The Italian market is struggling. Unemployment is rising steadily and the economy is stagnant, burdened by tax increases and political interference.
Public debt has grown to 127% of Italy’s GDP.
Undoubtedly the situation is affecting equipment manufacturers supplying the textile care market as their customers’ ability and willingness to upgrade is reduced.
Walter Cividini, managing director of Fimas, the Italian manufacturer of drycleaning finishing equipment, believes economics and government legislation are having a negative influence.
Matteo Gialdini, director of Miele Professional, Italy, adds, "The last three years have been characterized by a persistent decline in GDP due to five changes in government and the growth of unemployment – currently at 13% and expected to rise."
Even tourism is suffering. Luciano Miotto president EXPO Detergo International, says that tourism is undoubtedly the engine of the Italian economy and the state of this industry has a significant impact on the laundry and drycleaning markets.
Gialdini provides the figures. "More than 50% of hotels say they have cut back their plans for investment.
"Over the past three years, hotels have declined by 3%. In this persistent crisis, only B&Bs, guesthouses and camping have grown.
Thierry Lambermont is sales manager for Milnor international, the European arm of the US industrial laundry equipment manufacturer Pellerin Milnor.
He agrees that the Italian market is a hard one for this sector and this applies both to international and local Italian companies. Second-hand equipment takes a large part of the market.
When customers do buy new Milnor machines, they are becoming more demanding. They want a full service offer that includes not only a good deal on price but installation and full technical support. They often want financial terms as well and will sometimes want the manufacturer to buy back their old equipment.
Operational costs are also important. Lambermont says his company receives requests for smaller tunnel washers from customers that are switching from washer-extractors to tunnel washers to save energy water and labour.

Investment is needed
He thinks that some customers are beginning to realise that they will need to invest in new equipment and in technologies such as the company’s PulseFlow tunnel washers to reduce their costs.
Turning to the commercial laundry and drycleaning sectors, Miele’s Gialdini says that self-service laundry has remained stable but that the drycleaning market has shrunk by 20%.
In this framework, companies that produce commercial laundry equipment face a severe challenge."
The main customers for this type of equipment in Italy are industrial laundries, the healthcare market, and hotels.
Miotto says, "Some larger and better quality businesses have decided to invest in managing a laundry directly and opt for an in-house service."
In this way, they gain maximum control over the cleaning process and results while saving on costs.
Although drycleaning is deeply embedded in the culture of Italy, Miotto believes that a new concept of laundry and cleaning services has begun to emerge with the highly successful combination of professional cleaning and self-service.
In the commercial sector, Miotto says that small specialised laundries that concentrate on providing high quality rather than handling high volumes are attracting considerable attention.
He believes that the coin-operated, self-service sector seems to have the brightest future in Italy.
"This is because tourism includes camping and self-catering apartments, which has led to a significant expansion in self-service laundries."
Miotto adds that launderettes are becoming an important resource, particularly those that provide additional services such as small repairs and ironing. Their customers include working women, single-person households, workers on transfer, and college students living away from home.
Marco Niccolini, general sales manager at Renzacci, has a different opinion. "I think that in the next one and half years, the country will see a big development of medium-size commercial businesses in laundry and dry cleaning.
The shop owner will carry out a full service using drycleaning machines and using new alternative solvents."

Traditional market decline
Italy is the home of drycleaning but this market is dominated by small independents, often family run "momma/pop" businesses. These traditional businesses have experienced a hard time during the economic crisis.
Niccolini says: "The number of
drycleaning businesses is certainly declining in Italy. The first reason for this is the country’s accelerating economic crisis, which is affecting all the economic sectors equally.
"Secondly, many drycleaning shops are using the older technologies such as perc. "
Cividini at Fimas believes that this decline could have a positive effect. The closure of old, unprofitable drycleaners that have no intention of investing will leave the remaining businesses with more customers and a better chance of economic success.
The opening of shopping malls has led to some growth in drycleaners but will this trend remain?
According to Marco Mallegni, General Manager of drycleaning machine manufacturer Ilsa, the shopping mall drycleaner is under pressure to perform well. The shop concept has to be designed and synchronised to get the best result in the shortest time."
Cividini at Fimas says, "The new stores often don’t take off as expected and the costs outweigh the profits."
Massimo Sanvito, export director of Pony, the finishing equipment manufacturer, agrees saying, "Many small shops are no longer able to keep up with this market, since their low work volumes don’t even allow them to cover costs."
At Trevil, which is also in the finishing machine sector, Corinna Mapelli notes that smaller businesses that handled relatively low volumes are closing. This allows medium to large drycleaners to take more share. They equip their production areas with automated machines to speed up production and generate higher incomes.
This, in turn allows the businesses to invest in more automation from companies such as Trevil.
But while automation can make businesses more productive, drycleaners also need to achieve a balance between productivity and quality.
Sanvito says that this is actually a huge challenge as businesses need to keep production costs low while still offering the customer a quality result.
"Our company is focussing on designing and developing new machines and solutions to this challenge," says Sanvito.
"Pony’s Eagle shirt-finisher and the Pantamaster trouser press provide high productivity and quality finishing.
Mapelli adds, "As a finishing equipment manufacturer, we tend to focus our development efforts on machines that are able to increase productivity without a detrimental impact on quality.
"Our customers will generally, lower their charges to get higher volumes of work."
She explains that these drycleaners employ staff that can "multi-task " working on "user-friendly" machines. In this way, businesses can curb labour costs with economies of scale.

The eco influence
Environmental influences are a global concern, but how strong are such concerns in Italy?
Gialdini at Miele says, "Customers are willing to invest in new energy saving technologies because this will save money in the long-term."
"There are a lot of machines in operation in Italy and a good portion of those have been in use for more than 10 years and have very high consumptions. "
He explains that in the 70s and 80s the focus was on reliability and performance but now the emphasis is on the total cost of owning the machine including not only the purchase price and installation but also its operating and maintenance costs. This is where the environmental aspect is considered.

Looking at alternatives
Some Italian drycleaners are starting to offer specialist wetcleaning, which provides another alternative to traditional drycleaning and as it is water-based is seen as environmentally friendly.
This uses a low level of mechanical action with special gentle detergents and chemicals. This is much gentler than the wool cycle found on domestic machines.
Gialdini at Miele, which can offer washers with wetcleaning programs, believes that the wetcleaning process will gain further market share in Italy as regulations get tighter and certain solvents are banned.

Perc under pressure
As environmentally friendly alternatives to perc attract more attention, businesses that use this traditional solvent are coming under great pressure.
According to Mallegni at Ilsa, "Hydrocarbon-based solvents are by far the best compromise.
Siloxane is another alternative with the best known solvent being GreenEarth.
K4 developed by Kreussler of Germany is a further option. Mallegni says that this system seems interesting, but hasn’t yet achieved consistent visibility in Italy." K4, has a similar cleaning power to perc while being more environmentally friendly and gentler on fabrics and so able to clean a wider range of garments.
Niccolini at Renzacci says: "These new solvents are improving results and increasing the range of garments that can be treated and processed in the market."
He adds that the ability to treat a broader range of work, will also help to lower the running cost of machines that operate with alternative solvents."
Unfortunately, however, due to the economic crisis, the banks have restricted loans and are not providing credit to the drycleaning sector., so although investment in more environmentally friendly equipment can be justified by its ability to save costs, the opportunities to do so are restricted.
Niccolini explains: "We would sell at least 30% more in the Italian market if the drycleaners and launderers could have the same access to bank credit as they used to."
However, he believes that the present situation will remain unchanged at least for the next year.
He adds:’"If the banks are going to open the credit once again, and in my opinion they will, only then will business revive.

The future on show
Expo Detergo International will provide both Italian and international visitors with ideas that can help to improve business. It takes place from 3 – 6 October 2014 at the Fiera Milano Exhibition Center in Rho, Milan.
This is the 17th edition of the International trade show for textile equipment, services, products and accessories. Miotto believes the event is going to be one of leading exhibitions worldwide with regards to quality.
To date, more than 90% of the exhibition space, a total of over 15,000m2 square meters, has been allocated to 236 companies.
While the event has a notably international flavour, with exhibitors coming from 21 countries including the Europe countries and USA, it will include a rich range of "made-in-Italy" goods.
The exhibition will be a showcase machines and systems that provide solutions for industrial and commercial laundries as well as equipment for, drycleaning, wetcleaning, and finishing.
Miotto says it will also feature top-class professional cleaning products, textiles, and commercial vehicles used for the movement of goods or delivery to major final customers,"
But how will the exhibition handle environmentalism and industry trends? Miotto reassures potential visitors: "Ample space will be given to research on environmental sustainability and to the progress being made in the areas of efficiency and cost savings."