All eyes are on Italy as the newly elected government of Giuseppe Conte formulates the policies that will determine the fortunes of the country over the next few years.

However, the economy remains uncertain. In July, the Italian statistics agency Istat, reported that growth had slowed in the second quarter of 2018, mainly as a result of a decline in net foreign demand, and it is predicting a continued deceleration in economic activity over the coming months. Nevertheless, consumer confidence grew slightly.

“After the severe economic crisis that hit the US and Europe, Italy, unlike other countries, is struggling to recover and grow [and] the drycleaning industry, already in a severe recession, is suffering with all the other economic-commercial sectors of the country,” comments Gabriella Platè, president of Assosecco.

She says the new government has said that it wants to deal with the problems affecting the small- and medium-sized enterprises that represent the backbone of the economy. It plans to undertake in a radical review of the tax system, in addition to trying to reduce the negative impact caused by the cumbersome bureaucracy. However, she adds: “We will have to wait to see if electoral promises will remain or if what has been declared will materialise.”

In recent years, many small businesses have closed as they could not compete in the deregulated environment. In addition, the growth in the number of shopping centres, has resulted in a rise in medium and large laundries as well as the emergence of washing centres with peripheral deliveries.

“The high cost of Italian labour, challenges of a contractual and trade union nature,0 make the growth path of this type of reality more complicated,” Platè adds. “There are virtually no franchises, while the laundries are heavily influenced by the fact that in Italy there are no limitations on the use of domestic washing machines, which makes this type of commercial activity unattractive to the public.”

Nevertheless, services are expanding. Tourism is steadily growing and Jensen, for one, has seen this reflected in orders from its customers. It has also seen a rise in laundries specialising in garments for the elderly and in a demand for higher quality linens by the big international companies.

“Of course, we already have the technology and it just needs to be adapted to the specific case,” says Matteo Gerosa, national sales manager for Jensen Italia. “Automation is becoming more and more the key of the success: the big players are growing faster thanks to investment in automation, which results in their being able to offer a competitive sales price for a higher standard of product and process compared to competitors that only have standard processes.”

He says demand for Jenassist 2.0 has grown in Italy, enabling customers to receive remote support from sales and service centres worldwide.

Thierry Lambermont, managing director of Milnor International, agrees that automation is taking on more importance as a means to counter high labour costs. Digitisation, too, is beginning to take hold, although at a slower pace than it is in everyday life. “Machinery software is at the forefront of technology but product traceability, for example, is still a prerogative of the large companies and of the most innovative laundries,” he says. “The previous government encouraged companies to become more digital through incentives and benefits and that has also had a good impact in our sector.”

But progress is still slow. “There is a kind of resistance to the transformation of society, as there is no perception of it. Consequently, it is difficult for this sector to adapt to these changes promptly,” he adds.

The use of apps and on-demand services has just started in metropolitan cities in Italy, following the success of other European capitals. “In Italy we see two different attitudes: that of big cities where there is high demand for technological services and that of small- to medium-sized cities where traditional services offered by laundries are still resistant,” comments Stefano Randon, export sales director for Imesa. “But the future will be for the expansion of new technologies.”

Imesa has developed an IT architecture system that will enable all of its machines to be connected through wifi. The system was designed and produced internally by the company’s electronic department. It will feature at ExpoDetergo, along with two newly engineered washer extractors, models LM 26 and LM 32, both equipped with a seven-inch touch-screen display ready for wifi.

“ExpoDetergo will be an important occasion for Imesa as the event coincides with a celebration of our 50 years of activity,” Randon adds.

The environment is also beginning to assume a more important role. Gerosa says many customers are moving from plastic packaging to textile bags. “It can save a lot of money for the final user,” he explains, adding: “Energy recovery is now very common, from basic solutions like heat recovery in tunnel washers and heating inlet water with the exhaust from dryers to ironers with heat exchangers. At Jensen, we have many options for energy savings, starting with the construction of our machinery.”

In the drycleaning sector, perc is still dominant but, according to Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing director for Renzacci, there is a slow but steady trend towards alternative solvents and biodegradable, hypoallergenic chemicals. And, although numbers are still low, some new operators are beginning to embrace the green agenda. One example is university student Giuseppe Romeo’s Biolavanderia in Locri, which not only uses Renzacci’s Cleanbio branding to promote its environmentally friendly service but the shop’s interior design also reflects the clean green offer to customers. The shop is equipped with Renzacci’s Nebula 2.0 bio drycleaning machine as well as a Renzacci wetcleaning system.

While there are new drycleaning shops opening in Italy, there are some challenges that new drycleaners face. One is the requirement that those wanting to open a shop must have attended a training course. Responsibility for organising the courses has been delegated to the regions but high course costs mean they often have difficulty to get enough people to undertake the training so the courses are not run. “The legislation does not correspond to the real needs of the market,” Niccolini says.

Another challenge is the tax legislation that came into effect on 1 January 2018. This  will require drycleaners to declare electronically how much money each of their machines makes every month. However, the new government has promised to review the legislation and cut taxes, which Niccolini says could benefit drycleaners.

Those who are opening new shops in the sector are not just looking at the green agenda. Wetcleaning is growing as are services to disinfect garments and accessories. Walter Cividini, managing director of Fimas, says a number of new shops are opening with just a washing machine and no drycleaning machine. “Wetcleaning systems need special finishing equipment, with good blowing and the ability to stretch and control the tension of garments,” he explains. “We have a complete range of equipment for finishing garments after wetcleaning – such as the model 379 multiform dummy, the model 104 blowing/suction table and the model 375 trouser topper.”

At ExpoDetergo, it will also be showing a new version of its model 298 double buck rotating shirt finisher, which enables an operator to finish up to 95/100 shirts an hour.  In addition, Fimas is preparing a new ozone cabinet that will eliminate germs and deodorise garments, shoes, helmets, bags and other items that can’t be cleaned using traditional methods.

Rotondi will also be showing a new shirt finisher at ExpoDetergo, along with a new shirt press, a new jacket (which was designed in collaboration with a leading fashion brand) and its all-in-one flatwork ironer that incorporates an automatic feeding, ironing crossfolding and stacking system and promises to process 250kg per hour with just one operator.

“The main challenge [in Italy] is to convince drycleaners and laundries why it is necessary to use automatic machines that are able to reduce production times and improve quality,” comments Davide Rotondi, sales manager for the Rotondi Group. “Many laundries already understand this and are investing only in machines that offer automation and labour reduction. That is why we have developed our series of heavy duty industrial heated roller ironers that are able to reduce labour costs and achieve energy efficiencies. We are [also] ready for the Industry 4.0 EU program but customers are not yet ready to computerise all of their working processes.”

Similarly, digital technologies such as apps have been slower to penetrate the sector than they have been in countries such as the UK and Germany, although in June 2018 on-demand laundry service Lavadì launched as master licensee for Laundrapp in Italy. The service will initially be offered in Rome and Turin and will gradually roll out its services to other parts of the country.

“The most important initiative that is developing very slowly is home delivery based on the English,” Piaté comments. “Assosecco has long been mobilised to organise meetings aimed at helping members to be sensitive to the social and economic changes in our country. In particular, more recently it has been proposing a new business model that is no longer based just on the lowest price, but on a higher quality profile of the offer to customers.”

And it is that way that the sector will move forward.