Shirts are a pain because…

Shirts are a pain because it takes a while to train a presser.  Pressing shirts is more of a specialty than other items.  So much so that we sometimes over-pay a shirt presser just because we have found someone that is good and we want to keep them on the staff.  If a presser does an inferior press job on a shirt, the touch up necessary may take longer than it took to press the shirt (correctly on incorrectly) in the first place.  This is important and contributes heavily to the making shirts a royal pain.  Conversely, when an inspector finds a pressing defect on, say, a pair of pants, the touch-up necessary to bring the garment from unacceptable to acceptable often takes mere seconds.  A quick pass with the all-steam iron or dancing the pants – still on the hanger – over a puffer and you’re done.  Try that with shirts.  It will yield poor results.

I remember the manager of a competitor telling me about 35 years ago that it took her 1 year of working with a new employee before she felt like that employee could hold her own on a shirt press.  She was actually much more blunt:  “I gotta carry them for a year before they’re any good to me.”  I’m not sure that I agree with that, but they did have old clunky equipment that is very hard to train on.  It isn’t so difficult with the newer equipment.  But when a drycleaner has three drycleaning pressers and one shirt presser, who is most expendable?  Hard to say, I suppose, but I guess that you’d rather hold to the shirt presser.  I have been to many plants and am told that the girl pressing pants (or some other garment type) is a brand new employee – first day or second day.  I can’t immediately tell.  I admit that the smaller the plant, the more evident this would be, but the fact is that drycleaning pressers can often cover each other.  The shirt presser is on her own.  If several pressers in the drycleaning department are contributing to the total output of the department, a new presser – or a weak one – will not slow down the others.  In some shirt departments, the total output is only as fast as the slowest presser.  I don’t think that this is ever true in the drycleaning arena.   If the quality is sub-standard, it is unlikely that re-doing a drycleaning piece will take longer than pressing it in the first place.  Also, the new employee doesn’t have a negative impact.  If a new employee is being trained by your best pants presser who usually presses 36 pants per hour, but can’t today because he/she is training the newcomer, you get a double-whammy:  no 36 pants per hour plus entry-level productivity from the new presser.  This probably doesn’t happen.  What is more likely is an introductory training session, followed by intermittent follow-ups.  Speed will come with practice.

Conversely, in the shirt department, it takes a concerted effort to train a presser.  An introductory training session will not make the grade lest we plan to accept poor quality, which we don’t.  If a new employee is allowed to “learn as they go” the resulting quality will likely be very poor, as well as productivity.  Worse still, is the all-important fact that touch-up time will exceed the original press time.  This is the most distressing fact about training a shirt presser.  If you doubt this, look at it this way:  If you are doing 90 shirts per hour, you are producing a shirt in 45 seconds.  If the press job is unacceptable, how often can you take that shirt and make it “perfect” or acceptable in 45 seconds or less in the touch-up area?  I bet 50 bucks on “never.”

To make all this even more distasteful, picture a two-person unit with a new presser and an experienced one.  Does the experienced presser make up for the deficiencies of the new employee?  Or does the inexperienced presser slow down the new one?  You already know the answer.

I think that a key reason for all of these training issues is that in many plants, the managers can’t train because they aren’t capable of pressing.  Many times, I ask the manager to press. Usually, I ask this so that I can evaluate the supervisor’s ability to train, figuring that the first step to assuring that they can train is assuring that they know the job in the first place.  Some of them are not only incapable of training or pressing but actually look down upon the chore and the people that are paid to do it.  This is bad for a cornucopia of reasons, not the least of which is the wedge that it cements between employee and employer.  You surely lose control over the employee if you are incapable of doing his or her job.  When you see a sub-standard press job, you can not tell the difference between equipment errors and operator errors.  You don’t know if this defect can be prevented by follow-up training or not.  Frankly, you take the presser’s word for it.  That is like a bookkeeper auditing himself.  With the manager’s inability to train, you breed laisez-faire quality and worse, declining quality standards.  Raising the quality standards is completely out of the question. 

So, in the final analysis, when we find an employee that doesn’t need much training (which is extremely important because we may not be able to train her anyway) we pay that person too much.  We do this to keep her around.  By itself, that isn’t such a bad thing.  A presser that can’t press is worse than a singer that can’t sing or a dancer that can’t dance.  If you have a good quality employee, you want them around and you want to keep them. But is the presser “good” for the right reasons?  Is the presser “good” because she doesn’t irritate the boss?  Is the presser “good” because he gets along with his co-workers?  Sometimes, it is those kinds of reasons that makes an employee “good”.  Those are important qualities, no doubt, but a quality product must remain the gold standard, just like it is for you, right?

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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