Back in the office after the final presentation at the IDC convention in London, I’m wondering what drycleaners in the UK need to do not only to zap up their businesses, but stay in business.

And if you think that’s scaremongering, you didn’t hear Pat Dowling’s presentation on the state of the UK’s drycleaning business. Showing a film shot in the 1930s about the cleaning of a suit, he commented on the attention to detail and customer care, saying: “Note the level of skill in the craft of cleaning – because cleaning is a craft. We’ve lost that.” In the UK, he said, going to the drycleaners today is seen as a “grudge purchase”, only a few see it as a hygienic necessity.

  Of course, the convention speakers delivered plenty of good advice and analysis, but where do drycleaners start? Roger Bancroft, speaking about the Australian experience, said: “Our primary role is not drycleaning, it is making people happy.” Makoto Igarashi told delegates that cleaning and repairing shoes was a growth area for Japanese drycleaners. John Barber explained how drycleaning and photoprocessing was the perfect mix for Safeway. Pat Dowling said drycleaning is not retail, it’s a specific service. Dr Manfred Wentz urged drycleaners to “seed green now, earn gold later”. William Pulley quoted the American industrialist Lee Iacocca: “We are continually faced with great opportunities invariably disguised as insoluble problems.” Then again, he also quoted Elizabeth Taylor’s fifth husband (Richard Burton, I believe): “I know what to do, but I don’t know how to make it interesting!” Without doubt these are the words of experience, and hopefully some of them will register as helpful with the nation’s drycleaners.

I was rather taken by Kaspar Hasenclever’s clinical dissection of the potential market for drycleaning. Representing the German chemicals company Kreussler, he pointed out that 80% of garments today are easycare, 90% of which are cleaned at home; 20% of garments are formal wear, of which 90% are professionally cleaned. His conclusion was that a mere 15% of clothes are taken to drycleaners, and consequently the scope to expand businesses is enormous.

Mr Hasenclever’s suggestions for how this should be done were, broadly, that drycleaners should leave the narrow niche of being specialists for the care of formal clothing, and become providers of services for all textile needs. (He recommended an alternative to perc too, which you can read about in our IDC convention review in this issue.) The potential is there, he said, to double your business.

I’d like to return, though, to Pat’s point about cleaning being a craft, which I too believe is true. To be a practitioner of a craft you need skills, and you get skills by being taught them. That’s the best starting point – training. Even if it’s only a “refresher” course.