REPORTAGE – Laundry and dry-cleaning metamorphosis, the change takes many different forms

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Adeep, social change of the last years has relevantly affected our customs and habits, our everyday deep, social change of the last years has relevantly affected our customs and habits, our everyday life with its hectic pace and all our tight schedules. Fashion has been dictating the guidelines
of change but at the same time it has been subjected to them. Elegant, formal and branded clothes have left room to comfortable and casual style. Fabrics used in outfits tailoring today need to undergo different washing and treatment methods than in the past. The market is demanding less
expensive ironing processes and the companies cannot but meet the requests by offering highly technological and flexible products. The scale of needs in laundries has significantly moved from dry-cleaning towards washing, particularly towards wet cleaning that has developed to large extent over the recent years. It is a total metamorphosis if we consider garments delivered to a dry-cleaner’s over a period of one month (except for the change of seasons periods): out of 10 garments delivered, the number of shirts ranges from 4 to 6 while pairs of trousers (with crease), the undisputed leader of the past, constitute between 2 and 3 pairs, whereas the number of woolen garments and jackets is residual. Such is the state of the art, which in this case, is the state of laundry.

Mirco Mongillo, the Sales Director at Firbimatic S.p.A., a producer of dry-cleaning and washing machines based in Sala Bolognese near Bologna sees things slightly differently. “We have always believed in wet cleaning to a
lesser extent. As a matter of fact, Firbimatic has invested and focused on the production and promotion of hydro carbon machines. We have verified that their running costs are lower and the environmental impact is reduced while garments turn out to be easier to iron, in case they need to
be. All this results in faster cycles and profit increase. This is what we have actually observed. Distinguishing what needs to be dry-cleaned from what needs to be wet cleaned means reaching higher margins and more clients. If we consider a standard month of work – except for the months of the seasonal change of wardrobe – at a dry-cleaner’s who uses our hydrocarbon machines, we can observe an average increase of 12%-15% in net profit. Surely, it is not easy to convey our knowledge and know-how because the trust of clients is to be conquered day by day”.

“Let us first analyze the changes that we have observed in laundries” says Corinna Mapelli, the co-owner of Trevil, a producer of ironing equipment based in Pozzo D’Adda (MI). “There has been a big transformation in this field which is linked to nursing homes. Many companies that used to work exclusively with the Horeca sector, are now offering services to nursing homes to increase their revenues. As far as the cleaning of everyday garments is concerned, we have observed a substantial innovation linked to wet cleaning.
Looking at the international panorama but not only, wet cleaning has undergone a great acceleration in relation to the more and more rigorous and strict regulations on perc introduced by many countries. All this has an impact on the production cycle because a wet-cleaned garment will need a re-adjustment of the ironing as well. As for the changes in logistics, we have observed the introduction of services that modify the management of the territory. Business models with a single headquarters and many distribution centers over a territory are becoming more and more common. There are also cases where a lab would undertake a contract for many different distribution centers, e.g. supermarkets.
The request for automated finishing machines is considerable because as work volumes increase, a machine allows to keep both the productivity level and the quality intact.

Marco Niccolini, the Sales Director at Renzacci S.p.A. based in Città di Castello (PG) addresses the change we are living. “We are facing great changes regarding many aspects. Fashion and style have changed as well as clients’ sentiment. The change in the way we dress should be interpreted
in the right way in relation to garments cleaning methods. It is a mistake to think that the function of dry cleaning will come to an end only because of the casual style rise. Almost 70% of garments in circulation are made of polyurethane materials, coated or serigraph printed. And even if they are made of traditional materials (nylon, cotton or wool), they are not finished with a thread but with glue or resins, or they are heat sealed. Therefore, the materials the garments are made of and the way they are tailored have changed as well. This description is important for us to better understand the change in the dry-cleaning sector, moving from chlorinated solvents to natural solvents.
Consequently, dry-cleaning (just like wet cleaning) keeps its central role as long as it is conceived as a professional and biocompatible formula. Cleaning and well-being are the winning combination”.

“I read a lot on the topic and try to interpret the change I am observing through my professional experience gained in different fields of laundry market over the last 15 years, says Michele Plebani, the Sales Director at Pony, a producer of ironing equipment based in Inzago (MI). When I take a look at my wardrobe where I keep my numerous “deposited” suits, those I have not used for years, I see how the way we dress has actually changed over the years. The passage towards casual style and comfortable clothing has been the core feature in this transformation.
What we wear has changed, therefore the consumers’ needs have changed as well which is perfectly represented by the stocked suits in my wardrobe that I mentioned earlier.
Traditional laundry is becoming extinct. While twenty years ago I would design laundries at shopping malls with two 30 kg dry-cleaning machines and one 12 kg washer, today a new laundry shop will be equipped with one dry-cleaning machine and at least 3 or 4 washers. Consequently, con sumers come to a laundry to have their garments ironed more than washed. Let us consider that, on average in Italy, 10 million shirts are washed and ironed per day. As a matter of fact, consumers bring shirts to a laundry more often thanks to the fact that prices almost always suit all types of pockets

Vittorio Maglione, Country Manager Italia at Alliance Laundry System, a multinational laundry machines producer based in Brescia, gives his evaluation on the observed changes. “We manufacture laundry machines for hotels, nursing homes, hospitals, professional cleaning businesses, self-service laundries and laundries in general covering quite a wide market range. In regard to commercial laundry, we are observing significant hesitation as far as innovation goes. While I was at a shopping mall the other day, I stopped to look at domestic washing machines. Some of them were provided with a washing program called “cashmere”.
Personally, I am more than sure that domestic market is more oriented towards innovation than professional market.
We are risking to hear a consumer inform the professional that washing cashmere in water is dangerous and that their domestic washing machines are suitable for this purpose (with all the necessary precaution, obviously). The refore, I believe we need to make an effort to convey the current evolution in textile washing, undeniable today, both in wet cleaning, combined with good chemical detergents, and in ironing with its dedicated unit which would translate to meeting all the consumers’ needs. As far as the nursing homes go, they constitute an important part of the market for us. Their necessity is to wash the residents’ garments.
Given the progressive ageing of the population, this market has been growing significantly to the point that even foreign businesses are expressing their interest in the Italian nursing homes market. Some European companies are currently managing more than 2000 structures. The Italian market is, however, quite fragmented. Here, the changes over the recent years have been significant. The manager of a nursing home needs to make sure about two things: have the kitchen and the laundry work in the best possible way because the residents and their families look for an accurate and reliable service. Today, the requested service, if compared to a few years ago, is more and more precise and oriented towards details that make a difference”.

We now meet Walter Cividini, the Managing Director at Fimas S.r.l. a producer of ironing equipment based in Vigevano (PV), who underlines, “laundry services have un dergone significant modifications over the last years. Once, all the garments were cleaned and ironed as they were
made of fine fabrics. Today, on average, the garments in circulation are less expensive. At the same time, people have less and less time to spend on washing and ironing.
Consequently, the “smart” laundries have appeared. They diversify and re-modulate the offer by proposing faster and cheaper services. These modern, “smart” laundries use au tomated ironing machines that do not need any specialized operators. The aspect that we should not forget about however, is that the types of fabrics that can be washed and not dry-leaned have changed, which opens new perspectives.
We have observed many cases where the generation passage as far as laundry goes coincides with a change, a turning point where a traditional, artisan dry-cleaning shop turns into a laundry business based on managerial approach; therefore, the owners (as it often happens) decide to
invest 25/30 thousand euros in the purchase of automated shirt finishers aiming at the increase in the turnover and profits of the business”.

Marco Boccola, Business Development at Ilsa S.p.A. headquartered near Bologna, explains how the laundry market has evolved in the world. “New solvents that are alternative to PERC have drawn a strong interest towards dry-cleaning in general, in particular the modified alcohol solvent such as SENSENE. We have invested a lot in its development and our best clients found it extremely interesting and successful. Wet cleaning/washing has surely got an important role in modern laundry today, however not to
the point that would lead to giving up on the more productive dry-cleaning. Due to the development of new solvents and their textile and environmental compatibility, dry-cleaning has redefined its fundamental and strategic role.
Over the last years, we have assisted a laundry market evolution from the point of view of both the territory and sector.
Let us take the United States of America as an example.
The East Coast presents a similar offer to the Italian one with its typical dry-cleaning shops, popular in Germany, too. While on the other side of the US, the West Coast reflects bigger laundries and more customized services, e.g. home delivery. In regard to Europe, France has gone through massive technological innovation due to significant limitations in the use of PERC in dry-cleaning, which reflect great awareness as far as the environmental impact goes.
We are witnessing a bipolar model in France where, from the one hand, there is a strong thrive towards machines innovation while on the other hand, we can observe a rather simple and standardized model of service management. As far as Eastern markets are concerned, apart from China (where the demand for technology and automation is significant) other countries request standard products, ideal for the production oriented businesses that would not focus on results in terms of time/cycle, consumptions management, emissions, etc., but they would rather concentrate on simple machines at a low cost which does not really reflec
ILSA’s ideal type of market”.

At the end of this long analysis, we are talking with Daniele Battistella, the owner of Battistella B.G, a producer of ironing equipment from Rossano Veneto near Vicenza. He points out how “us, producers often struggle to understand how the market is evolving even if we always try to meet the requests by offering the right product and innovate it according
to the new demands. Today, we are facing requests for very high-quality machines that need to combine other features like energy saving or garments sanitization while keeping the environmental compatibility in mind. Market requests evolve so quickly that what was still suitable two years ago, is now risking to be out of the market. An accurate explanation on how a machine works is undoubtedly the key to success. As a matter of fact, businesses that manage communication in a new, different way, e.g. using social networks effectively, have much more chances to be successful in the market”. •

Detergo Magazine Novembre 2019 by Marzio Nava