Originally posted – Apr 19, 2013

The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute has been the premier international trade association for garment care professionals since 1883. Representing retail drycleaning and laundry facilities in the United States and around the world, DLI’s balanced representation of cleaning entities – both large and small – make it a leading industry voice.

Also, through legislative and regulatory policy development, education, professional training, information, garment analysis, research and textile testing, the association offers solutions to help its member businesses remain competitive.

In addition, the Institute provides consumers and consumer advocacy groups with the most accurate fabric and clothing care advice, based on its analysis and research expertise.

DLI CEO Mary Scalco recently took time to discuss the association, its relationship with self-service laundry owners, the upcoming Clean Show and more.

Briefly describe your professional background.

I have a textile chemistry degree from the University of Maryland. I started with the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute in the textile testing lab and then worked in almost every department at DLI before becoming CEO. I have been with DLI for 33 years.

Describe the DLI’s mission.

The DLI mission statement is the constant by which we gauge the initiatives we take and the standard by which we measure our achievements on behalf of the members we serve.

The Drycleaning & Laundry Institute is a trade association that represents the interest of its members who are drycleaners, launderers, wetcleaners and allied trades. DLI provides education, research, legislative representation and industry-specific information through its programs, products and services. It is dedicated to the highest standards of business ethics and professionalism, environmental responsibility, textile serviceability and a positive public image.

In carrying out our mission, we are guided by these principles:

Excellence: The highest professional and ethical standard will govern our work and our relationships with others.

Leadership: We will act decisively on behalf of our membership and the fabricare industry.

Collaboration: We are committed to listening to a variety of viewpoints and to building consensus within the industry.

Innovation: We will continually explore new avenues to provide better service to our members.

How does the work that you and the DLI staff do cross over into the self-service laundry industry?

The technical information on fabrics, fashions and stain removal would be beneficial to self-service laundry owners who want to have some general textile knowledge. And, if they offer drop-off drycleaning, all of our technical information and counter service information would be beneficial.

What are some of the best ways trade associations, such as DLI, help their members, especially in the current economy?

We try to share information, especially from other members around the country on ways they improved their business and methods they used that were successful to get not only more customers in the door but more revenue from their current customers. We also share expense-cutting information and ways to do more with less – less staff, fewer resources in general.

There also is a lot happening with new technology and different processes that are available to the drycleaning industry, and we try to keep members informed on what is available.

The drycleaning industry is a highly regulated industry, so in addition to general business rules and regulations, we keep our members up to date on drycleaning specific regulations.

Do you think the economy been harder on certain segments of the textile care industries than others?

Our members tell us that, while they may have the same number of customers, they are getting fewer pieces than before – their customers are wearing their garments more times before bringing them in to be cleaned.

And, if you are unemployed, you do not need a drycleaner. So, in areas of the country where unemployment is high, cleaners saw a significant loss of business.

From DLI’s perspective, are you seeing positive signs that the economy is beginning to pick up?

We hear from some of our members that business is starting to pick up; not dramatically, but it is picking up. However, that is not across the board. There are definite areas of the country that are not experiencing an uptick in business.

I think it depends on the area of the country and what is happening with the job market in that area, as well as how secure people feel in their jobs.

What are some of the hot-button issues facing drycleaners today?

Environmental issues have and will continue to be a hot-button issue for our industry. This, more than anything else, will influence the choice of solvent for an owner moving forward. In the last couple of years, we have seen the percentage of perc drycleaners drop from 85-90 percent of the industry to 65-70 percent.

Every once and a while gender pricing rears its ugly head because the media wants to say we are discriminating against women, not that the price is greater because of the amount of labor needed to process a particular item.

What is the industry outlook for 2013 and beyond? And how has the drycleaning industry changed over the years?

I think we may be moving back to larger, central plants with convenient dry stores or drop-off locations, rather than small operating plants. I also believe there will be an increase in routes, location lockers… anything that makes it more convenient for customers.

In the future, I don’t think there will be one predominant solvent used by the industry. Because of the advances in technology, multiple solvents and processes most likely will be used. Also, retail operations will be processing more household items, sheets and comforters. I think that, since they are larger operators, more will be doing commercial accounts – such as hotels, restaurants, uniforms and so on.

What challenges are drycleaners facing that self-service laundry owners may not be aware of?

I think the amount of environmental regulations. Also, this is not a good business for investors to be successful; you have to be a hands-on owner. And, since most coin laundries have few employees, just the challenges of having employees.

There certainly has been a move toward “green” or “organic” drycleaning. Can you elaborate on this shift in the process, as well as how popular it has become?

I think the shift to “green” is in response to the changes in our society, and I feel that “green” marketing will become more popular in the future. Due to the age of the typical drycleaning customer today, most of them are not as concerned about environmental issues as the consumer of the future.

I think the challenge is making sure the marketing matches what the consumer thinks of when he or she sees “green” drycleaning. Most consumers associate green or organic with pesticide-free, chemical-free, etc.

What types of alternative solvents are currently being used in the professional cleaning process?

Popular processes used today are: perc, hydrocarbon, petroleum, GreenEarth and Solvon K4. To a much lesser extent, Rynex, Solvair and liquid carbon dioxide.

A large percentage of self-service laundry owners offer drop-off drycleaning to their customers. What should these owners consider when selecting a drycleaner with which to partner?

Obviously, they should first look for a DLI member. Since they are representing you and your business, I would want some proof or assurance that they are handling the garments correctly. Are they doing a quality job? Test them – see if the type of work they are turning out is something you would be proud to put your name on.

What can laundry owners do on their end to help out the drycleaners who are handling their drop-off loads?

Pass on information that the customer provides. This can include location of stains, repairs, special requests and so on.

Do you have a business philosophy that guides your decisions for DLI?

We want to increase the value of membership. When we evaluate a service or a member benefit, we ask, “Will our members benefit? Will it increase their bottom lines somehow?” We want to include more benefits in the price of membership, rather than ask members to pay more for a service or benefit we offer.

We want to increase the “friendliness” of DLI – to make it easier for our members to access the knowledge and technical resources that we offer.

From the DLI viewpoint, what exciting offerings are on tap for attendees of the 2013 Clean Show in New Orleans?

New equipment. It is the only place you can see all of the new equipment – drycleaning machines, pressing equipment, spotting equipment – in one location. It makes comparison shopping easy.

We have educational seminars that hit on the topics that are top of mind for our members. And we also will be hosting a great member reception, where old and new friends can catch up.

Beyond the Clean Show, what other educational events does DLI have on the calendar?

Last year, we began taking our one-week beginner course – which had previously only been offered at DLI’s training facility – on the road. Instead of members coming to the course, we bring the course to our members, making it more convenient for them.

We still offer our resident courses – a one-week beginner course and a two-week advanced course at the Institute three times a year. And we work with our partner state and regional associations to offer weekend training seminars throughout the country.

What’s the best advice you could give today’s laundromat owners?

The same advice I would give any business owner – reevaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it, as it applies to the next generation of customers. You need to position yourself today so that tomorrow’s customer feels comfortable doing business with you.

You also need to position your company so that you are attractive to the next generation of employees.

And, finally, customer service will be even more important with the next generation of customers, so make sure you are delivering it.

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