact, a downturn in volumes this year is anticipated, as cleaners place orders for single items rather than putting in orders for larger amounts of stock as they did in the past. Whilst the priority for small family-run shops is still on producing a high-quality finish, Sanvito says that there is a growing number of “one-price” or “fast-service” shops, often inside large shopping malls. Their priority is productivity and they try to attract customers by offering cheaper prices.”

Productivity and quality

The balance between productivity and quality is a fine one, dependent on the size of the shop and the volumes it processes, its location, the type of clientele it services and the fabrics that predominate.

Corinna Mapelli from Trevil says that managers in larger drycleaners tend to focus on finding the right balance between productivity and quality to improve their profitability, taking into account what the business is aiming to achieve. “Large volumes and a low selling price require highly productive equipment, automation and little touch-up. Quality is a second consideration” says Mapelli.

“On the other hand, a high-price service requires excellent quality,” she continues. “If volumes are high, the drycleaner looks for equipment that provides both high productivity and high quality.

“The production line is automated but final inspection and touch-up are vital. This is an expensive step but the price of the service is high enough to offset this cost.”

New materials

New materials also influence the type of equipment a drycleaner needs, especially when garments include a mix of materials.

“Drycleaners know that PVC, coupled with layers of different materials, can be damaged by drycleaning. This means they must equip their store with at least a washer and will therefore need the right equipment to finish washed garments,” says Mapelli.

Trevil continues to fine-tune its range, making its products more efficient and ergonomic, easier to use and better able to provide improved finishing quality.

In November the company announced an optional shoulder module for the Trevistar shirt finisher, combining heated plates for the shoulder seams and hot-air injection on the yoke area to speed finishing and improve the result.

In many countries where money is scarce, cheaper, less sophisticated equipment, such as a simple ironing table, manual press and boiler, is a necessity rather than a choice.

Demand for secondhand machines has also traditionally been high, particularly from countries like Egypt, Bangladesh, India and Malaysia.

Metin Kılıç, factory manager for Malkan, says his Turkey-based company tried to sell secondhand machines a few years ago but then stopped, as customers’ expectations in terms of quality and reliability were too unrealistic and this began to reflect badly on the company’s image.

“We now focus more on customers who want quality and who want to buy quality machines at competitive prices,” Kılıç explains.

“Machinery in this sector is expensive, so users want to make sure that they get a long life out of their equipment. A good after-sales service, including spare parts, technical support and professional assistance is what they really need.”

Changes to equipment are driven by customer feedback and Malkan is currently redesigning its shirt body press and collar-cuff presses.

Roland Fleischmann from Ghidini agrees that money is often a deciding factor in choice of equipment, especially in the current financial climate where smaller drycleaners may have difficulty obtaining loans from banks.

“They may want a vacuum and blowing table but find they can’t afford it, so they end up going for a simple ironing table,” says Fleischmann.

In France and Spain, where drycleaning franchises are more common, drycleaners often want simple-to-use machines, such as vacuum/ blowing tables which can be used for most garments. Price is often the first point of interest in the sales discussion. But, as Fleischmann warns, low-price equipment is unlikely to have high-quality components.

In his view, such a machine may suffice if it is only used a couple of hours a day. Where a shop requires equipment to run up to 10hours a day, a cheaper machine may not be the answer.

Many companies leave the distributor to explain to drycleaners what equipment would most suit their needs. Some, like Parrisianne, which distributes Ghidini’s pressing and ironing equipment in the UK, provide good, professional advice but Fleischmann says there are others who are more inclined to provide what the customer says they want rather than what would most suit their business.

Those who do provide good advice may find that it is not always heeded as customers are swayed by cheaper deals from elsewhere.

Fleischmann says he has had a number of customers from Africa who initially decided not to buy Ghidini equipment and instead bought less expensive machines from other manufacturers, but after a couple of years, they would come back looking for Ghidini’s better quality equipment.

Ghidini has been working on refining its shirt finishing equipment, aiming to decrease drying time by increasing the pressure of the steam that is produced and therefore the temperature of the hot air that is produced. The stretching device on the shirt finisher has also been fine-tuned to improve the stretch on the lower part of the shirt, to help reduce the need for ironing.

In the USA, there is a trend for finishing shirts with sleeve pleats, says Hoffman New Yorker’s Tom Bolan.

Once restricted to more “upper class” customers, sleeve pleats are now a common requirement so Hoffman New Yorker has redeveloped its shirt finishers to meet this demand.

On the other hand, the quality of equipment and, consequently, the quality of finish, are influenced by location, population density and the type of customer that frequents the drycleaning premises.

More maintenance

As the economic climate takes hold, many drycleaners are holding onto their finishing equipment longer. However, inevitably, older equipment needs more maintenance and Bolan predicts that companies such as Hoffman New Yorker may find their parts businesses increasing as the credit problems continue.

Those who are choosing to buy new equipment are doing a lot more research into the product before they buy, Bolan adds. They are looking more carefully at what they really need and the costs they will incur. The economic squeeze is encouraging cleaners to think more carefully about their requirements so they buy the right machine for their own customer base.

However, it is inevitable that many shops will close before the economy picks up again and used equipment will begin to appear on the market.

BMM Weston in the UK is one of the few manufacturers that also sells used and reconditioned equipment but, according to Tony Dickens, this is on a limited basis and the company is selective in what it chooses to refurbish. It will only refurbish its own equipment and “it has to be something that has been reasonably looked after”, he says. Although the machines are actively refurbished in the factory, those who choose to purchase these reconditioned machines must be willing to accept a limited warranty, less than that offered for a new machine. Used machines are offered on an “as is” basis.

Despite the downturn, Dickens has not yet noticed an increase in demand for used and reconditioned machines. However this could change, particularly in the UK where the fall in sterling has meant that imported drycleaning equipment has gone up in price.

It is in this climate that productivity and flexibility become even more important, says Dickens. Drycleaners using finishing tables, which need more labour and are therefore more costly, may look to jacket formers or trouser toppers to help save costs.

BMM Weston’s Versaform steam and blown former provides flexibility for drycleaners who need to finish a variety of garments but don’t have the volumes to justify buying several machines.

The Versaform V3, a redesign of a previous model, was launched in 2008. It can process a range of garments from t-shirts and polo tops to conventional shirts, jackets and raincoats. It has nine pre-programmable settings, which can all be adapted to suit the individual shop and it is fully automatic. The main requirement is to dress the garment properly. “Then there is not much more to do,” says Dickens.

He predicts that if the difficult economic situation continues, people will increasingly begin to look at multifinishers.

Making the drycleaning operation more efficient and buying the right equipment that fits the shops’ requirements could make all the difference in riding out the storm.