Changing fashions, the theme of the 44th IDC convention, has a broad meaning, explained IDC president Simon Murray. It refers not just to clothes but to industry attitudes and styles.

Every company, he said, needs its mavericks who thrive on meeting challenges and bring fresh ideas. But they also need people to nurture those ideas, sometimes more difficult to find. While mavericks are needed they can also have a negative effect and can be disruptive to teams. A balance must be achieved.

Session one

Keynote speaker Peter Aepli of Cinq à Sec aptly reflected the central theme in his address “Expanding business in a declining market.”

When Cinq à Sec was started in 1968 by Roger Chaveneon, its approach was revolutionary. It introduced a one-hour service, treatment on site, open-plan shop design, simplified pricing and hand-ironed garments.

The business reached 600 to 650 stores by 1995 and now around 1,400 stores bear the name. Still largely Europe- based, it has also ventured beyond – eastern Europe, Mexico, Brazil (particularly successful) and Argentina and is now starting to explore the Far East.

Success (Cinq à Sec won the MAPIC award for the most dynamic international group) is attributed to: differentiation, forward planning (identify objectives and how to gain them), concentration on personnel (“an investment not a cost”) and finally execution. “Retail is detail” is the company’s motto and this needs speed, constant recalibration, a strong team and “training, training, training”.

The challenge continues, as does expansion. Australasia, China, Japan and the USA are all on the future list.

The Russian Textile Care industry has certainly faced changes, described by Vadim Samokhvalov of SV Argus, Moscow. A period of evolution in the 1960s accompanied by an idealistic view of the industry was followed by the reality of the late-1980s to 1990s with 3,500 shops chasing still minimal business. From 1990 to 1995 was a time of “shock therapy” with runaway inflation, reaching 1,500% at its worst.

In 1994 privatisation started and true evolution began in 1995. Of the 3,500 plants, 1,000 survived and 120 have opened and 50 have been renovated. Prices have increased and inflation has settled. Though 1998 saw a financial setback with 88% inflation, the mid- to late-1990s brought more positive trends, including low interest municipal loans to renovate self-service plants.

Currently, Russia has the highest income per head of any CIS county. The opening of a new shop is still big news in the press and spends on drycleaning are still low. Textile quality is poor. Buying new garments is often cheaper than cleaning old ones. Technology lags. The green effect has been virtually nil.

As an American drycleaner now living and operating in France, Marty Brucato changed both his country and work culture. “I suddenly realised that thanks to this art of drycleaning you can go anywhere in the world,” he told his audience.

He started as a teenager in Los Angeles helping in his father’s business, then trained and was a licenced drycleaner at 16. He left his father’s company and started his own, learning as he went and gradually building the business.

Why change? Why Paris? By 1992 the climate in Los Angeles was changing, the city felt less safe. Visiting a Paris trade fair, he became captivated and came back a year later as a student. After his degree he taught English and did some voiceover work. But he needed a better income so he returned to drycleaning and now runs a traditional drycleaners near the Eiffel Tower.

Comparing the two cultures he explains that in France, drycleanng is not a commodity. There are more commodity-based businesses, but as a traditional cleaner he is seen as a craftsman and treated with much respect.

The business is intensive, highly personal and customers expect to deal with the owner, so his will always be a one-store business. Only about 15% of the work is routine maintenance; the majority is renovation. High-fashion garments are often worn only on special occasions and finally brought in “when it needs to be saved”.

The basis of his work now is stain removal, tackled with an ” arsenal of solutions”, needing highly individual attention. He has a small machine and works to precise classifications, with small loads. All work is hand ironed – no presses or steam formers. France has no trade associations for support. He remains a keen member of the IFI (perhaps the only one in France).

John Barber, Safeway’s head of the photoprocessing and drycleaning described the store’s early rapid drycleaning growth – from zero to 100 shops in 10.3 months. But when Mr Barber joined in 2000, he identified several problems, including: a bland image, lack of management control, poorly used assets and poor service times.

He introduced a striking joint department image — this alone has led to a 30% increase in some areas. New Firbimatic machines process 20kg in 30 minutes, and have automatic solvent filling and electronic solvent detectors.

Management changes included his own appointment as general manager, and a doubling of the field management. Assets have been improved with 20 satellite stores feeding into existing units.

The drycleaning and photoprocessing business has begun a turnaround. Claims and complaints have reduced and service times are working towards a 30-minute standard. The division is enjoying considerable growth with the significant support of the main board.

Expansion will continue, filling in geographic gaps. A central processing unit is well on the way for London and the south east with the north set to follow, and within its first decade, Safeway’s drycleaning will expand to 200 stores.

Session two

Day two of the IDC conference in London started off with a session on the “state of our industry” around the world, with speakers commenting on Germany, Australia, Canada, Japan, USA, and the UK.

Egon (Kai) Burchard got proceedings rolling by revealing that nine out of 10 new drycleaning machines in Germany are hydrocarbon, such is the move away from perc. He then went on to give a detailed description of new environmental legislation in the country, which, if nothing else, left delegates under no illusion of the legal complexities German drycleaners face.

Roger Bancroft, chairman of Bancroft Cleaning in Australia and an IDC past president, explained how much drycleaners in his country have had to change in recent times. Although the economy is sound and is one of the fastest growing in the world, “the rewards of prosperity have not been shared”. Consumer credit card debt is at staggering levels, he said, and margins are at a historically low level.

One of the problems in Australia is the public’s poor perception of drycleaning. This was compounded by the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax in 2000, which has turned drycleaners into tax collectors with 10% of turnover now tax. For a business that relies on discounting as its principal marketing tool, this was a blow.

Other crucial factors, said Mr Bancroft, were a spending spree up to the millennium, the Sydney Olympics, September 11, and the recognition that drycleaners’ primary role “is not drycleaning, it is making people happy”. The situation today is that all the multistore businesses are selling up, there are fewer cleaners, but those remaining are “stronger and brighter”.

Carol Memberg, publisher of the US publication National Clothesline, ran through the stories that have made the news over the last 12 months.

Obviously the biggest story was the politics of environmental regulations – the Sierra Club sued the US Environmental Protection Agency ostensibly over steel plants, but somehow included drycleaners in their case; the International Fabricare Institute subsequently manoeuvred to have a voice in the debate; the South Coast Air Quality Management Department proposed a phaseout of perc by 2011, then amended it to 2020 after protests and the issue remains a live one.

Casualwear is proliferate and dress-down Friday has increasingly become dress-down everyday. An optimistic observation was that the Deutsche Bank in London has returned to a requirement for formal attire. “Things are bad, but not as bad as in the polyester era of the ’60s, and recovery should be swift,” Ms Memberg said.

Marcia Todd of Fabricare Canada magazine said volumes had slowed by an average of 30% because of an increase in washable textiles. Some cleaners, however, had offset the decline by increasing their repair work. The industry was worth $718million in 2001.

Worse, perhaps, was the ongoing wait for regulations covering the use of perc. Proposed legislation is calling for the elimination of perc transfer units, although there are fewer than 100 units in the country, mainly in rural areas. The proposed requirements for multiple separation tanks is “like taking a sledgehammer to kill a gnat”. Another regulation requires a solvent compatible plug on drains, but owners of shops in malls have objected because blocking a drain is against their lease.

Makoto Igarashi took a historical view of the Japanese industry because his father had helped found the IDC in 1957. The first IDC conference in Tokyo in 1959 preceded a rapid growth in the economy in the ’60s, despite a shortage of manpower. In the ’70s prices continued to rise with inflation, while in the ’80s the economy slowed and the industry saw slow growth. It hit a peak in 1992.

By 2001 year-on-year declines had caused a 35% drop in the value of the drycleaning business compared with 1992, “and it’s still falling!”, said Mr Igrashi.

The result is that drycleaners have had to look at marketing, and accept that customers value reliability over cheapness. Of course, as elsewhere, more clothes are being washed at home because of better machines and detergents. It is vital, said Mr Igrashi, that drycleaners show expertise. Growth areas were the antibiotic processing of floormats and kimono cleaning.

Pat Dowling painted a less than glowing picture of drycleaning in the UK. He showed a film shot during the ’30s, commenting on the much higher volumes then and the attention to detail shown. “We have lost sight of what we are offering… we should offer a full 10,000 mile service, not a wipe of the windscreen and oil check!” he said.

In the UK going to the drycleaners is seen as a grudge purchase, Mr Dowling said, adding only a few see it as a hygienic necessity. Worse, the level of skill in the drycleaning industry has declined to the point where it is no longer seen as a craft, but “it is a craft”, he said.

Perc is used by 95% of the UK’s 5,500 drycleaners. There are about 150 hydrocarbon machines, a single CO2 machine and aqueous cleaning has never taken off, said Mr Dowling. The Solvent Emissions Directive, he said, like the German regulations described by Egon Burchard at the beginning of the session, are “impossible to understand, let alone comply with”.

Inevitably, drycleaner numbers will decline after the Solvent Emissions Directive is made law, meaning there will be more work for those remaining. But they should consider more shirt services, as the current 3% level in the UK is far behind the 50% being achieved in the USA. Drycleaners should also stop regarding themselves as part of the retail trade, as they offer a specific service.

Session three

“How green are we?” was Dr Manfred Wentz’s theme, and he began by listing the cleaning substances available to drycleaners. Under non-aqueous were perc, hydrocarbon, carbon dioxide, cyclic siloxanes and glycol ethers. In the aqueous camp were laundering and wetcleaning. Dr Wentz, representing Textile Care International, North Carolina State University, interestingly ranked the processes from an environmental standpoint:

1. carbon dioxide

2. cyclic siloxanes

3. hydrocarbon

4. glycol ethers and

5. perc.

Over the last 20 years, he said, perc demand in the USA has declined by nearly 70%. In addition, said Dr Wentz, cleanup of sites contaminated with perc by drycleaners is increasingly being done. In North Carolina 130 such sites have been identified. In conclusion he recommended that the industry works with its “enemies”, and that drycleaners think outside the box. “Seed green now,” he said, “earn gold later.”

The stated mission of Dr Mike Walker of the European Chlorinated Solvents Association was to “defend and praise perc”. He said it does what customers want, it leaves no residues and equipment is available to minimise consumption. However, perc is under pressure in the EU (especially Denmark and The Netherlands), Canada, the USA and to a lesser extent in Brazil, where a phaseout has been proposed and challenged. The pressure is likely to continue, though fifth generation machines will probably be allowed, Dr Walker said.

Who cares about care labelling?, asked Mike Palin. His answer was: “A lot of people, but for different reasons.” His talk gave an insight into the achingly slow process of establishing a care labelling code. The first such code was ISO3758, which was published in 1991 after a 20-year gestation. It failed to gain acceptance in Japan, the USA and Australia, and had to be revised a few years later after the Montreal Protocol, NAFTA, mandatory care labelling (though this is viewed differently depending on the country) and new cleaning technologies, such as hydrocarbon and wetcleaning.

The first draft revision was rejected in 2000, though the second draft revision is expected to succeed and be published in 2004. All sections relating to professional cleaning have been revised. For example, definitions of “mild” and “very mild” cleaning and a symbol for wetcleaning (W in a circle) have been added.

Will retailers use the new wetcleaning symbol? Some already do and the availability of test methods (ISO3175) will encourage companies like Marks & Spencer to adopt labelling. However, there is the fear that some retailers will not bother with testing because it is not mandatory, and the clumsiness of the labels might put some off too.

One-hundred-and-twenty years ago there were no man-made fibres and domestic care of a suit would ruin it, said Kaspar Hasenclever of the German company Kreussler. Today, 80% of apparel is easycare. Who, then are drycleaners’ customers now?

High income groups use formal wear but have up-to-date domestic equipment and service staff – therefore, they are not a customer. Medium income groups use formal wear for business only and have no service staff, which means they will probably use drycleaners’ services. Equally singles (young and old) are service orientated. The challenge for drycleaners is to leave the narrow niche of being a specialist for the care of formal wear and become a general provider for all textile needs.

Mr Hasenclever’s analysis of cleaning substances was brutally straightforward:

• groundwater contamination could be the knockout blow for perc

• high boiling-point solvents (hydrocarbon and siloxane) are inherently costly to operate

• there is a problem with carbon dioxide gas creating sufficient mechanical agitation for particle removal

• with more formal attire made from natural fibres, wetcleaning gives a greater risk of shrinkage and there are added finishing costs.

The ideal combination, in Mr Hasenclever’s view, was 70% wetcleaning and 30% high boiling-point solvents. “These are accepted and offer the best possibilities for cleaning all garments. In the future we will clean more easycare garment, hence wetcleaning is the way forward,” he said. But it this realistic?

Nobody likes washing and ironing, yet 85% of apparel is domestically cleaned. If only 15% of people switched to using drycleaning on a regular basis, it would double drycleaning volumes. “The time now is to prepare… Install plants for wetcleaning and hydrocarbon/siloxane, then make it known.”

Session four

The IDC Fellowship Awards were introduced in 1984 to help introduce younger members of the industry to new ideas from around the world, explained Tom Gosselin, a third-generation drycleaner. The programme contributes $2,000 and operates over a two-week period. It is open to sons and daughters of IDC members (or a general manager) who are under 40, speak English (or have a translator), have the freedom to travel for two weeks and are willing to report back at the IDC conference. There followed reports from the 2002 Fellows, Matthew Barker and Tom Burchard, and another by former beneficiary of the scheme Colin Murray.

Session five

With the arrival of easycare fabrics, drycleaners saw 25% attrition of their number, followed by a period of growth as cleaners gained the work of those that had left the industry, said William Pulley of Capitol Cleaners. The challenge was the change in fabric technology, he added. “We need to be aware we’re in the textile care business and not the drycleaning business.”

Another trend Mr Pulley highlighted was the perception that perc is a harmful substance, whether it is or not, and drycleaners should accept that fact. His advice was establish a niche, meet customers’ needs and stay informed. “We are continually faced with great opportunies invariably disguised as insoluble problems.”

Murray Simpson of the Textile Services Association made the case for trade associations. So long as there are lead associations for industry groupings, as called for by the UK Government, their role can be effective. “Trade associations are in the business of representation,” Mr Simpson explained, and that means representing a non-competitive view to government.

As president of CINET, the International Committee of Textile Care, which has members on four continents, Theo LaGrange is uniquely placed to offer an overview of the industry. The future, he said, would be shaped by what happened in the last century.

Horror scenarios have directly linked perc with cancer, he said, despite the known facts. Drycleaners should accept this in the knowledge that there is a wide choice of new solvents that will enable them to stay in business. Best Available Technology is an obligation on businesses for the environment and the workforce.

In addition, customers are more demanding today, especially about flexibility. Mr LaGrange said well-structured and customer-friendly franchises have flourished, while single operators have suffered. He cited Cinq-à-Sec as the model example. It now has 1,400 shops, 40% of them in France.

The conference’s final speaker was Becca Anderson, who having developed the IDC’s website is now working on IDC News. Ms Anderson picked up a number of communication themes, principally:

• “This is the internet generation,” she said, “if you’re not on the internet you’re becoming invisible”

• loyalty marketing is growing and enables businesses to market in a highly targeted way

• email can be used to reach a captive audience, and don’t be afraid to be personal.

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