Providing a shirt service is a very real opportunity for drycleaners to offer as part of normal business. Unit shops of all sizes can realistically expect to add revenue and value to their business, and, more importantly, a shirt service can build a regular customer base, one that will also bring in drycleaning more regularly.

So far, only a limited number of High Street laundry and drycleaning businesses are taking up this opportunity. They may think they aren’t in the right location, or their current opening hours don’t make shirt laundering a good bet. The real answer is likely to be that owners have looked at the business in brief and the difficulties of presenting a market-acceptable product at a profitable price seem daunting to them.

Yet a great deal of the presumed difficulties in starting a shirt laundry and pressing service have been removed by the arrival of a wide range of shirt pressing systems from several manufacturing sources.

One of the most comprehensive ranges is that supplied by Barbanti from Italy whose product range is distributed, installed and serviced nationwide by Firbimatic UK, based in Pershore, Worcestershire. Models with either single or double sleeve clamps are available and all models feature fast loading of the damp-dry shirt and three chest sizes cater for men’s, ladies’ and child shirts and blouses. Steam generation and control as well as sophisticated pneumatic systems enable the operator to achieve high productivity which is never less than that demanded by this fast expanding market sector.

One user who appreciates the flexibility and productivity of the Barbanti shirt machine is Julian Berger in North Manchester who has been involved in shirt processing for many years. “We installed the Barbanti very recently to replace a very old ESP shirt machine and we were impressed by the ease with which the staff took to the new operation. We process about 600 shirts a week and we see it as a very useful add-on service to our drycleaning business. Shirt processing is currently a steady business as there is a lot of competition about, but we see a shirt customer every week and this reminds them to take another garment in for cleaning when they collect the shirts.”

Mr Aziz of Prestige Dry Cleaners in Beckenham, Kent, has operated a shirt service using a Barbanti system for more than two years. “Previously we did shirts by hand and now we process up to 55 per hour and nearly 850 per week. My wife has processed 65 in an hour but the system is very happy at 50 an hour, and, as importantly, new staff can be fully productive after only half a day with the machine. We offer home collection and delivery in our suburban location as we believe that if the customer can’t come to us then we must take our service to the customer.”

Shirt servicing is not out of the reach of the smaller retailer and does not necessarily involve a large initial outlay, says Renzacci UK managing director Jason Alexander.

“For the past couple of years Renzacci UK has been promoting shirt servicing as a growth market where launderers and drycleaners have the potential to really build up their businesses. The sector is still looking very attractive for the high street operator,” says Alexander.

“It is not only a great income generator by itself but also offers a positive spin off effect for other areas. Customers who take up shirt finishing services are regularly in the shop, or in contact with the delivery staff, and can be encouraged to take up other drycleaning services,” he adds. “This isn’t just a matter of talking up the business. I know the spin off effect works because I’ve seen it happen in practice.”

One company that Renzacci UK has helped successfully branch out to offering shirt services is The Great Western Steam Iron Company, based in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

“We started off about 18 months ago as an ironing company employing home workers,” explains owner Sarah Kampaugh, who runs the business with her husband Tony.

“Initially we ran the company from home, then as we started to get bigger, we looked around for a unit. We talked to a number of people about machinery. We were very impressed by Renzacci’s helpfulness and professional approach.” The Kampaughs have invested in a Pony GE65 36kW boiler, Pony MG-402 shirt machine and two Silver SV finishing tables.

Sarah says: “The shirt side is still small but its doing very well and we expect it to grow. We handle about 150 shirts a day at the moment with the capacity to do far more.”

“The MG-402 is the ideal shirt machine for the high street drycleaner,” add Alexander. “It brings large-scale laundry benefits to the smaller operation.”

For approximately £8 per day, the Pony MGC-402 shirt former and CCP collar and cuff press offers a versatile and quick way of processing all types of shirts which can either be damp or dry. Units are available with built in steam boilers or for central steam supplies.

The MG-402 features fully programmable microprocessor control with a capacity of 100 programmes, complete with cycle-counters. The microprocessor provides the operator with all the necessary information about the cycle, while also allowing the option of adjusting these pre-programmable times for steam, steam/air/blowing with warm air (according to the residual moisture content of the garment to be finished for centrifuged shirts or according to the cloth quality for new shirts) and for the addition of cold air at the end of the cycle. Users can also operate the unit manually, bypassing the microprocessor programmes. Additional features include pneumatically-operated shoulder width and automatic release of the garment when the cycle is finished to speed up garment unloading.

Also in the Renzacci shirt-finishing range are the MG-397 and MGC-397 which have the ability to finish both shirts, jackets and coats, and the MG-399 exclusively for shirts with the added advantage of a vacuum centre line clamp and automatic adjustable shaping.

Hassan Buru of Clean Tech Drycleaners in Barons Court, West London, is another operator who found that offering a shirt service greatly expanded his business. He started with a Pony MGC397 shirt and garment former and a Pony Silver-SV finishing table in 2003.

“The business grew and grew until it made sense to install our own drycleaning machinery,” says Hassan Buru. Clean Tech has just invested in a Pony Cosmos-E finishing cabinet, Pony SP/U press, Jolly Cold spotting table and a Hawo HP630KST bagging machine as well as a new Planet 35 Club drycleaning machine.

Tony Dickens at BMM Weston agrees the market for shirt services is one with a great deal of potential. it is probably fair to say that it has been one of the few growth areas in that time.

The reasons for people purchasing shirt machines can vary tremendously from a company setting up a bespoke quality shirt finishing business to an established drycleaner or launderer that has reached a position where they cannot cope with hand finishing, says Dickens. “There is absolutely no question that provision of a shirt service substantially increases the frequency with which customers will visit the store.”

“In general a person using the service will visit their cleaner every 1-2 weeks which is significantly more often than somebody purely using a dry cleaning service.It is also reasonable to assume that if a shirt customer is visiting the store that frequently they will bring in additional dry cleaning,” he adds.

BMM Weston have been at the forefront of the market for many years with their extensive range of shirt machines and have seen a tremendous growth in their business with over 200 installations.

The company believes there is still considerably more opportunities in this sector with expansion of the market beyond Greater London. “With further advances in product development, the machines will get ever closer to producing the perfect shirt,” says Dickens.

With this goal in mind, BMM Weston is planning to launch a new range of machines at the beginning of 2006.

An increasing number of drycleaners now offering a fully finished shirt service, according to Super Hanger. The company, based in Windsor, Berkshire, offers its customers a complete range of detergents, chemicals, hangers and packaging products to ensure that drycleaners can return shirts to their customers in a professionally finished and packaged condition.

Sales and marketing manager Meena Bedi says: “Professional shirt cleaning plays an important role in the ongoing development of a drycleaner’s service and can be big business for some. At Super Hanger we offer a full range of products to fulfill this demand. We supply 100% recycled heavy white coated shirt boards, shirt bags, bow tie collar supports and locks and shirt clips.”

The company supplies plain and executive printed shirt boxes in several sizes. “These are imported from the USA where presentation is paramount, are very popular and ideal for customers who want their shirts returned folded and professionally packed. We also offer specially manufactured shirt hangers with a deluxe bronze finish which shows off the finished garment to its best potential.”

“We are confident that the shirt market will continue to expand and, as part of our dedicated and committed service to our customers, we are always looking for new products and ideas to expand our services and to help them grow their businesses.”