The recovery since last spring has brought the business up to 70~80%, signaling the end of live-or-die crisis for dry cleaners. Even there are regional and individual differences and the slow summer season has put a dent on this recovery, it is safe to say almost everyone has escaped the ‘death valley.’
Mr. S. Kim, the owner of E-Z Way Cleaners (Woburn, MA) said “All kinds of events, like postponed weddings are happening now and they are bringing in sales.” He expressed concern about the Delta variant but, for now, he is busy running his plant 5 days a week.
Golden Touch Cleaners in Cambridge, MA where students account for a majority of customers, is experiencing a slow summer, though. “I think fewer students are taking summer courses due to the pandemic,” said Mrs. Heo, adding “the volume is definitely up thanks to weddings and parties.”
The fact that so many stores have closed during the pandemic is certainly helping the recovery. Mr. W. Lee who runs Blue Jay Cleaners in Milford, CT said “thanks to 2 competitors going out of business last year and one more recently, my sales are up to 80%.” His volume is not enough to run machines everyday but he is no longer worried about early retirement.
An operator in Cincinnati, OH is doing better. He said his sales are up to 95% level thanks to new customers coming from closed competitors. “I guess I have maintained a good reputation for the last 24 years,” said the happy operator, adding that most of new customers came with referral.
Touch of Class Cleaners in Plymouth, MI is doing even better. According to the owner, Mr. T. Shin, 4 cleaners went out of business within 1 mile radius. His sales were up to 85% in May and have reached pre-pandemic level in June. He thinks opening his store ever day even during the pandemic has helped a great deal. Finding an employee is now his biggest problem. So much so that now his turn-around time is 4 to 5 days. He added “most of my golf buddies are in the cleaning business and they all say sales are up to 70% or higher level.”
Star Cleaners in Jersey City, NJ is going through a slow summer even though the sales have reached 80% level. It is looking forward to a ‘normal’ fall season when more people will start coming to the office.
Evergreen Cleaners in Louisville, KY is running its plant everyday with better than 80% level of sales. Mr. B. Sohn is definitely sounding a sigh of relief. 5, 6 cleaners have gone out of business within 30-minute drive, with smaller operation and drop stores receiving the most damage. “All my friends are also doing well,” said Mr. Sohn, adding “I’m short with hands, not volume.”
The fact we are experiencing this healthy recovery even when most people are working at home is noteworthy. Peter Moon, the owner of Prestige Cleaners in O’Fallon, MO said the business is definitely over the 70% level. However, he is receiving only 50 shirts a day. That is a big drop from 300~400 shirts a day. “The situation is better and is still improving. It should be even better when people start to go to the office,” said Mr. Moon.
Osterman Cleaners in Deerfield, IL is experiencing the same shirts shortage. “The sales are up to 80% level but shirts business is still nowhere near where it used to be,” said the owner Mr. D. Heo. He used to process over 200 shirts a day but these days he is struggling to see more than 30 shirts. He said “new customers are coming from closed stores. To tell you the truth, the market was over saturated. It was about time there was a correction.”
Sunny Cleaners in Raleigh, NC also reports business is up to 70~80%. But the owner, Mr. S. Hwang noted “we used to have a couple of pants for every 4 shirts. We now have 10 pants for a couple of shirts.” He is expecting the situation change in the fall.
Mrs. Cho from New England Cleaners in Greenwich, CT is happy to have her business up to 70% level but she’s doing shirts only 2 times a week, down from 5. She expects it to improve since things are approaching ‘normalcy’ these days.
One thing that causes concerns for all of them is the supply prices.
Mr. David Chu who runs Chu’s Cleaners in Washington DC can’t believe a box of hanger is now over “$50.” He had to raise his prices to accommodate this drastic change. He hopes supply prices go back to normal as ‘situation normal’ comes back.
Mr. Kim in Bristow, VA said his business is up to 60% level and he is a little bit frustrated by slow recovery. He is even more frustrated because he couldn’t raise his price despite much higher supply prices because none of his competitors closed.
Throughout all these interviews, everyone was raising a red flag about the Delta variant. Many local governments are reinstating mask mandates, and areas where vaccination rate is low are reporting a huge spike in new patients.
Custom Cleaners in Irving, TX is busy with business back up to 80% level. She is even more optimistic because many of her customers are saying they’ll go back to office in August or September. But she is worried about a low vaccination rate in her area and the Delta variant. She noted “there are many young people in this area and a lot of them put off getting vaccinated.”
Mr. M. Lim from Bellaire Cleaners in Linden, NJ is praying nothing like last year repeats itself due to the Delta variant. “My business is definitely getting better. I don’t want to go back,” said Mr. Lim.
Charles Yoon’s Rainbow Cleaners in Milwaukee, WI is very busy these days and is back on a full schedule. A franchise cleaner on the corner shut down sending a lot of new customers his way. But mask mandates are coming back and the Delta variant is creating a lot of uncertainty. “We won’t see the full picture until the end of this year,” predicts Mr. Yoon with a lot of caution.