REPORTAGE — Dry-cleaning and artisan laundries: market demand analysis


At the end of 2018, Expo Detergo commissioned the task to outline the economic and organizational picture of Italian dry-cleaning and artisan businesses to Cerved, a market research institute. 

The approximate perimeter of the identified market represents structures qualified as dry-cleaning/ traditional laundries whose number ranges from 12,000 and 14,000. 78% of the businesses can be defined as traditional laundries and the majority of them hire from 2 to 3 employees. Both dry-cleaning and washing are present in almost all the businesses, the latter one being more consistently present in newer and bigger structures. The research shows that as far as dry-cleaning goes, the new cleaning techniques in alternative to PERC constitute a minority. Natural solvents are known by not more than 10% of businesses. Moving on to machinery inventory, the average number of machines present in drycleaning laundries is between 2 and 3, and almost all of them have been purchased. The Italian market of dry-cleaning machines, according to the research, appears to be rather static. As a matter of fact, on average, the most recent machine was bought 7 years ago in the north of Italy, while in the south, including the islands, the figure changes into 9. Traditional hand ironing is present in every shop but at least 25% of businesses offer additional services such as sanitizing, tailoring and home delivery. The main driving force leading to the purchase of a new machine is the quality/price ratio, while the established business relationship of trust with suppliers turns out to be quite important in this matter as well. Finally, technical support and after sales assistance appear to be surprisingly underestimated (especially in the north of the country). As far as “training” goes, almost half of the businesses have participated in training sessions organized by machine suppliers, and two thirds of the total number of businesses find educational sessions that treat specific topics very useful. As far as future development and investment forecast are concerned, 9 businesses out of 10 are planning to invest (the majority will invest in machines) in 2019, in particular, those better structured and economically stable.

Considering such a great number of figures, data and trends that give us an idea of where the sector is going, it is necessary to enter the productive reality and give voice to the impressions of sector operators in order to obtain a more exhaustive and precise picture on the topic. “What emerges from the research is some sort of resistance to change. Yet, we are hoping that some laundrybusinesses, even if a minority, would be willing to invest in innovation in spite of thousands difficulties” says Paolo Fumagalli, the President of Pony S.p.A. based in Inzago near Milan, a producer of ironing machines. Fumagalli explains, “laundries that have a better opportunity to make profits are those businesses that purchase automatic ironing machines and reduce the labour cost. Also, looking at the competition with other countries, our machines and products, highly automated, constitute a point of strength”. Coming back to the figures, Fumagalli says “we are quite surprised by the little importance given, especially in the north of Italy, to after sales assistance (11%). Moreover, the machines that businesses are equipped with today, seem to be a bit old. To support the figure, it is actually enough to consider the amortization period of an ironing machine that amounts to 7/8 years for a laundry if acquired directly from a supplier. The period of time increases significantly if leased”.

“The picture of the sector traced by the research denotes some sort of resistance as far as investments go, especially in case of very small businesses run by owners for a very long time. They dealt with a decade of economical crisis, which undoubtedly, has left a sign” explains Walter Cividini, the Managing Director of Fimas, a producer of ironing machines from Vigevano (PV). Moreover, Cividini claims that “dry-cleaning laundries, just like any other business should be run at a managerial level, which is something that does not happen easily in this market. New, automated machines are crucial in terms of labour costs and energy saving. Yet, the research signals a decrease in the number of dry-cleaning laundries, which denotes a “positive selection” of active businesses in the market; also, there are dry-cleaning laundries that today, look more and more like “boutiques”. I am rather optimistic about the future of our market that seems to be slightly recovering….”. “We are more than sure that the growth and development margins exist for both dry-cleaning shops and industrial laundries, and that the market is responding differently according to the geographical area” claims Giacomo Fontana, the Sales Manager at Maestrelli S.r.l. from San Giorgio di Piano near Bologna, a producer of laundry machines. Fontana then comments on the complexity of the market: “from the one hand, garments washing is developing and improving more and more. Surely today, we can wash garments that would not have been treated this way still 10 years ago. On the other hand, treating the most delicate garments (silk, leather, suede) and the new fabrics with plastic or polyurethane inserts requires professionality and expertise as they need to be dry-cleaned with the use of alternative solvents. Maestrelli has been significantly strengthening its presence in India. Last month, the company exposed the machines during two shows, Laundrex in Bangalore and Garment Technology Expo (GTE) in Delhi. In that market, many small laundries have been introducing dry-cleaning as well (more and more often with the use of alternative solvents) in order to offer a truly complete service, while our local distributor, who has always been orientated towards working with large textile industries, is now tangibly opening towards actual “retail” as it is considered to be sharply growing and it presents great margins for development. In conclusion, selling a machine (especially a dry-cleaning machine) means selling a complete service, a suggestion, technical assistance, understanding the real needs of the clients, being flexible, offering practical machines that are resistant and really user friendly”.

“There is still a lot to do, the machines inventory is obsolete and should be replaced with the new ones, but what we actually need to understand is whether our offers are really attractive” adds Daniele Battistella, the owner of Battistella B.G. S.r.l. based in Rossano Veneto (VI), a producer of ironing machines, “if we consider that the cost saving for a laundry can range from 30% to 40% as far automated machines go, it should be an incentive to invest in innovation. However, us, the manufacturers might not have been able to convey the message in the right way”. He then adds, “it is necessary to guarantee a wide range of offers to the clients and a quick maintenance service for commercial drycleaning laundries, e.g. at the shopping malls. There are always long queues of people there so the timing is crucial; let me make a meaningful example: a dry-cleaner based in a shopping mall purchased an ironing machine in October 2018, and in March 2019, after five months, it already worked for 2,200 hours. If this is not an intensive production…

As far as the market goes, our company is obtaining great results in the sales of sanitizing cabinets. We have been producing them for four years now, and laundries have noticed that a productive cycle of this type combines low labour cost with low energy consumption”. The Sales Director at Union S.p.a., Gabriele Cuppini, a producer of dry-cleaning machines headquartered in Sala Bolognese (BO) underlines how the research results constitute a clear and exhaustive photograph of the Italian market. “Union mainly works with international markets. In the USA, for years now, Union has become a point of reference to the dry-cleaning machines market. At this point, we cannot just not compare Italian market with the foreign countries. What we observe is that there are fewer investments in Italy. What is more, funding, economical support or tax incentives are actually almost nonexistent in Italy, consequently, the development and growth struggle to take off. Instead abroad, where investments are higher, funding and subsidies more accessible, business volumes are bigger”. “This factor is reflected by services” Cuppini adds. “In many countries, a more dynamic market favors investments in more modern machines which is then reflected by greater efficiency and higher quality of garments cleaning; modern machines, designed for new solvents, offer greater compatibility with garments and current fabrics, and help to simplify the work.

Although the national market is historically rich in excellent products that offer high quality services, small dry-cleaning shops still constitute the majority of businesses with limited possibilities of investments”. Also, Corinna Mapelli, the co-owner of Trevil S.r.l. based in Pozzo d’Adda near Milan, a producer of ironing machines makes a point, “due to the lack of regulations on machines replacement as far as the ironing sector goes, the sector is limited to “machines substitution market” because of products obsolescence whereas abroad, we are witnessing a great potential for growth, e.g. in India (where we have worked for thirty years now). What we notice there is a rather strong growth of a dry-cleaning market. In Italy, instead, as the research shows, the presence of old machines is well rooted. We can also observe a consistent use of second-hand machines. Basically, it is a small and crowded market (by competitors) with some slight signs of innovation. Today, social trends influence the market. The figures relative to shirts treatment that the research shows, are meaningful. They are determined by our life-style, the pace of life and household sizes that much differ from the past; the increase in the number of single households and in divorces can easily be observed in Italy today. Laundries should have a thorough knowledge on textile treatment with ironing being the crown jewel of the garments cleaning “cycle”. We have collaborated with traditional laundries and dry-cleaners, and those structured ones, bigger, where the managerial approach is different,” adds Mapelli, “and we have been quite puzzled by the little consideration for the pre-sale technical support that the research results show (only 3.2% of the interviewed business consider it as important), which seems to undermine the professionality of those who produce and sell”.

“Apart from some grey areas of the research that would have to be better analyzed, what was revealed by the figures is the unmistakable picture of a deep change in the ways the service is offered. Carried out by more and more obsolete machines, the services offered are inadeguate. Dry-cleaning is undergoing a transformation because the passage towards natural solvents gives the possibility to enormously revitalize dry-cleaning. First of all, the range of garments that can be cleaned using alternative solvents is very wide. Consequently, the market expands. Secondly, what dry-cleaners offer cannot mismatch the widely spread concepts of environmental sustainability, biodegradability and the general wellbeing that inevitably generates market demand that then generates an effective market circuit” claims Marco Niccolini, the Sales Director at Renzacci headquartered in Città di Castello. Another element makes us hope for a better future “some large, global businesses have started to invest significantly in the development of low environmental impact natural solvents. If there was no market in that medium term, what sense would it make to invest all these resources? Many important companies making part of the fashion industry are choosing new fabrics and using new apparel finishing techniques that are determining this shift in the market at every level” adds Gabrio Renzacci, the President of Renzacci SpA.

by Marzio Nava

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