CHICAGO — Although economic indicators say that the U.S. economy is growing again, many drycleaners remain unconvinced, according to this month’s Wire survey. Asked whether they think a generalized economic recovery is underway, almost half (47.3%) said “No,” while only 28.6% answered “Yes,” and 24.2% weren’t sure.
“I believe that recovery in our business will lag behind the rest of the economy, and the economy, at least in my vicinity, has shown little recovery as yet,” one operator says. “We are facing 13% unemployment, and that has to change before there is a strong recovery,” says another.
Operators were slightly more pessimistic about growth returning to drycleaning. Asked, “Do you think drycleaning is experiencing or will soon experience renewed demand?” 45.1% said “No,” 31.9% said “Not Sure,” and 23.1% said “Yes.”
“About 95% of clothing on [the] market is wash-and-wear,” one operator points out. “Even silk and wool is washable. I see a very dim future for the industry due to this fact. Plus, people are saving money wherever they can—drycleaning is one of the first items to get crossed of the list.”
Several respondents say that they haven’t lost customers during the recession, just volume. “I’ve found that my customer base is the same,” says one operator. “People are doing less cleaning—not stopping altogether.” “We have seen our average order increase,” another says. “That tells me that our customers are feeling better about the economy. We just need more customers.”
Asked if they’re ready for the business a recovery would bring, 89.0% of operators said “Yes,” while only 6.6% said they will need to re-equip and 4.4% aren’t sure. Among the challenges drycleaners will face in preparing their plant(s) for new business, 44.4% named “Poor sales or cashflow” the worst challenge, 27.2% listed “Few good workers available,” and 14.8% said “Difficulty financing.”
“We are working on acquisitions, and with our own creative financing we are trying to add space and equipment,” one operator reports. “The banks haven't been too willing, so we took matters into our own hands.” “We can’t seem to keep people,” another says. “We have a core of experienced and dedicated employees, but keeping the entire staff for any length of time is very frustrating.”
“Drycleaning sales are improving a little bit,” another respondent says. “We expect a larger improvement in the [upcoming] months. My concerns would be finding good workers in the first place, and then staying busy enough for us to be able to keep them.”
While American Drycleaner's Wire survey presents a snapshot of the audience’s viewpoints at a particular moment, it should not be considered scientific. Subscribers to Wire e-mails—distributed twice weekly—are invited to participate in an industry survey each month. The survey is conducted online via a partner website, and is developed so it can be completed in less than 10 minutes. The entire American Drycleaner audience is encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define operator opinions and industry trends.