Our industry has just been through more than 10 months of Hell, with revenues being squeezed through seemingly never-ending lockdowns. Government-led initiatives have provided some financial benefits but whole swathes of the business community have been left out, putting businesses, and the livelihood of their dependents at a severe risk.

For the vast number of the populace in work, we see a change from working in central locations turned around to working from home in tune with the mantra from politicians. Commuting is frowned upon in favour of social distancing, but this has all taken its toll in bringing down, in most cases very seriously, the revenue-earning stream of businesses in laundry and retail drycleaning.

One major result of this has been the effect on UKFT, the trade body representing the fashion industry, which for the past three years has looked after the association business for the retail sector but is now regretfully unable to continue to do this after, said the organisation, losing around three quarters of its drycleaning membership. This means that there is no longer anyone managing the drycleaning arbitration and mediation service which was set up by the then TSA many years ago and inherited by the UKFT. Does this matter you may ask?

Well, just wait, drycleaners, until you have a claim when you dispute levels of fault or value of items then you will find that Trading Standards authorities relied on these services for guidance on settlements. One thing is certain, if you do not support your trade association it cannot survive and will no longer be there to help in your time of need.

Commercial laundries

Hospitality laundries, represented by the Textile Services Association (TSA), have fared no better, seeing their revenues fall dramatically. Yes, drycleaners and launderers are exempt businesses from the lockdown orders, but this means nothing if the customer is not there to provide the income to keep the business going.

In the healthcare sector, the TSA has tried hard to persuade the Government to use reusable gowns, the shortage of which caused such a crisis in the early days of Covid-19. This, for the UK Government was a massive error, because our industry could have provided a valuable backup service in the early days when PPE was in such short supply by washing and turning around in short cycles, but with only single use items specified and purchased, this was made impossible.

There is also the failure to recognise the importance of the industry in the supply chain with the Government not approving a dedicated Minister for Hospitality, especially given the sector’s importance to the economy when we will have to pay back the money doled out to keep the economy going.

Post pandemic

Now, we have the vaccine, or three vaccines and maybe more still to come, and the promise that we will at last beat the virus. Well, the fight is certainly still not over and when it is how serious will be the damage to our industry?

The continuation of internet meetings may have an effect on hotels, which will mean fewer sheets and towels to wash, but I think this will quickly be balanced by people taking more leisure breaks as the economy improves.

Some businesses will not survive the pandemic. This gap in the market will be quickly taken up by survivors eager to replenish their now near-empty coffers. Business debts, however, will have risen over the course of the pandemic and these will have to be paid back but we will still have an industry and we will have a market to serve.

Drycleaning has been under pressure to maintain volumes since the smoking ban following the Health Act in 2006 but even this coincided with the surge in the use of polyester fibre making home washing and finishing much easier. Following the ‘all clear’ there is no reason to believe this will change. There will be more pressure to slow down the use of synthetics to avoid the over pollution by micro plastics and there will be more pressure to use clothing for longer than we have become accustomed to. Which will help those drycleaners who set themselves up to provide the right type of service.

The buying public will not wish to give up their home deliveries and our retail sector, if not already satisfying this requirement, may have to adopt, or buy in to, some form of home collection and delivery.

Will our industry learn any lessons from what has happened over the past year? Let’s see how our industry fares when the vaccine has been successfully rolled out.