Dumb things that people do

Have you ever heard the expression “pennywise and dollar foolish?” It is so easy to get caught up in that vortex while in the shirt business.  This month, I present to you a few examples.

A long time ago I stopped scrubbing collars on shirts.  My rationale was pretty simple:  why would I want to throw labor at a problem when I was already buying chemicals that I believed should take care of that problem?  If shirts are dirty, collars are probably the part of the shirt that are most obviously in need of cleaning.  If my chemicals clean every part of the shirt except the collars, what good were they?  I met a cleaner years ago that believed that scrubbing collars was a waste of time too.  A local vendor set him up with a detergent booster of some type that injected 3 ounces of this liquid into every load.  He was thrilled that this product cost a mere $19.95 per gallon.  I looked at it a little differently: 128 ounces for $20.  That’s almost 16 cents per ounce, 48 cents per load.  This, at a time when his total chemical cost per load was about a dollar.  It was completely nonsensical to me to need to raise the total cost for chemicals 45% in order to accomplish what the basic chemical formula was supposed to do in the first place.  Believe me, I understand the basic thought process: for twenty bucks, I get rid of the nuisance of having to re-wash shirts that have ring around the collar.  Assuming that the product works perfectly (and I suspect that it does), it isn’t a $20 expense.  At 2500 shirts per week, that is typically 25 wash loads per week at 45 cents per load.  This comes to around $600 per year.  While this, admittedly, isn’t a heap of cash, I believe it is a waste.  One may look at it as a low price to fix a big problem, but I look at it as paying twice to do the same thing.  Use chemicals that do the job right the first time.  Challenge your chemical rep to get your shirts clean.  If you have to change to a more expense product, it is unlikely that your cost will go up 45% and you will cut down on re-washes and nobody should be scrubbing collars.

Washing in cold water however, will keep your chemicals from working.  You can challenge your chemical rep all you want, but you have to do your part.  You must have hot water to wash shirt effectively.  There are two big mistakes that you can make here.  Your goal may be to save on water heating costs, but your savings go out the window if you use more chemicals than you need to or if you have numerous re-washes.  The two mistakes?  Trusting the temperature readings on the washer is one.  For some reason, these temperature readings are notoriously inaccurate.  I have seen them be off by over 30 degrees.  Enzymes, for instance, work between 120 and 140 degrees.  The enzymes are killed off over 140 and do nothing below 120.  This is a delicate spread.  Use a laser trap tester to read the temperature through the glass on the washer.  (they are better at that then they are at testing traps, by the way) I suspect that you will be surprised at the reading.  Secondly, you can err by setting your desired wash temperature at the water heater.  Let’s say that you set it at 130 in order to get at least 120 at the washer.  It is unclear what your wash temperature will be.  Here’s why:  if the water travels through pipe for a distance, what is the temperature drop through that distance.  The distance can easily be 100 feet of perhaps uninsulated pipe.  How much has the temperature dropped?  And what is the recovery time on your water heater?  Assuming that the temperature drop to the washer is not significant, how much does the water temperature drop when hot water is spewed onto cold shirts in a cold stainless steel drum?  Is your water still above 120 or whatever the detergent manufacturer’s suggested minimum water temperature is?  Get this fixed before challenging your chemical rep to get your shirts clean.  I assure you that they will blame your water temperature before they blame their chemicals.  And I can’t blame them in the slightest.  In order to get shirts clean, you need 4 things: time, temperature, chemical action and mechanical action.  The chemical rep can be held accountable for time (the formulas that he/she has programmed) as well as the chemical action, but the water temperature is your responsibility.  And mechanical action is within your realm too.

Washing shirts loose will not yield good mechanical action.  Neither will overloading the washer.  When I walk into a plant, I can tell by looking at the finished shirts if the shirts are being washed loose.  It is that noticeable to the trained eye.  I guess that shirts are washed loosely to save the expense of nets or rope ties and the labor to use them.  Your chemical rep may be more interested in adding more chemical then having you use rope ties or nets.  Can’t blame them for that.  If you use more chemical to compensate for a deficiency in mechanical action, you are being penny-wise and dollar foolish.  If you are getting clean shirts with your chemical formula and are washing loosely, you may want to disagree, but hold on.  There is a real possibility that you are using more chemical than you need to.  If you begin using rope ties, the investment will soon be recouped by reducing your chemical usage.  The capital investment in rope-ties is finite, the chemical cost goes on forever.  And as for overloading the washer, no matter how you wash shirts or what chemicals you use, you are defeating their function when you overload your washer.  This cannot be over-emphasized.  Overloading robs you of the needed mechanical action, lowers the water temperature and cuts down on the amount of water in the tub because the shirts displace the space intended for water. 

And then there is pressing with 80# of steam.  This is done by some to avoid raising the boiler pressure and installing a regulator for the drycleaning equipment.  Although this may seem to be a sensible work-around, it is a very expensive one.  Pressing shirts with 80# of steam yields one of two things, both of which cost you far more, in the long run, than running your boiler at a higher pressure.  First, assuming that you have a high priority on making sure the shirts are completely dry (and you should), production will be poor.  This is a tough problem to fix once you have accepted it for an extended period of time.  Your pressers become very good at pressing slowly.  Once you’ve fixed the steam pressure issue, it is a challenge to get them to press at a faster rate.  This faster rate will yield shirts that are just as dry as when you were pressing with 80# of steam, but getting your pressers to work at a faster rate so that they can work less hours and take home less money can be quite the management challenge.  Avoid this problem by making sure you press with the manufacturer’s suggested minimum steam pressure.  It will save you buckets of money.  Alternately, you can have good production but, instead you have shirts coming off the presses not completely dry.  This is suicide.  The shirts will look ok (maybe) when they come off the press because the fabric that actually touched the steam chests will be completely dry, but soon those dry fibers will act as a wick and suck the moisture to surface part of the fabric.  This results in a very poor quality press that you may not see, but your customers will.  And, speaking of customers, nothing feels more gross to a customer than to put on a shirt that has wetness left in the collar.  It will only happen if the shirt is selected to wear shortly after coming out of your shop, but that did happen to me once.  It didn’t feel very nice.  Anyway, I don’t have a formula to figure the cost of dispensing poor quality, but I’m sure that the equation doesn’t yield pleasant results.

Sewing buttons by hand is something that smaller shirt laundries seem to do.  I admit that stocking the usual variety of buttons and buying a $2000 button sewing machine is not a fun thing to do, but sewing buttons by hand takes ten times longer.  Labor is expensive and goes on forever.  A good quality sewing machine is a one time purchase.

Always remember to look at the big picture before making any business decision.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

Picture of Donald Desrosiers

Donald Desrosiers

Don Desrosiers has been in the laundry and drycleaning industry for over 30 years.  As a management consultant, work-flow systems engineer and efficiency expert, he has created the highly acclaimed Tailwind Shirt System, the Tailwind System for Drycleaning and Firestorm for Restoration.  He owns and operates Tailwind Systems, a management consulting and work-flow engineering firm.  Desrosiers is a monthly columnist for The National Clothesline, Korean Cleaners Monthly, The Golomb Group Newsletter and Australia's The National Drycleaner and Launderer.   He is the 2001 winner of IFI's Commitment to Professionalism Award.  He has a website at www.tailwindsystems.com and can be reached at tailwindsystems@charter.net or my telephone at 508.965.3163