Reflecting on 2021 & Preparing for 2022
CONGRATULATIONS! You survived the challenges of 2020 and most of 2021. Given the recent turmoil, many of us are wondering what 2022 might hold. We asked a group of DLI leaders and staff members to share their thoughts about the year ahead. These sources have their ears to the ground closer than most in the industry by regularly hosting DLI’s weekly Peer-to-Peer Zoom sessions and participating in DLI’s weekly virtual training sessions. Their positions also put them in direct contact with many members daily. Few people share this perspective.
1. What changes will impact the industry in 2022?
Jon Meijer, DLI’s Membership Director, said, “2022 will be an interesting year with more questions than answers. Finding employees will be a huge issue going forward as minimum wage increases and inflation dominate the market. DLI believes it will lose approximately 30% of the
industry when all is said and done, which we (candidly) believe is still a year away. DLI members have availed themselves of the incredible amount of information, education, training, and peer-to-peer meetings over the last 18 months to help them survive during the pandemic and succeed going forward. This has not been true for many non-members.”
Chuck Hempstead, Executive Director of the Southwest Drycleaners Association, said, “What we are learning from the pandemic, even as society and businesses are ‘opening up’, is that people don’t want to spend their Saturday mornings running errands, with grocery delivery and on-line banking being excellent examples. We increasingly want our world to revolve around us, evidenced by real estate sales, Home Depot stock prices, and streaming television options.”
Mary Scalco, DLI’s CEO, said, “I think the industry has changed considerably since the start of the pandemic—offering pick-up and delivery; making wash- dry-fold a more integral part of their business; emphasizing other services than traditional drycleaning such as comforters and other household items; and diversifying into other areas such as shoe repair and cleaning, tailoring, and rug cleaning.”
Peter Blake, Executive Director of NEFA, MAC, and SEFA said, “I think the landscape of the industry has changed and will not be returning to the way it was in the near future. I think there is an emphasis on “comfort casual” and “Athleseiurewear” in the public and for people returning to work. People are changing their wardrobes. I think the industry needs to keep focused on the ability to clean all fabrics, not just shirts-blouses, suits, and skirts. As an industry we need to turn people’s attention to new messages like: “Casual doesn’t mean sloppy”, “Professional wardrobe care saves time, money, and prolongs the life of your favorite clothes.” We need to make a shift away from “drycleaning” and move to a more inclusive terminology that will celebrate our ability to care for your entire wardrobe.”
Bill Odorizzi, DLI’s Allied Trades Director and Senior Consultant with Sankosha said, “Due to the pandemic, most people are now aware of the benefits of proper hygiene and cleanliness. Because of this, consumers are looking to do business with cleaners who provide convenience at a reasonable cost. This will help generate increased frequency as well as bring in additional items for professional cleaning.”
2. What lessons from the pandemic will stay with us forever?
“I think the industry has become even more consumer centric,” said Scalco. “Consumers expanded the number and types of items they are having delivered, they became more comfortable with allowing others to complete routine tasks they used to do themselves.”
“I’m not saying the era of specialization is behind us; I’m saying that consumers need to think of us first,” said Hempstead. “If that means we need business partnerships to get someone’s shoes cleaned so they come back to us with their tuxedo alterations and pressing (and bring their laundry along), let’s find more ways to say, “Yes, we do!” It may mean the era is behind us of believing people will keep lining up to just do what we have always done, our way, at our convenience.”
Odorizzi said adaptation will likely stay with us. “Not taking anything for granted and having the mindset to always have an open mind to change. Sometimes we cannot choose what we do, but we can choose how we do it,” he said.
3. What will the industry landscape look like for cleaning businesses who survive the pandemic’s economic fallout?
What the industry has morphed into during the pandemic will become status quo,” said Scalco. ”Stores that increase traditional drycleaning pieces counts
coupled with the other services they are offering the industry will recover stronger than before the pandemic. I believe the industry will be smaller. Marginal
operators, operators close to retirement, etc. will not survive or want to survive. During the pandemic plants got lean and mean out of necessity, but that resulted in operators taking a close look at their operation.”
“The landscape includes fewer but more successful cleaners who will pick up the volume from those cleaners who went out of business,” said Meijer. “Members are now focusing on many other types of services to help grow their business and not just focusing on drycleaning. Some of these services include wash and fold, sneaker cleaning, shoe repair, draperies, etc.”
Blake predicted a bright future for cleaners who invest in their business and staff. “I think the future will be bright for those who are continuing to invest in their business and their staff. People who continue to evolve and take advantage of the great opportunities out there will thrive. Those who try and wait to have the pandemic- forced changes revert back to the way it was in 2019 are going to struggle and fail. I can’t emphasis enough the need to keep learning, understanding the changing dynamics, and to learn from what other cleaners are doing to succeed. You can’t stick to the old formula, you have to adapt. Take advantage of every opportunity you can: EIDL Loans, ERTC programs, and the Workforce opportunity Credits to name a few. Diversify your menu of services and potentially rethink some of your pricing strategies. Now is the time to make bold moves to help solidify your future.”
Odorizzi shared this view. “In any downturn there are always opportunities to stabilize and grow business,” he said. “Successful cleaners will listen to their customer base and begin to offer expanded services. Cleaners can clean and press more than just garments and many cleaners are now doing so and seeing positive results.”
4. What advice can you share with DLI members who are struggling right now?
“The industry has survived catastrophic events in the past—the polyester era, the recent recession— and come out stronger on the other side,” said Scalco. “Remain open-minded and embrace the changes that you instituted to become a more savvy and resilient business.”
“Utilize all the benefits and services provided by DLI,” said Meijer. “Members who used these services and participated in Zoom calls and peer to peer meetings have told us that DLI helped save their business and they will always maintain their
membership because of how DLI performed during the pandemic to keep members informed. DLI’s CEO, Mary Scalco, stated early on during the pandemic that, ‘This is when an association shows its worth, this is the time when our members need us the most and it’s DLI’s job to deliver what they need.’”
Blake said unity will make us stronger. “While wemayallnotbeinthesameboat–weareallinthe same storm. The tools and opportunities are there to help you survive. We have a community of professionals from other drycleaners to staff to allied partners, all vested in your success. If you are struggling, reach out and help is there. The value of membership and our community has never been greater. We have seized every opportunity to provide programs and services to help you navigate through these incredibly challenging times.”
DLI’s programs also topped Odorizzi’s list. “In my opinion, DLI has used the pandemic to offer so many excellent educational programs that have provided ideas and solutions to address the market uncertainties. These programs are available through Zoom, so the only investment is their time,” he said.
5. What can history tell us about the year to come?
“Absolutely nothing!,” said Meijer.
“Many of the industry changes we’re seeing today were already happening, but instead of these changes happening over time, they happened overnight with what we’re calling COVID time. I believe the healthier cleaners (typically DLI members) will continue to do better than the rest of the industry. They’ll continue to grow and prosper.”
“I’m reminded (academically, not personally) of two tremendous societal changes that created an economic slingshot following World War II,” said Hempstead. “One was education: schools for higher education and the trades expanded as never before. Second was the non- profit sector as people with common interests came together to teach each other what was necessary to thrive in the then-New Normal. We in the drycleaning community have been doing that in overdrive since the beginning of COVID, providing DLI members with the support and information they need to stay in business despite the hurtful environment.”
“Communication is more important than anything else” Blake said. “We need to develop open lines of communication with our customers and potential customers. Email, text, phone, mail, social media. We need to use all avenues to keep our brand prevalent. Society is valuing free time more now than ever — and you can use that to your advantage. Save them time, they will invest in your service. Life is short — so don’t spend it doing things you hate, like laundry. I think all of these trends are highlighted by the unique pressures of the pandemic and it has afforded people the opportunity to reconnect with family. Remind them how precious that time can be.”
“History tells us that companies that survive economic crises are those who listen to their customers and employees and respond accordingly,” Odorizzi said. “Loyal customers and employees are the heart of a successful business in both good times and bad.”
6. What would surprise you the most in 2022?
“Honestly, nothing would surprise me at this point,” said Meijer. “We are dealing with the New Normal. The world is different today. However, being able to once again hold onsite meetings, conventions, and training seminars without worrying about shutdowns or travel limitations would surprise me — in a good way.”
“The cleaning business has been in rough shape now for some time,” said Hempstead, “but the membership in DLI has not tanked because most members realize that now is the time they most need their colleagues for mutual support.”
“It would surprise me greatly to see this happen next year, but I think we will see dress codes in the workplace return in the future,” Blake said. “I think as we get more and more casual as a society, and more people work from home — productivity will suffer. I think eventually companies will see that and look to become more regimented. I also think some companies will be more apt to use traditional formal dress to set themselves apart from other companies. It will help to differentiate their professionalism.”
“Everyone wants to get back to a normal way of life,” Odorizzi said. “However people cannot help but be affected by the recent past, so our Industry needs to adjust expectations to a different kind of normal. It would be surprising if we ever go back to exactly the way things were.”
Overall, solitary individuals struggled to survive the ravages of COVID-19. Communities fared better, especially ones that freely shared vital expertise, knowledge, and resources as these became available. We’re glad you’re part of our community here at the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute, and we look forward to supporting and assisting during whatever the upcoming months and years might throw at us. Keep up the great work and know we are here for you in every capacity we can provide.
RAIN OR SHINE
No matter what 2022 brings, know that DLI and its affiliated regional associations are working for you everyday. We’re with you rain or shine. Whatever happens, we will face it together.