Upgrading a drycleaning machine is expensive and in times like these, the decision becomes even more difficult. Over the last few months, sales of new drycleaning machines have slowed right down as many drycleaners hold onto their old equipment, waiting to see if the economy will improve.

Those who do upgrade tend to be doing so because their drycleaning machine has deteriorated to the point where it is too expensive to maintain and there is no other option but to invest in a new machine. Others have been forced to change to comply with the Solvent Emissions Directive (SED).

However, Jimmy Holt from Parrisianne says the majority of his company’s sales in the last few months have been new-start businesses, with customers deciding to enter the drycleaning market for the first time.

There are also sales to customers who have decided to bring the drycleaning function into a shop that was previously a receiving point.

Trying to save money by hanging onto an old machine can be a false economy. New machines are much more efficient, use less solvent and energy and can bring significant benefits to a drycleaning business.

The key is to choose the right machine for the business.

More glamorous

Cabbage White Dry Cleaning opened its three shops in Birmingham just over a year ago with the aim of setting up a specialist upmarket service, something that co-owner Nick Hollinshead said was missing in the city.

“We set out to make drycleaning more glamorous,” Hollinshead explained. In considering what drycleaning machine to buy, the company spoke to several suppliers before selecting a Union XL835 machine from Parrisianne.

“We wanted a drycleaning machine that was very efficient in the amount of fuel it used and the way it worked, as well as being eco-friendly,” Hollinshead added.

“Parrisianne was the most impressive and helpful of the suppliers we contacted.”

He deliberated “long and hard” over what type of solvent to use and in the end went for perc because of its cleaning capabilities.

Most of the drycleaning machines sold in the UK use perc although hydrocarbon is gaining in popularity in other parts of Europe and in the USA. Parrisianne recently launched the Union Nova, an energy-efficient. low-cost hydrocarbon machine that is completely air-cooled, uses no water and, according to Holt, uses less than 4kW electricity per cycle.

The Union 8010 is another recent introduction. This is a 10kg drycleaning machine designed as a low-cost and compact option for those wanting a start in the drycleaning industry. It has all the features currently available in the Union 800 series. The company’s best sellers remain the three-tank and two-tank XL and XP range of machines.

When upgrading or buying a new drycleaning machine, one of the key considerations should be the credentials of the company cleaners are buying from, according to Jonathan Gray from Firbimatic. The company has built up its network of service engineers around the UK.

One-stop shop

Gray says that Firbimatic’s relationship with Alex Reid also means that it can act as a one-stop shop for customers, providing them with consumables, service and support for their drycleaning machines.

Amir Namvar of Village Dry Cleaners in Manchester, a long-time customer of Alex Reid, found that his drycleaning machine, purchased in 1990, was getting old and needed replacing.

He did extensive research on cleaning effectiveness, price range, service and the different types of solvents, contacting suppliers, trade advisory organisations and even a research centre in California before deciding on an F15 perc machine from Firbimatic, part of the company’s Ecological range of drycleaning machines.

Wanting to be as cost and environmentally efficient as possible, Namvar also obtained a carbon recovery unit.

“With the carbon recovery unit, the machine uses hardly any solvent,” Namvar says. “The shop no longer smells of solvent which is better for the customer and better for us.”

Firbimatic will shortly be launching the F range of drycleaning machines with redesigned solvent tanks. These will be cylindrical rather than square to help prevent unhygienic build-up in corners, making them easier to clean and easier and less expensive to change if they need to be replaced.

The redesign will be made on the 10kg and 15kg machines in the perc range and eventually also on the 10 and 15kg machines in the company’s GreenEarth range.

The design will be launched in New Orleans in June.

Jason Alexander from Renzacci thinks that, even though the high cost of the Euro means that prices have gone up, it could be a good time to buy a new drycleaning machine as the state of the market means there could be some good deals out there. But, he warns: “Don’t just go out and get the cheapest machine. Buying a good machine may cost as little as £5 – £6 a week.”

It can be difficult at the moment for many drycleaners to find the finance for a new machine but like many drycleaning machine suppliers, Renzacci offers a range of finance options for customers, subject to a credit clearance, which should help ease the way.

Alexander offers some good common sense advice for passing the credit test: “Keep your accounts in order and your books up to date. Don’t default on bills and don’t throw them in the bin. Drycleaners should be business people and run their businesses accordingly.”

Leasing can be a cost-efficient way of acquiring a machine as payments are tax-deductible.

Some drycleaners may be able to get some support from the Carbon Trust or from their local chamber of commerce for the purchase of a new drycleaning machine.

Interest-free loans

The Carbon Trust offers interest-free loans to small and medium-sized businesses for upgrades to more energy-efficient equipment, that will lead to real energy savings.

Alexander thinks that the minimum savings threshold may mean the scheme is not applicable to many small drycleaners but it is still worth investigating.

Renzacci has brought out an entry-level drycleaning machine, the Progress 304U, a two-tank machine with similar features to others in the Progress range. The KWL30 hydrocarbon machine was also launched earlier this year. This is an 11kg slimline machine which is available with or without distillation units.

Renzacci’s bestsellers continue to be the three-tank, wide-format Progress 35 and the two-tank, slimline Progress 35 Club. Alexander says that the level of control, the quality of the build and materials and the technology means they are easy machines to operate. They use less water, less electricity and have a very low solvent consumption.

He adds that although these are not the cheapest machines around, they are worth the extra money in the long term.“We are here to stay and we are not going to compromise on our quality to save money.”

Paul Higgs from Dane Realstar agrees that drycleaners should be looking for value for money, not just a cheap machine. They need to get a machine that suits the business, now and in years to come – they don’t want to regret not having spent more once their business begins to pick up again.

Accredited supplier

Higgs, who is president of SLEAT, the Society of Laundry Engineers and Allied Trades, also advises drycleaners to ensure they buy from an accredited supplier that complies with the SLEAT code of conduct.

The code ensures that SLEAT member companies comply with the requirements of SED, including providing impartial advice on the SED; ensuring the products they supply comply with the minimum requirements of the SED; providing training and support, including maintenance advice, after the machine has been commissioned; keeping an inventory of consumable spare parts that can be supplied on a same-day or next-day basis; and providing ongoing technical support throughout the life of the drycleaning machine.

He says drycleaners need to be sure that the engineers servicing their machines have the required certification – for example, that they are Gas Safe registered. This accreditation has replaced the old CORGI certification.

A good time to buy

Higgs also thinks now could be a good time to get a new drycleaning machine. Buying now will allow a business to take advantage of the 15% VAT before the rate returns to 17.5%.

Dane Realstar’s most popular drycleaning machines are the 15kg RS range of slimline and wide machines. Earlier this year it launched the Realstar Vision which can be used with a range of alternative solvents and works without water or steam and is available in 15kg or 18kg capacities. Because of its focus on quality and long-term effectiveness, the company no longer sells basic machines, says Higgs. It offers are high-specification machines in which a lot of the features come as standard.

A well-chosen machine will payback its cost in the long run, making the business more efficient and environmentally friendly in the process.