The mercury has dipped, and thousands of customers are burrowing into the backs of their cupboards to retrieve the bundles of winter clothing that have been lying unused for nine long months. These clothes need to be fresh and smell fresh before they can be worn for the next three months. Enter dry cleaners, whose responsibility it is to professional clean these garments and get them ready to wear in the chilly season.
It is also at this time that dry cleaners are inundated by a huge influx of winter clothing, a few weeks before winter properly arrives. It’s their responsibility not only to deal with the sudden volume of clothing that needs cleaning but also to attend to special and often expensive garments as well.
How do dry cleaners prepare for such a situation? What are some of the solutions they employ to deal with the huge quantum of workload? What steps do they take every year to prepare for this humongous task at hand? Valencia Fernandes, Sub Editor, Clean India Journal, spoke with two leading dry cleaners for answers.
Riding the tide
Most professional dry cleaners are aware of the best practices they need to incorporate for dealing with this busy season and know how to deal with the delicate garments that require special care. These seasoned dry cleaners are well prepared in advance with the various steps they need to carry out when dealing with the sudden rise in the volume of garments they receive during the winter months.
Many dry cleaners hire additional manpower to assist with the increase in demand during this peak time, while others rent out more space to be able to deal with the huge quantity of garments on hand.
Uday Gandhi, Partner, Luxmi Dyers & Drycleaners, owns four dry cleaning outlets in Ludhiana. He handles the high demand by relying on bar codes and always tells the customer that a five-day gap will be mandatory before he can hand over the clean garment to the customer. This gives his team enough time to inspect and dry clean the garment well.
Forgotten, not lost
Usually, there is a high demand to pick up the dry-cleaned garments from the previous year that the customers had forgotten for a whole year at the outlet. This increases the number of customers the outlets must handle, besides saddling dry cleaners with the additional responsibility of ensuring that the garments are fresh and in good condition before they are handed over to the owner.
Said Gandhi: “The challenge we face is that every year, customers suddenly realise that they have kept their winter wear at our outlets and come rushing to have these collected. This causes a huge rise in customers at our outlets, and it is our responsibility to not only ensure that the garments are good to go but also be prompt in delivering the clothes to our customers without having them wait for too long at the outlet. We aim to be swift with our handovers.”
Gandhi prides himself on timely delivery with the help of an app. He and his team make a list of all the deliveries for the next day and send out messages to the customers the previous day itself. If the customers misplace their slips, they are requested to message the store and inform them accordingly, so that when the customer reaches the store 5-10 minutes later, they don’t have to wait for too long for their garments.
Post-winter, dry cleaners face another mammoth difficulty: ‘the packing season’, which typically extends between February and April for a month or so. This season occurs around the end of winter and coincides with the wedding season. This is the time when clothing is packed away for the year, and every store witnesses an average of 5,000 to 10,000 garments being packed each day. This means that all four of Gandhi’s outlets must collectively deal with about 25,000 garments each day. At times, this can be quite overwhelming.
Winter clothing per se is not that difficult to dry clean. Kumar Chawla, Proprietor, Simrans Dry Cleaners said: “It’s the newer fabrics like HypaWarm (used in jackets) which have no specific chemical to clean them that are at times a cause of concern during the dry cleaning process. Special sketch pens and markers on leather garments are the other difficult stains that give dry cleaners a headache to remove.”
Petroleum-based products and water-soluble chemicals are the new agents being used to clean fabrics. Spotting machines have made life simpler for dry cleaners, which has saved a lot of cleaning time. Pressers like all steam presses too have made the process more efficient.
Gandhi points out that today’s garments come with the label ‘Dry Clean Only’, which is still one of the biggest challenges without a solution. The dry-cleaning community still doesn’t benefit much from this tag. The instructions would be more beneficial if they were more precise and clearer, such as ‘Only Wet Cleaning’ or ‘Professional Cleaning’.
It is interesting to see how the younger generation of Indian dry cleaners is incorporating technology like app-based monitoring and bar codes to run its businesses effectively and efficiently. It’s also encouraging to know that these trendsetters are setting an example for the laundry industry that this sector can be high-tech as well.