22 Considerations for Choosing a Dry Cleaning Wholesaler

Growth often requires a business to service as much of the customer’s needs as possible, even if it falls outside of the primary service or product. Marketers call this your “share of wallet”: the amount you receive of a customer's total spend for a given category. Consumers have separate laundry and dry cleaning needs, but the brand that owns the customer relationship can often increase wallet share by providing both services.

Many laundry and wash & fold operators that cannot service their customers’ dry cleaning needs can outsource the service to a trusted partner. For laundromats looking to effectively outsource dry cleaning, the two most important considerations are: (1) use software that can easily handle wash & fold and outsourced dry cleaning; and (2) find a trusted and dependable dry cleaner partner.

The Starchup platform is built to serve as both a dry cleaning POS system and a laundry POS system with wash and fold software. Starchup has the robust features required to efficiently service your customers’ Dry Cleaning needs via an outsourced partner. We have that part covered.

Finding a trusted wholesale provider is trickier. This partner will be processing all of your customer’s clothes, so your customers will associate the service and quality that they provide with you and your brand. For this reason, it is crucial to find a partner you can trust to meet your standards and value your relationship.

We’ve compiled a checklist of 22 considerations and questions to ask when evaluating a partner for outsourcing your cleaning:

  1. Which cleaning chemicals do they use? Today’s consumers are conscious of the chemicals they encounter daily. Research suggests that it is the most important consideration for some consumers, above convenience and quality. Partnering with dry cleaners using eco-friendly methods enables you to market your garment care service as “eco-friendly”, as well. Ask potential partners which solvents they use:
    • Avoid PERC, as it has been identified as harmful.
    • Green Earth, CO2 and Wet Cleaning, are widely agreed-upon as “eco-friendly” methods.
    • K4 and Hydrocarbon are considered by some as “borderline” eco-friendly.
    • Note that these classifications are debated in the industry. Starchup does not endorse any particular cleaning method, but it is important to understand consumer perceptions.
  2. How do they process their cleaning, and who will be responsible for each step of that process? Dry cleaning generally flows as follows: (1) mark-in & tagging, (2) sorting, (3) spotting, (4) cleaning, (5) pressing, (6) assembly, (7) packaging & racking. It is important to understand how the potential partner approaches each step, which they require wholesalers to handle, and what flexibility they have in their methods and responsibilities.Some partners may allow, or even require, your team to co-locate in their facility to process orders. The more your team is required to handle, the more control you have over the product and the more pricing leverage you have. Ensure that the selected process aligns with your needs and is clearly agreed upon prior to the engagement.
  3. How do they mark-in wholesale orders through production? At mark-in, a cleaner will inventory each item into their dry cleaning software, record any descriptions and notes, and mark any stains or damage for attention. Does the partner require you to mark-in the items and provide a listed inventory or printed tickets? Will they mark-in the items separately and provide you with that inventory? Will they use your software for mark-in? Will they require you to use theirs? What quality control measures do they use to ensure accuracy?
  4. How do they sort items? Before cleaning, each item needs to be sorted by color, fabric type, and cleaning method. This is another opportunity for quality control, checking for missed stains, damage, and any pocketed items. This may be something your cleaner will do or teach your team how to do for them.
  5. How do they track orders through production? Dry cleaners use a variety of methods to track individual items through production. The most advanced and efficient process is using barcoded heat-seal labels (HSLs). When used with Starchup’s dry cleaning computer system, HSLs provide an opportunity to associate item descriptions, photos, pricing, and order history with each item, in addition to making inventory tracking seamless. The best alternative to HSLs is to attach printed temporary tags to each item, which Starchup also supports. Can the partner support using your HLSs or temporary tags? Do they require the use of their own tagging system?
  6. How do they assemble clean orders? After cleaning, the items need to be assembled into finished orders. If they use assisted or automated assembly programs, it may be more efficient for them to run your orders through with their own customers orders. Or they may require you to assemble your own orders at their store or after dropping them off at yours.
  7. How do they package clean orders? Will they package your orders, or return them to you unpackaged? If they use poly bags for packaging orders, do you want them to package yours? If they are returning items to you “naked” without packaging, you will need to ensure the items are protected from weather at loading and unloading. Also keep in mind that without plastic on the clothes the fresh cleaned finish and smell can be diminished in transportation to your facility. On the other hand, their packaging may contain their branding. Are they willing to use custom bags and hangers that you provide? How are packaging costs shared?
  8. How do they ensure every item sent to them is returned? If they are scanning the item into the Starchup system, you can both see real-time item statuses and easily determine if anything is missing. This is even easier when items are HSL barcoded.
  9. What is the turnaround time? Most plants run during the day. So if you can get the items to them before they open, they should generally be able to get them back to you by the end of the shift. Make sure to consider their turnaround time and your committed customer turnaround times work in unison. And consider building in padding to support operational challenges which may arise on their side and outside of your control.
  10. How do they propose to handle claims? Items will get damaged. It is the nature of the business. If the supplier damages an item during the cleaning process, what is the agreement on how much they will pay you or the customer? 10x the cost of cleaning is generally a fair rate - but check with the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Institute (DLI) for current industry standards as they change. HSL barcoding provides a cleaning history of the garment, which can be helpful with any disputes.
  11. What are their quality assurance methods and how do they ensure quality to your standards? Review the cleaning on the inside of a blazer and the cuffs and collars on shirts. Check the tail of a shirt and buttons - are they pressed well and do any buttons seem broken? Having them explain their quality standards in place will help you better understand their priority on quality. Pay attention when you ask. Does it seem to be well structured or are they “winging it” when they explain it to you. Do a secret shop and send a few of your own orders through prior to making any decisions.
  12. Will they negotiate a per item price, as opposed to a percentage of sales? Generally there will be a price for laundered shirts, halves and fulls. Half is a pant, blazer, sweater and full is an item longer than half the body - like a dress, coat or robe. It is best to get a fixed price here so when you raise your prices, your supply costs don’t go up as well.
  13. Consider a separate wholesaler just for shirts. Most cleaners do not like to do shirts, so they may quote you a higher shirt price. Shirts are going to be somewhere around 50% (and in some markets as high as 70%) of your business, so saving a couple of pennies here will make a big difference. In many markets there are wholesalers who just clean shirts, so you might want to ask your wholesaler if they know a “shirt guy”. Generally, they’ll be happy to refer you to someone and splitting up laundered shirts from dry cleaned items is fairly straightforward.
  14. Do they charge you for upcharges? Most wholesale agreements do not charge you more for basic upcharges like beads, french cuffs, and special buttons. This is a great way to make extra pure profit by charging your customers for these items. Conversely, If you are charged for these items by your wholesaler make sure to pass this cost along to your customers.
  15. Will they pick up from and deliver to you? Often they will start with you having to drop it off and then when your volume increases they will pick up from you. Make sure you consider how this may affect your turnaround.
  16. What is their daily capacity? Wholesalers will always say they can handle your volume and can run multiple shifts, but it is good to know what they mean by “we can handle a lot”. Is “a lot” 100 pcs a day, 500, 1000? How does this piece count break down between laundered shirts and dry cleaning? You want a supplier who can grow with you.
  17. What other services can they provide: leathers, wash & fold, wedding dresses, shoe shine, etc.? Often, cleaners will send out leathers, shoes, and alterations to a specialist. Can send them out directly to these suppliers and save some cost? Customers are going to ask you about drapes, purses, suede shoes, comforters, and all kinds of items. It’s important to know what you can service with your primary supplier. Also understand any additional turnaround times for these special items.
  18. What days and hours do they operate? This is going to dictate what your turn-around is going to be. Do they celebrate different cultural holidays or days off which may impact your service days or do they take a month off in the summer - all things to consider and know up front.
  19. What condition is their machinery in? This is a good judgement of how they will treat your clothes. Old equipment is fine, as long as it is clean and well maintained. Poorly maintained equipment is also a damage hazard - which will cost you in the long run. Look at the machinery - is it oily and dusty? Do you see obvious snag hazards that can damage clothes? Are the ironing pads on presses dark and stained?
  20. Who are their customers? Every dry cleaner targets different customers. The type of customer they service will dictate the type of service they are providing and their costs to you. A higher end dry cleaner will likely have the best quality, but their price to you will reflect their retail price structure - they likely spend more time per piece and will pass the cost along to you. Find a balance here. Additionally, understand if the cleaner does wholesale for multiple other customers, and how they compare to you. If their largest customer requires a large order, will yours get bumped?
  21. What is their disaster recovery plan? Disasters happen. A machine goes down, they lose power, a major storm, fires, among others. A large cleaner will generally have redundancy at every point in their plant, but they might also have a reciprocal agreement setup with one of their other dry cleaning friends. Make sure your business is considered in this recovery plan. It’s a good idea to review this on an annual basis.
  22. Talk to their employees. Are their people happy and engaged? Do they seem to like working at the company? Unhappy employees can often lead to operational problems which may affect your business. It also may be harder and take longer for employees to be recruited and replaced if it’s not a great place to work.

In addition to finding a good partner, consider using two suppliers. This provides pricing leverage and a fallback if there is any service disruption. Outsourcing to multiple cleaners creates its own challenges - inconsistent quality, scheduling conflicts, etc. - so be sure they both meet your needs.

Here is a sample contract we have used in our operations in the past when doing wholesale work: Download Sample Dry Cleaning Contract*

*Please note that this is only for demonstrative purposes, Starchup cannot provide a recommendation, and this does not constitute legal advice.

Making the jump to providing Dry Cleaning services to your customers can be a big move, but can help grow your business. If you are looking for potential dry cleaning partners and wholesalers - reach out to us. We may have other existing Starchup users with whom you can network - and potentially partner!