Slicker, more focused marketing and a revision of pricing policies, would drive shirt services forwards, delivering greater profitability.

Continued buoyancy in the market, with shirt service volumes increasing overall, is noted by Tony Dickens, national sales manager, Laundry Products, for BMM Weston. He maintains that drycleaners doing best with shirts are those who take a proactive approach to marketing.

Using skilfully crafted advertisement design and words in directories can attract business. Strongly promoting shirt finishing as specialisation is necessary – bold promotion wins extra business. Also, there is no doubt that having shirt finishing “on show” in the drycleaning shop is a massive draw, he says.

Mr Dickens believes drycleaners should not be promoting a mere wash and press service, but a system of renovation capable of “bringing an old shirt back to life”. An old shirt, in the hands of a professional, can be returned to the customer in an amazingly improved state, and money spent by the drycleaner on packaging the finished item is generally well spent. High quality with a finished shirt is amplified through appropriate presentation packaging.

Don’t skimp

It is not worth skimping in the preparation of folded shirts. Top grade finish on shirt fabrics must not be spolit by a substandard folder or an operator insufficiently trained. Cost of packaging a folded shirt can be around 15p to 25p, but the charge to the customer can be upped by £1.

When investing significantly in shirt finishing equipment, the promotion of what it can do should be well planned, extensive, and sustained. The investment to finish a single classification is high, and the volume needs to fully justify the capital committed.

Len Woollard, managing director of Unit Steam Engineering, which is the exclusive UK distributor for Hoffman/New Yorker finishing equipment, points to how shirt finishing capacity is growing through a variety of businesses – not just drycleaning shops.

Launderettes and specialist ironing service businesses are competing for the shirt business, which, in total volume terms, continues to increase.

Hype in the drycleaning sector concerning shirts has reduced, Mr Woollard states. The idea of a shirt service being a “loss leader” to increase a shop’s drycleaning volume has been, extensively, disregarded by smaller drycleaning businesses.

Some drycleaning volume growth can be experienced as a result of a well promoted shirt service, which, the smaller businesses are determining, should be a profit generator right from the moment of its introduction.

Ironing businesses can sometimes be perceived as offering exceptionally good value shirt services as the price charged is on weight rather than by piece. However, full wash and finish services, although more expensive, are still offering value.

Industry observers report that price remains at the forefront of many shirt service marketing activities, and suggest that these are upgradable and extendable.

There is no reason why the shirt cannot be a key that opens a broad-based laundry service. Such a service can take out of the home drudgery like the ironing of top grade 100% cotton duvets covers, fitted sheets and tablecloths. Some customers have to be gently wooed as far as laundry services are concerned, but will come to use laundry services regularly provided standards of finish are demonstrated to be above those generally achieved in the home – and are maintained at this level.

Value for money

Price setting is, of course, an art and it is imperative that customers genuinely feel that they are receiving value for money for the laundry services they choose to use.

Helping to maintain shirt service volume growth is consumers’ increasing dislike of ironing – both because it is a manual chore and because it eats into what is strongly viewed as “leisure time” or “quality time”. Non-iron and minimum iron shirts have become popular but the trend to easier-care clothing does not appear, at least at the moment, to be slowing shirt service business growth.

In climate-controlled offices, the “city shirt” has, in recent years, has become a more pronounced year-round badge of individualism among men who are jacket-less during the working day. The shirt is often the most noticed item of men’s apparel and its pristine appearance is important.

Many of the quality shirts which are favoured look superb when they have been expertly finished on high grade equipment, and the wearers recognise that replicating the finish on the ironing board at home is a difficult and sometimes impossible task.

A shirt with optimum moisture retention can be taken from a high-speed washer extractor and almost instantaneously finished in a cabinet unit.

Buck numbers

Cabinet-style single-buck finishing units are available with different specifications, giving production rates ranging from 40 to 60 shirts an hour. When greater production is needed, the double-buck cabinet-style unit is an option.

The double buck arrangement can achieve impressive production rates – the shirt is pressed on one buck assembly while the other buck is dressed.

Inflating former-style finishing units can achieve useful production rates, but supplementary hand finishing can be expected with some shirt fabrics.

When three-scissor-head machines – a collar and cuff press, a body press and a post sleever – are used together, an experienced, adept operator can finish some 35 shirts an hour.

It is easy for a drycleaning shop owner in the UK to dream of building a style and size of shirt business which is common in the United States. US shirt service businesses turn out great looking shirts quickly and cheaply, and customers visit the shirt service businesses a part of their weekly routine.

Convenience counts

For the UK shirt business outlet to emulate its US counterpart, there has to be an accent on customer convenience – somewhere handy to park and suitable opening times. Also, the price must be attractively set and the quality good. Habit-forming has to be developed, but loyalty can sometimes be bought through repeat business reward programmes.

A shirt service business will struggle if it is not in the right sort of customer catchment area.

For some businesses, it is important to have all aspects of shirt finishing totally controlled through a line-up of equipment. However, many drycleaners have not got the space or the budget for a fully fledged shirt operation using a line-up of specialised equipment but do wish to offer a shirt service from their shops. With this market in mind, BMM Weston has introduced the Versaform, a form style of finisher working with tension to impart an excellent result on shirts and other items. The Versaform, which will finish up to 30 shirts an hour, has nine factory settings, but adjustable programmed cycles.

As the former action is expandable at shoulder and waist levels, all sizes and styles of shirt can be finished, and there is no problem in handling shirts that are heavily starched. The body and sleeves of the shirt are finished by steam injection and superheated air. A clamp imparts direct pressure to the front placket of the shirt for an enhanced finish.

Usefully, the Versaform can be employed to help with the finishing of blouses, polo tops, woollens and jackets if a need arises in a busy shop. The machine is easy to use, can be run in either manual or automatic mode, and has a microprocessor control with self-diagnostics facility.

Sleeve detail

BMM Weston is also offering a new collar and cuff/sleeve press which has elongated, shaped cuff/sleeve bucks that impart a first class finish to the sleeve area above the cuff – whether or not it has a pleat.

To help businesses achieve upgraded finish with laundered items, BMM Weston is recommending its three new, polished hot head presses. One version has a large, rectangular universal buck that will handle fitted sheets and many other classifications. The other two have tapered bucks, one suitable for finishing laundered trousers and the other designed for shirts and laundered jackets. The Versaform, the new collar and cuff/sleeve press and the new laundry presses are all steam heated. Unit Steam has introduced the Hoffman ALS-6 double-buck sleeve press. Both sleeves are pressed simultaneously by a nickel-chrome plated, self-aligning head, achieving excellent results with all types of sleeve including those with seams and pleats.

High finishing pressure is derived from a dual cylinder arrangement, and the specially designed heads achieve fast, even drying. The press has safe and simplified two-hand control, and available as options are an electronic timer and a spray gun and condenser.

The significant investment represented by the purchase of a shirt finishing unit is also underlined by Tom Dixon, sales director of Klentec, which distributes Sankosha equipment in the UK.

He says considerable sales success has been achieved with a single buck unit and that it is planned to launch, early next year, a double-buck finisher and complementary double collar and cuff press. These two items of equipment will finish up to 100 shirts per hour.

He says the quality of Sankosha equipment means little supplementary hand ironing is required, making sure staff time is used efficiently, and notes that, in the US, Sankosha has, approximately, a 40% share of the shirt finishing equipment supply market.