The TSA/Guild joint conferences have always focussed on providing practical advice for textile care businesses and the Scottish Conference held in Cumbernauld certainly emphasised this.

Richard Neale, a director of the Drycleaning Technology Centre, addressed the problems involved in leather cleaning but started by stressing that in difficult economic times drycleaners needed to make sure they stood out from the competition.

“You are in the top 10% of drycleaners in Scotland because you cared enough to come and here and learn,” he told the audience. He added that there were a lot of experts at this event and in addition TSA/ Guild membership allows cleaners to ring its panel of experts for free advice when needed.

Offering a cleaning service for furs, suedes and leathers could be one way to improve business. It’s high margin, but it’s also high risk.

To offer a successful service, the cleaner needs a range of solvents – perc to deal with dirt, hydrocarbon for the more sensitive items and water to deal with food stains.

Cleaners also need to know how to re-oil a skin and above all, must be sure that they have the right skills to understand what needs to be done – mistakes can prove very expensive. Cleaners that do not feel confident of having the right skills to handle leathers and furs in-house should find a good contract-cleaner.

Neale then outlined some of the potential problems. For example, leather is often difficult to dye and there can be strong variations between panels – a good cleaner can even the colour out with leather oil.

Relaxation shrinkage can be particularly problematic for leather. British Standard 7269 allows the maker 3% in any direction as the problem is unavoidable.

During cleaning leather will often relax to the original barrel shape of the original hide. The garment will then need to be returned to the desired shape, panel by panel. This needs skill and can take as long as 35 minutes per garment.

Fun furs are coming back in fashion. These are often modacrylic and therefore should not be subject to temperatures over 40C otherwise the ends of the fibres will kink.

All natural furs will yellow in cleaning due to the inevitable oxidation. This will start with the first clean and so it needs to be explained clearly to the customer.

Both natural and fun furs need gentle handling in cleaning.

Because furs and leathers are high risk it is important to obtain authorisation for all foreseeable but unavoidable risks but this can be used as a selling point.

Have a pad of forms that explain the specific risks but stress that the business has the skills to minimise these. Highlight the key risk(s) for a particular garment.

Norman Donnelly and Liz Dundas of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) brought the audience up to date on compliance with the solvent emissions directive.

The directive was introduced in Scotland in 2004 and compliance has been mandatory since 2007. There is no way to avoid this and the legislation applies to a whole range of industries, not just to drycleaning.

Donnelly warned that the drycleaning sector had the lowest level of compliance of all the sectors in Scotland. SEPA was coming under both public and external pressure to improve that.

As the sector is relatively small, it may have been overlooked in the past but a clamp-down on non-compliance is inevitable.

One of the problems that SEPA faces is identifying drycleaning businesses so they can be brought into line. At present there about 178 permitted sites, probably a small fraction of the total of drycleaning businesses.

So tracking down the drycleaners that have not as yet even applied for a permit will become a priority.

As a result, inspections of permitted sites may become less frequent as staff efforts are redirected to this end but drycleaners must not see this as a relaxation of the rules. Strict record keeping is essential.

Liz Dundas pointed out that increasing the amount of data collected was high priority. To help drycleaners, SEPA has introduced a series of spreadsheets that will make this easier.

Any business having difficulties or queries should contact the local SEPA representative. In addition advice will be available online at the SEPA website.

Summing up, Donnelly reminded the audience that SEPA had very little flexibility. Compliance is mandatory. He pointed out that drycleaners that were dodging compliance were gaining an unfair (and illegal) advantage over those who had complied.

“We’re concerned that a big hammer is going to fall on this sector,” he warned.

New technology always creates a talking point so Bill Westwater’s update on a washing technology that relies on polymer beads rather than water proved of great interest.

The Xeros system still uses a little water, for wetting the load and for rinsing but the water reduction is dramatic. The method produces superior cleaning while still using 70% less water and 50% less detergent.

It is carried out at lower temperatures and produces less effluent. This system uses beads to clothes in a proportion of 2:1 and enhanced agitation causes staining to stick to the beads, which are designed to absorb and lock-in the dirt.

Westwater said that the system could clean everything from delicates to car mechanics’ overalls and savings had been validated in working laundries.

The system had also been tested in UK labs and the Hohenstein Institute in Germany had produced an independent report.

Based on these, savings were claimed to be around 50% compared with an A-rated standard washer. It was also estimated to save over £2,880 per year per machine based on 50 cycles per week.

Westwater said that the system, which was aimed at drycleaners that also wanted to offer some laundry services, would bring advantages to such businesses.

It would differentiate them from the competition.

It would improve the business’s environmental credentials.

Clothes would be capable of looking as new or nearly new for longer.

Less finishing is required.

Superior cleaning results mean that there is less need for re-cleaning.

It allows mixed loads to be cleaned as beads will absorb loose dye as well as soiling.

Development has already advanced considerably. The system was scheduled to go into multi-country field trials during the first quarter of 2012 and a launch is planned for the third quarter of next year. This will focus on drycleaners and shirt laundry services.

The price of the system and the machine had not yet been finalised but would be premium.

The question and answer section revealed that the beads, which during their lifetime are regenerated in the sump, would last approximately 500 cycles before needing to be completely replaced. When the time came to renew the beads, Xeros pledged that the old beads would not be sent to landfill but would be sold on to other industries.

The life cycle is not affected by the type of load soiling but heavily-soiled loads will lead to beads needing more frequent regeneration.

As the conference hosts, both the TSA and the Guild had messages for the audience.

Guild president Brian Antrobus, talked about his own experiences as a member. During his career, membership had brought the opportunity to acquire skills and recognised qualifications.

Further during his time working for the Prison Service, the Guild had also helped the prisoners he worked with to gain skills that would allow them to get a job on release.

Taking a broader view, the Guild provides a forum for its members where they can discuss problems. The examinations are important for members because they are a benchmark and proof of achievement. Other benefits include the journal Guild News, two free conferences each year, a website that includes news and access to expert advice.

The recently introduced Guild-Plus membership also provides access to TSA services including customer conciliation, advice on legal matters, employment, tax, VAT and PAYE and other business concerns, industry specific, reduced-rate insurance and an e-mail “red alert” about problem garments.

He ended with a plea to the audience that they should help the Guild to continue its work by recommending its services to others.

Archie Kerr, chairman of TSA, Scotland introduced some of the changes within the organisation.

He said that TSA is now getting much slicker at communication and importantly at reacting to feedback .

The minutes of its board meetings were now published on the website.

This year TSA introduced a twice-yearly journal Advisor, which as the name applies has contributions from its panel of experts.

TSA Scotland has its own version – TSA Today, again published every six months. These journals go to both TSA and Guild members.

Martyn Lewis has now joined TSA as its project manager and provides a raft of information. He is also responsible for TSA’s e-mail newsletter.

TSA has also improved its training programme. It holds courses for laundry managers in Scotland and is investigating the possibility for getting this officially certificated.

It is also introducing a drycleaning course on counter inspection. Initially it will be in London.

This Guild/TSA conference in Scotland is now a regular event and all members are also welcome to attend the UK joint event, which will be held at the Leicester Marriott in March 2012 and also next year’s National TSA conference in Manchester.

Finally referring to the SEPA presentation, Kerr stressed that TSA had revised its code of practice to make a current drycleaning permit a condition of membership for both drycleaners and for launderers involved in drycleaning. In this way it supports members that have complied with the law by making sure that non-compliant competitors cannot enjoy TSA’s benefits.

Brian Pearce, of International Textile Analysis Services UK, continued the conference’s practical theme with a series of tips for helping drycleaners survive in the economic climate.

He pointed out that drycleaners were facing several challenges including increases in fuel, rents and rates and inflationary rises in costs while at the same time profits were falling. In addition most cleaners had to deal with rising levels of legislative red-tape.

It’s never just one factor that will bring a business down, it’s an accumulation of several, said Pearce.

The UK drycleaning market is already far behind many international sectors. The average consumer spend is just £12 per head per year. In Japan and France it’s four times that, in Germany 3.5 times as much and in the USA around 10 times. So there must be potential for the UK to increase its figures.

He said the key to improving a business was to look at it from the customer’s viewpoint.

See what can be updated in terms of presentation, branding and marketing. Make sure that the shop and staff appear welcoming and that staff are well informed and able to answer questions.

Raise the shop’s profile by adding the company’s logo to cars, vans and staff uniforms – even husband and wife operations should consider a uniform to make the business look more professional.

Loyalty cards can prove a good incentive for customers to keep coming back. Consider adding to their value through reciprocal agreements on discounts at other local businesses.

There are advantages to the economic situation in that customers may prefer to pay for professional care that will make clothes last longer to buying new garments.

If a business can improve and increase its footfall, it may find that others cannot so there will be less competition.

Expanding the range of services on offer and the types of clothes that can be cleaned is another way to increase business.

Michael Williams of Electrolux UK explained the role that specialised wetcleaning can play in doing this.

The technology was not handled to best advantage when first introduced well over a decade ago but with state-of-the art machines with specific programs it can provide a valuable complementary method to drycleaning. As the range of clothes that can be cleaned with water increases so does the value of wetcleaning. In particular it is ideal for beaded and sequinned garments and for silks and other delicate fabrics where drycleaning is not always suitable.

The Electrolux wetcleaning system Lagoon has a specific advantage in that is the only method recommended by Woolmark and the system extends beyond the washing and drying processes to include special finishing equipment, above all it is supported by specialist training.