Q2 2022

Above-Average Shirts Need Above Average Care

Not all shirts are created equally. Here are some examples of Robert Graham shirts from the author’s collection.

By Don Desrosiers, Tailwind Systems

OKAY, I ADMIT IT: I OWN A LOT OF ROBERT GRAHAM SHIRTS. Back in my plant days, there were no $300-$500 shirts and my father would think I am nuts to pay that kind of money for a shirt. Maybe you do, too. But the fact is, they are out there and your customers have them. You can frown upon them or you can seize the money- making opportunity they represent. I very strongly encourage the latter.

Not all of these shirts are nightmares. I have some that are and some that are not. One, in particular has delicate shank buttons almost any a shirt press would squish like a bug. I have one or two more with perfectly normal buttons, buttonholes, and trim. Only the price tag is surreal. I encourage a brand name upcharge regardless due to the risk of loss issues.

One day, a few years ago, I walked into my neighborhood drycleaner and had a discussion about one of these shirts. The buttons were “questionable.” We were

in agreement about that. He had processed the shirt before and it looked awful (and I knew why) which is why I initiated a conversation. I asked him to remove the buttons, wash and press the shirt normally, replace the buttons and then charge me accordingly. Long before I finished explaining what I wanted he was shaking his head “no” (or maybe he was nodding his head “no freaking way,” I can’t be sure). I’m not sure why he was denying me this. I wasn’t asking him for anything that would cost him money, I was asking him for a service he could and should make a little bit more money on. As soon as I stopped talking, he said, “No, I’ll just dryclean it.” I can’t help but think he thought he was giving me some sort of a free upgrade. Maybe to the average consumer, it sounds like an upgrade, but it is a terrible thing to do to a cotton shirt, much less an expensive shirt. The fact is, he had been drycleaning this shirt in the past and this is why I brought up this issue. I was trying to show him how to do it correctly. If I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, I could argue he didn’t want to charge me so much to simply launder a shirt. This is not a valid argument. I was requesting a service, not challenging the price of one.


I believe there is a new business opportunity in offering quality laundering and pressing service for high-end shirts. Those willing to pay $400 or $500 for a shirt will pay, say $12.95 to care for it, perhaps more and definitely more at boutique cleaners who are already getting far more than that for regular shirts. Invest in a form-finisher shirt unit. These units do not have a steam chest that squeezes the shirt against the buck. They dry the shirt by means of super-heated air inside the shirt body. The presser will press the cuffs on a conventional collar and cuff machine but with the buttons hanging off the buck

so they are not squeezed by the steam chest. The buttons are not harmed and the cotton is beautifully finished. A good operator will get 30-40 shirts per hour. Let’s call it 35 for this math equation and the gross income per shirt at $14. That is $490 per hour of gross revenue. If you have a regular shirt unit doing 50 shirts per hour and you charge $3.25 each, you will gross $162.50.

After that, follow this simple formula: • Advertise your new business.
• Do a great job.
• Manage it properly.

• Under promise. • Over deliver.

You will easily justify the cost of a new machine and enjoy a healthy new income stream while satisfiying a real need.

Don Desrosiers has been in the drycleaning and shirt laundering business since 1978. He is a workflow engineer and a management consultant who provides serves to shirt launderers and drycleaners in the United States, Mexico, and western Europe through Tailwind Systems. He is a member of the Society of Professional Consultants and the 2001 recipient of DLI’s Commitment to Professionalism Award. He can be reached at 186 Narrow Avenue, Westport, MA 02790 or at his office by fax (508) 636-8839; by cell (508) 965-3163; or e-mail at tailwindsystems@charter.net. He has a website at www.tailwindsystems.com.

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