For customers seeking excellence, the style of garment finishing and presentation gives a measure of the whole business. Quality here is a sign that the business maintains excellent standards throughout.

Ask upmarket cleaners how they define and achieve such excellence and the starting point is often a list of details.

It depends on the garment, says Malcolm Berger of Manchester-based Harry Berger—for instance, a jacket should hang well with the right drape, the material should have a good handle, the garment should just look right.

Colin Hill, director of Blue Dragon Cleaners also talks in terms of detail: “All linings should be hand-finished, the pocket flaps should lie right, trouser turn-ups should be level.” Trouser creases should be sharp and prominent—and in his view that means a using a Hoffman press.

Haskell Elias of London-based Elias Cleaners takes a broader view—to qualify as an excellent result, a garment should be returned looking as if it was new. That involves constant examination and checking. After cleaning, a garment will be post-spotted. It then goes to a presser, and after pressing, to a checker who will look at the details and do any minor repairs. The work will be thoroughly examined again before being packed.

Achieving excellence, says Mr Elias, means a lot of hard work and being on the ball all the time to make sure things are right.

A similar approach is taken by John Buckley, managing director of John Buckley Dry Cleaners, near Solihull. Mr Buckley says that defining excellence is difficult as there are so many factors involved, but his business aims to make items look as good as new in terms of handle and finish. Soil removal is thorough. Ideally garments should look even better than they do on the retailer’s rail: in-store, clothes are constantly handled and tried on by prospective customers and can look a bit sad at the end of the day.

Care standards

But there is more to achieving such excellence than simply good, detailed pressing. Mr Buckley explains that any garment that needs cleaning is “aged” to some extent. A good end result requires care and skill from the start.

The cleaning processes have to be tailored to suit different fabrics and indeed the business designs its own processes. It takes extreme care with stain removal. A lot of cleaners assume that if a stain does not come out in the machine cycle, it will not come out—but not John Buckley.

Naturally, the actual finishing requires careful attention, and staff are thoroughly trained so they know how to get the right results. Everything is hand-finished. This business does not employ presses, but uses steam formers and ironing tables for everything. Small details count for a lot, so the business does much touching-up after pre-forming.

Holt Dry Cleaners in north Norfolk caters for distinctly upmarket clientele. Proprietor David Brieger takes a traditional approach. Excellent standards start with the image projected by the shop and follow through down the line—excellence incorporates not just the cleaning and finishing processes, but decoration and furnishings, the quality, appearance and attitude of the staff and personal attention to customers’ requirements.

If there is a query, Mr Brieger will discuss the garment with the customer: “It’s their personal clothing and they want me to look after it.” So excellence starts from the moment a garment is brought in. It is looked at, prepared and then cleaned. Mr Brieger does much of the finishing himself, especially fine work but he also has an experienced assistant, Gordon Bullock.

Mr Brieger stresses that there is more to the finish than just pressing. Operators must have a detailed knowledge of fabrics and the best way to treat them—for instance whether they need dry steam or wet steam.

Businesses must constantly build on their experience and knowledge. Mr Brieger makes a point of keeping up-to-date with the clothing industry. He looks around the shops to see what the fashions are, what fabrics are being used, and how clothes are being structured.

Mr Brieger believes that it is his job to diagnose exactly what needs doing to achieve the best possible result.

While customers may point out a particular problem, generally they just want to hand the clothes over and leave the cleaning and care details to him.

Constant checking all the way down the line is vital. If at any stage something is wrong, the garment will be re-done before going on to the next process. Counter staff will make a final check before they put out the clothes for collection. If something has been missed, they hand it back for further attention.

At Mr Steeds, based in South London, Douglas Steeds stresses that excellence is achieved only by craftsmanship and skill and by taking time.

His business has two distinct sides, the Abbeyville Road shop and a specialised collection and delivery based operation. This, in particular, attracts a list of distinguished names.

Asked to define excellence, Mr Steeds goes into a degree of detail that is not always easy to appreciate in words.

Again excellence goes all the way down the line. If clothes come out of the machine in the right condition, the right finish is easier to obtain.

A perfect result is an art. An experienced presser will “throw” the clothes on to the press so they are in exactly the right position.

Mr Steeds explains that a common fault is overpressing. There can be a mistaken belief that everything has to be perfectly flat.

The right result depends on personal expertise, and judgement. The operator needs to try to visualise what the shape of the garment should be and work to recreate that shape.

A lot of the processes and equipment are therefore customised.

He stresses the detail involved—for example, a pocket flap should be pressed against a piece of card to avoid leaving an indentation below. Pressing trousers involves more than just the four creases, a middle lay must be done first.


On presentation, Mr Steeds is equally precise. Hangers have not changed in size over the last 30 years, but people now are generally larger and men’s suits are looser, so the hanger may need to be padded with cardboard to get the right shape.

The business always uses tissue in the presentation, and believes that this adds more than a good appearance. Tissue has a feel and even a sound that gives confidence in the result.

Presentation, too, is a matter of judgement with no hard and fast rules. Some garments need to be buttoned, others look best opened.

James Sokolov, manager at the Streatham branch of Lewis & Wayne, says that the business offers a quality service, but the customer is the final judge.

Garments have to be treated individually. Some fabrics such as silk/linen, for example, can present particular difficulties. Mr Sokolov looks for the best possible finish and believes that it is achievable in 99.9 per cent of cases.

The governing principle is that customers are confident that they can put the finished garment straight on, look good and feel classy.

Lewis & Wayne too stresses the need for applying personal judgement. Most garments will be put on a Hoffman press and the operator will use skill and experience to judge how to operate the press to achieve exactly the right result, avoiding overpressing. Sometimes there can be a fine line between the two.

The company invests heavily in presentation. It uses printed polythene with the company’s slogan and Textile Services Association (TSA) member badge. Printed shoulder guards make sure the garment sits correctly.

Specialised items are matched by specialised presentation. For wedding dresses, this includes packing the sleeves with tissue.

A bust former will be used to keep the bodice in shape if the garment has to wait on a hanger for some time. The shop also provides specific coverings—either pvc zip bags or boxes.

Such details add to the cost, but corners should not be cut, believes Mr Sokolov.

But how is the cost of excellence measured? It is clear that achieving excellence involves time, training, experience, and a process of checking.

However, translating those elements into a charge can be something of a balancing act, and perhaps a problem that the industry as a whole has not always addressed correctly.

At Harry Berger, Malcolm Berger explains that in his father’s time customers were more critical and demanding of excellence, but while people today want a good standard they do not want to pay for it.

The implication is that the industry, to its overall detriment, has been influenced by the price pull, with a consequent loss of quality. Mr Berger does a fair amount of corrective work and he believes that the problems he deals with are often the result of a price-pull.

John Buckley is fiercely critical of the trend for working down to a price. The public may view drycleaning as expensive, but, from the point of view of the quality cleaner, charges are low.

The industry should be working up to quality and pricing accordingly.

In terms of standard items, his business is more expensive—it charges from £11.50 for a man’s suit, but standards are high. The business always offers the best service, but some fabrics and garments are more difficult and take more time—so a premium is charged.

Should the charging question be solved by offering two tiers of service? The issue is controversial but some do argue in its favour.

Haskell Elias believes that customers should have a choice, so that they can get a good standard service for everyday clothes and have the option of the valeting service for special items. Valeting prices are nearly double, but the service offers a higher standard of finishing, more checking and examining and more hand-finishing.

David Brieger observes that cleaners have to price according to area—everybody’s costs are similar. His business may be more expensive than some but not excessively so—typical prices are from £3.95 for trousers or skirts, jackets from £5.20, a suit from £7.95.

He argues against a tiered system. Customers bring garments in to be cleaned as near perfectly as possible.

A tiered system has to be monitored—and by implication that in itself has a cost of time.

The industry’s concentration on price has led to its poor image. Mr Brieger argues: “It is high time the trade pulled its socks up and went for quality. If you charge the right price, you can employ an extra person and have the time to get it right.”