Shirts are a pain because the equipment necessary to do them is expensive and specialized

Shirts are a pain because the equipment necessary to do them is expensive and specialized.  There probably is one singular thing that is more frustrating that dropping $50,000 or more on a shirt unit and that is finding out that you can’t do as a good a job as the “professionals” at the trade show once you get that shirt unit into your store.  I thought that we were the professionals?  It is indeed aggravating to need to buy a new shirt unit so that we can make no money on them.  Although we may not ever use our legger for anything but pressing pants, there is a comfort zone there in our hearts that says we could use it to press anything if we really had to.  Not so with the shirt unit.  Try as hard as I might, but I still can’t press dress on the shirt unit.  It is for shirts only.  Period.

Imagine if each type of garment that you process needed a separate, specialized piece of equipment to finish it?  What a nightmare that would be!  Admittedly, it’s not the norm, but the smallest drycleaning plants have one singular press with which every garment is finished – except shirts.  Gotta sub those out because we don’t have a shirt unit.  Delegating shirts to a third party lends to the annoyance that they have become.  We either have our own shirt equipment, or we don’t.  Either way, the very fact that shirts require this specialized equipment makes them a pain. 

With our own equipment, we either have a shirt area that takes too much space or takes just a little bit of space and is jammed into an otherwise useless corner of the plant.  When it’s the former, we thankfully never bother to calculate profit by square foot of real estate used.  If we did that, surely depression would set in.  If we shoved our shirt equipment into the corner, we would reason that while it is not the ultimate in efficiency, doing shirts on the premises is better than using a wholesaler. Hmm.  I wonder.

In the drycleaning department, we can make equipment contributions.  We can buy a couple of new all-steam irons. We can finagle a way to get a new Cindy-Lu in there.  Puff iron’s had it?  No problem.  You can pick one up at the trade show next weekend.  Thinking about tensioning equipment?  You can change over the pants station first, or one pants station at a time.  After you get comfortable with it, you can complete the change over at your own pace.

All this isn’t true in the $@#&*% shirt department.  No wonder they’re such a pain! When it comes to the equipment in the shirt department, it’s all or nothing.  Sure, you can trash your sleever and body press for a rotary unit and keep the collar and cuff machine, but it still costs tons of money to do that.  It isn’t the same as buying a puffer for a few hundred bucks.  Buying shirt equipment is a major investment and not one that we want to make over and over again.  In fact, more often than not, this investment is delayed until our back is against the wall.  This lends to shirts being a pain.  The equipment that we have is patched up, bandage over bandage in an effort to stall the purchase of replacement equipment.  This leads to sub-par press quality, which in turn, contributes to shirts being a pain.  The shirts don’t contribute profit, but they surely contribute problems and aggravation. 

Sometimes we replace our equipment with used equipment.  While this is surely not always a bad thing, it is possible that you are simply trading away the problems that you’re having with your equipment for the problems that someone else was having with your “new” stuff.  We loathe still more the thought of replacing that equipment anytime soon.  All this solidifies the resentment that we have for shirts and the equipment that they require.

The only way to get around all this is to be certain that the cost to replace your equipment and the cost to maintain it are built into the retail price for shirt service.  This doesn’t mean charging just enough to cover the mortgage payment.  It means charging enough to cover all of your operating costs – labor, supplies, utilities and everything else – plus any and all amortization costs, plus profit.  Add to that some sort of reserve so that when your equipment does need replacing it can be done easily and painlessly.  If your equipment is paid for, you really need to be escrowing a substantial portion of your revenue for the inevitable replacement of your equipment.  If this simple statement convinces you that you  need to raise your retail price per shirt, say, 20 cents to save up for new shirt equipment, that’s great, but you’re only half way there.  You must take that 20 cents and let it accumulate so that after doing 2000 shirts per week for the next 52 weeks, you’ll have over $20,000 saved up for new equipment.  This isn’t profit. Don’t spend it on something else!  If you tell your maintenance man and your pressers and your touch-up person that a new shirt unit is in the relatively near future, they will feel a whole lot better about the problems that they may be having with the breakdowns and the press quality. 

You make shirts a real pain when you charge $2.25 for shirts – because that is what others are charging – with the genuine hope that this income level is adequate to cover all of your expenses.  It really is a bad way to arrive at a retail price.

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

Shirt Tip: How to get “free” shirt equipment

If you think that you need shirt equipment but are sure that you can’t afford it or you just don’t want to spend the money, check this out.  You may already be paying for new equipment in the way of downtime and lost productivity.  Keep accurate hourly shirts per hour production records.  Whenever there is a breakdown, make an explicit note describing it.  Let’s say that the collar/cuff machine broke down for 1 hour.  This caused 5 people hang around and watch each other’s hair grow for, collectively, 5 hours.  This cost you $50 or more.  Add to that the maintenance man’s time and parts and multiply it by the number of times that this happens in a month and you may find that you’re already paying for that new shirt that you want so badly.  Do the math.  It may surprise you.

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 and can be reached at or my telephone at 508.965.3163

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