Most drycleaners want to attract new customers either to secure or expand their business. One of the most popular methods is to offer a traditional domestic laundry service and a shirt-laundering service can complement an existing drycleaning business.

The most recent Mintel report highlights a continuing decline in the drycleaning market whilst add-on services such as laundry are growing. An increasing number of drycleaners now offer a fully finished shirt service to their customers.

But as LCN reported in December 2008, with more and more drycleaners laundering shirts, competition in this market is becoming even greater so getting the price right and making the service stand out in the customer’s mind are important. At the moment, many high street cleaners are still assessing the effect of the economic downturn and whether add-on services can continue to play an important role, particularly in keeping customers in regular contact with the shop and encouraging them to bring in other items for cleaning.

Perhaps too many drycleaners do not know what their shirt service really costs. They lower prices to compete with rival businesses without realising that they may not even be covering their costs, according to Irshad Nabi of CleanWell Dry Cleaners in London’s East Ham. They need to take into account not only the cost of buying the right equipment but also its depreciation, labour, packaging, consumables and VAT.

If a drycleaner selects the right machine for its business, taking into account volume, location, space and the quality of finish required, good profits can be made, according to Jimmy Holt at Parrisianne, the company that markets Sankosha shirt finishing equipment in the UK.

Even with the more expensive pressed-finish equipment, the cost of processing a shirt can be well under 50p.

His view is that if cleaners fail to produce a better result than the average householder, they will not maintain growth or sustain that income during recession periods. There is a danger that cleaners will opt for a low-cost, labour intensive service that at best can only match a domestic level of finish.

Irshad Nabi at CleanWell Dry Cleaners says : “It makes me angry to see people cutting their prices – that is not the way to go. There should be competition but as businessmen we should be striving to improve the service provided, not cheapen it.”

At Shirtstream Dry Cleaners on the other side of the capital, investment in the right equipment is also seen as essential. According to director Neil Delargy, the economic climate will prompt a shake-out that will determine those “ that do the job properly and those who think it is time to leave.”

Equipment matters

Shirtstream was established in 1990 to collect, produce and deliver hand-finished laundry, shirts and drycleaning in west London. The company has seen its next-day shirt finishing and delivery service grow steadily despite fierce competition and, says Neil Delargy, its premium-priced executive service continues to be in great demand.

The company quotes a price range from £2.65 for a folded shirt, under its next day (weekday) price list, up to £3.95 for a man’s dress shirt.

Shirts can be hung or folded and have either a light, medium or heavy starched finish, or a finish without any starch. All shirts are hand-finished. They are inspected regularly throughout the cleaning and finishing process and the pricing structure reflects this.

Westfield store

Shirtstream now handles around 5,000 shirts a week, from five receiving retail outlets, at its processing unit in Park Royal.

The latest store opened in December 2008 at the Westfield shopping centre in White City/Shepherds Bush in west London, joining the company’s established outlets in Kensington, South Kensington and Hammersmith.

The business opened its first receiving store in 1994, in the face of growing competition from other next-day laundry services. “The delivery service continues, and we feel we do it better”, says Delargy.

Each stage of the company’s development, says Delargy, has been based on maintaining consistent high quality. Shirtstream deals with the top end of the market. Customers expect their shirts to come back looking like new, with the creases exactly where they want them. The clientele is willing to pay top prices for the service.

“Shirtstream’s position at the high end of the market means a higher level of company investment in both equipment and staff,” says Delargy. “Our factory at Park Royal was upgraded in 2007 and is equipped with the latest Unipress finishers.

“We employ highly competent pressers who are prepared to provide good finish instead of knocking out garments as quickly and as cheaply as possible,” says Delargy. “Believe in what you do and be prepared to make the investment.”

Promoting the business is crucial, says Jason Alexander, managing director of laundry and drycleaning equipment distributor, Renzacci UK.

The company is no stranger to economic downturns, having weathered the recessions of the eighties and early nineties.

Alexander explains: “In a recession it is more important than ever for businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors. One approach is by thoughtful marketing and developing added value propositions. In our view, adding a shirt finishing service is a great way to achieve that.”

He adds: “It is an ideal business add-on for drycleaners and laundries, one that generates repeat business in other areas.”

A more compact version of Renzacci’s most popular machine, the Pony MG405 with collar and cuffer, was brought out in September, enabling it to fit more easily into smaller spaces. The 405 provides a blown finish for around 35 – 40 shirts an hour and can process both damp and dry items. The accompanying CCP collar and cuff press comes with the option of a built-in boiler or can be used with a central steam boiler.

The company has also launched a shirt folder in the UK. The Pony PCM08 can process around 40 – 50 shirts an hour and has been designed as a compact time-saving machine. It measures 1.3m high and less than a metre wide.

The PCM08 will appeal to those establishments with an established shirt laundering business or to sites wishing to introduce such a service. Not only will it save considerable time spent on laboriously folding freshly ironed shirts, it will impart a much more professional and consistent finish to the job.

Renzacci UK also offers an easy-entry scheme for those who are making their first investment in shirt finishing equipment. The downturn has meant that many businesses are having difficulty in raising funds for expansion and new ventures.

This supplier has ready access to leasing arrangements through companies with which it has forged an enduring relationship over many years. Furthermore, it works with these finance houses to design tailor-made lease plans that meet its clients’ individual requirements.

Alexander says: “It is our proud boast that we never have to turn down suitably qualified applicants for lease deals, even if that means financing them from our own funds. One plan that has proved very popular is our Easy Entry scheme under which clients only pay £25 per month in the first year whilst they are establishing their business or consolidating their expansion into a shirt finishing service.”

He adds: “I believe that the recession is a challenge, but one that should be faced head-on by careful marketing of the business not by price-cutting. Renzacci UK is here to help with obligation-free advice on setting up a shirt service or any other aspect of laundry and dry cleaning equipment procurement.”

At CleanWell Dry Cleaners in London’s East Ham, brothers Zia Ullah and Irshad Nabi spent three years researching the industry before approaching Renzacci UK to equip their new premises.

They decided to offer a specialist shirt service from the outset. The two partners installed a Renzacci Progress 35 Club drycleaning machine, Pony Cosmos finishing cabinet, Pony SP/U press, Pony Silver SV finishing table, Pony Jolly spotting table, a Pony MG402 shirt machine with CCPV Collar and Cuff press and a high-spin washing machine and tumble dryer. They also installed a GMP1835 Roller Ironer.

Zia Ullah said the business is steadily building its customer base. He says: “We’re pleased with the way the shirt service is going. We have a program that allows us to see exactly how many shirts we’re doing a week and already the numbers are much higher than we expected and the service is just establishing itself.

“We designed the shop so that customers could see the drycleaning machines, see the shirt presses and see the washing machine – all too often this equipment is hidden from view behind screens.

“The Pony MG402 shirt machine with collar and cuff press is a very good system, and it lets us handle 30 shirts an hour with ease.”

Irshad Nabi, who is a pattern cutter by trade, moved into textile cleaning with his brother. Like many in the industry, he sees the rise in fuel costs as the chief factor affecting business at present.

“It is perhaps too soon to assess the effect of the economic downturn. We are not experiencing a marked drop in volume, but obviously people are more careful with their spending.”

“There is an argument that because people are spending less on new clothes, they are more likely to care for the clothes that they have – so that could be good news for cleaners.”

The brothers continue to actively market their shirt service with price promotions and this has helped to keep the volume up.

They are now looking to expand the business – the company already has contracts with Holiday Inn Express Hotels and the next stage of expansion will be to extend the high street premises to handle catering and hotel linen care.

UK’s fastest growing sector

The UK shirt finishing market is now the fastest growing sector within the industry and this trend will continue well into the future, according to Paul Higgs at West Sussex-based Dane Realstar.

“Shirt finishing equipment will provide useful additional revenue for the drycleaner and therefore provide added benefits for their customers,” says Higgs.

Dane Realstar offers the full range of high quality finishing equipment, produced by Sidi Mondial of Italy, for laundry, drycleaning and ironing service outlets. Products include the “top of the range” Sidi Major, shirt finisher, which combines ease of operation with a high level of technology.

This advanced design achieves successful results in terms of both productivity and quality and is suitable for any shirt. The Sidi Major is designed with the operator in mind and therefore is easy to use and requires the minimum of training and fuss.

Features include vacuum on the whole dummy area making it easier for the operator to dress the shirt.

The front closing paddle with the special padding avoids any pressure marks as well as eliminating button and seam marks.

Pneumatic clamps stretch down the shirt body and tighten the seams of the shirt while a powerful hot airflow dries the shirt quickly. Support to the neck of the shirt is also pneumatic. The trolley is fitted with a photocell for automatic positioning of the rear clamp with the lower shirt edge and is also fitted with a rear control mirror.

A 10-program microprocessor allows automatic steaming cycles, air/steam mix and ventilation (hot and cold air), according to the composition of the fabric and how wet the shirt is; manual operation is also possible.

The cycle ends with a powerful heated phase for fast drying of the double seams and the small pocket area. At the end of the cycle the shirt is automatically released. In addition to the Sidi Major there is a complete range of shirt finishers from Sidi including the M951, which is designed for connection to central steam supplies and is a good entry level model for shirt production.

Finally the Easyform range is said to offer a very high quality finish at an economical price.