The most profitable drycleaners are those who assertively take steps to increase their sales while also looking out for tactics that will allow them to reduce costs or at least peg them.

Martyn Lewis, managing director of the independent drycleaning business Lewis & Wayne and president of the Textile Services Association, advocates paying great attention to maximising savings as this will help bottom-line performance.

He advises cleaners with high street premises to avoid being “picked off” by landlords when it comes to rent reviews. Where possible, join forces with other tenants to put up a united front to resist steep rent increases. For, unfortunately, once one tenant has signed up to a new level of rent, a precedent has been set and others will be expected to fall into line.

It can pay to shop around for insurance – of whatever kind is required. Savings can also be made by carefully choosing suppliers of utility services. While long-term agreements with insurance and utility companies do tie the business in with the suppliers for a given period, the benefit in terms of savings can make this worthwhile.

Charge for good service

It also pays to look at pricing policies. Offering an exceptionally high standard of work and charging a correspondingly high price is a cornerstone of the Lewis & Wayne business. No discounts are offered, and business volumes are maintained through consistently operating a first rate service.

Mr Lewis says that even when customer loyalty is won, increasing the spend of the regular customer is not easy. To help maximise sales opportunities, customers need to be fully informed of exactly what is available. Swing tags and well-positioned posters describing extra services such as “repairs” are useful. Newspapers and local directories can be a powerful promotional tool, but one that is often overlooked.

An ancillary business area that he feels is compatible with drycleaning is a photographic service. This should involve not only standard processing of films, but also the handling of enlargements and the sale of items such as films and frames. Establishing a photo operation in a shop can be kept low risk if the processing side is contracted out. Creating an extra income stream without capital outlay is positively attractive.

The right staff will also help a business. Staff must not forget to be polite, Mr Lewis says, adding that personnel must respond well to customers even if they come into a shop and “interrupt” spotting or finishing tasks. It is wise to brief staff to spend a reasonable amount of time with customers and always welcome them with “good morning”, or “good afternoon”, or similar greeting.

  Friendly approach

Consumers experience, and expect, a friendly, helpful approach when they are shopping elsewhere and a drycleaning business that delivers less than this will suffer, Mr Lewis considers.

John Barber, general manager of Safeway’s drycleaning and photo-processing business, believes that optimising the use of equipment is a key to greater profitability for the company.

Safeway is considering expanding its drycleaning operation through opening satellite receiving points in stores which do not have processing units. This would channel extra work into the processing units and so increase the productivity of staff and equipment. Currently the assets of the processing units are only used for about 40% of the time available for work.

Attractive is the relatively low cost way in which satellite units can be tried out, he says, but he warns that, to keep transport costs within acceptable limits, a satellite point should not be more than an hour’s drive away from a processing unit. Further, if one satellite store is an hour away from a processing unit, then ideally another satellite store should be established along the way.

Mr Barber, who is chairman of the Textile Services Association’s Retail Services Special Interest Section Committee, stresses that transport costs generally should be closely monitored in an efforts to prevent erosion of profits.

Experts in the property development arena confirmed to LCN that the fast pace of change in the retail environment shows no sign of losing momentum.

The philosophy “location, location, location” is as important in the cleaning sector as it is in other businesses, but the nature of the perfect location may need to be reassessed. A site which was once ideal for unit shop may no longer be so.

Convenience matters

A unit in a town or city street which has been pedestrianised will have lost its visit-by-car convenience, and an area moving upmarket may attract higher rents. Profitability of a business may be increased by a move to another location to restore the convenience factor and to cut overheads. The convenience factor should not be underestimated.

Computerised tills are another route to maximising profits. They increase speed of service at the counter and the storing of information electronically assists with accounting, produces management reports and provides opportunities for increasing profitability through targeted marketing of services.

Importantly, a computerised till will ensure that all items left at the counter for cleaning are charged at the correct rates and that every opportunity for increasing customer spend is presented.

Close control on what is being charged is an essential tool for optimising profitability. All prices can be listed on the computerised till system and staff guided to make sure they charge exactly the right amount for, say, a skirt with a particular type of pleating, or a silk jacket.

Millions of holders of credit and debit cards do not think twice about using these. It has been ascertained that when a credit card is used the average spend on drycleaning is well over £20, and even with a debit card, average spend is just under £20.

A customer armed with a credit or debit card, is more likely to have an extra suit cleaned, or perhaps to add the cleaning and reproofing of a raincoat to his or her order.

Where space permits, a conveyor system may be considered as a replacement for static rails. Such a system can speed retrieval of items for the collecting customer, creating greater productivity and bringing an extra air of efficiency and professionalism to the shop.

Research has shown that good in-shop lighting can have an impact on sales. Replacing averagely-lit, drab interiors with spotlighting and themed décor, not only attracts more attention to the shop but also more customers. Drycleaning shops need to have style and vibrancy found elsewhere in retailing.

Catching the eye of the consumer is both an art and a science, and currently various branded restaurant concepts are vying for leading positions when it comes to design. While halogen lighting, wooden flooring and bold black and white photographs will not improve the standard of cleaning, they are likely to appeal to spenders who would be reluctant to visit a dingy shop.

Enticing customers

Good interior design will entice customers in, but it should be remembered that opportunities to optimise their spend will be harmed if staff appear uninterested in offering assistance or perhaps even surly.

A family-run business can often succeed in maintaining higher than average levels of profitability as no opportunity t p maximise a sale is allowed to slip by.

Customers are welcomed with a smile and a greeting, and real interest is taken in the clothes being left or collected. A quick, initial inspection of garments being deposited can be made and this may lead to a favourable comment about the style of a jacket, the fabric of a skirt and so on. The customer is appreciative of the notice taken of a valued item and is more likely to agree to an extra service or treatment that increases profitability.

Team spirit

Where team spirit is exceptional, in family-run or other businesses, a scheme of staff badging can be tried. The badge might proclaim: “If I don’t tell you about our new service, then claim your prize”. This keeps everyone at the counter on their toes, increasing the likelihood of staff-customer dialogue and higher sales.

Such a scheme might seem simple but it needs to be run with care. Staff do need to enter into it wholeheartedly, and management need to monitor it to ensure that levels of enthusiasm are maintained.

The “prize”, which might be a ballpoint pen carrying the name and telephone number of the drycleaning shop, can be also used for general promotional purposes.

Buoyancy in the UK shirt market has continued, and here, drycleaners achieving best volumes and levels of profitability are those who take a proactive approach to marketing. Making a promotional impact in directories attracts business and there can be merit in highlighting the shirt laundering and finishing specialisation.

A shoe repairing service can also add to a unit’s profitability but the premises must be big enough to allow segregation of the “clean” activity of handling clothes and the “dirty” one of dealing with shoes. Sales projections have to be weighed carefully against equipment and labour costs. A key cutting service can be also considered.

Making a shop energy efficient will keep overheads down. Controlled Flame Boilers points out that the development of boiler technology has increased fuel efficiencies, reduced maintenance and has also has had a positive effect on operating costs. The company says that high quality steam produced by advanced boilers contributes to excellent finishing increasing customers’ satisfaction, helping to secure loyalty and so long-term profitability.