Start a Dry Cleaning Business

Dry cleaning is the process of cleaning of clothes, bedding, upholstery and other types of fabrics with an organic solvent, without using water.

The problem this business solves:
Water can damage certain fabrics — such as wool, leather and silk — and a washing machine can wreak havoc on buttons, lace, sequins and other delicate decorations. Some garments can only be dry cleaned or they will be irreparably damaged.

Business Model
What many people don’t know is that drying cleaning is a predominantly B2B (business to business) business in South Africa. That hole in the wall, the laundry where you drop off the garments, that is not where dry cleaning happens, those are merely drop off and collection points that get a commission or add a markup. It happens at a central location that serves many places. The dry cleaning machines are mostly too large for those places anyway.

And that is probably the best model, at least to focus on B2B. To go B2C and to have a lot of walk-in customers, you need a good location. But if you B2B, you just collect garments from the collection point, the laundry, dry clean deliver. Let’s say it costs you R25 to dry clean a blazer.  Let’s assume you are making R50 profit per job, so in other words, you are charging R75 to dry clean that blazer. Let’s say the laundry charges R100, so they making a R25 profit. Is it really worthwhile to have walk-in customers, if you charging retail (R100) to dry clean for walk-in customers you only making R25 more than when the laundry collects it for you? Are the additional costs required to service walk-in customers worthwhile?  Not for a one-person business.

To work with external companies you do not need a lot of operational resources. You schedule a daily pickup time to collect, you schedule dry cleaning time, and your schedule your delivery time.

That is all the laundry needs to know to take work for you. If you collect at 2 pm, dry clean and deliver 2 pm the next day (when you collect the next batch), then the laundry will say “oh it’s before 2 pm your garment will be ready tomorrow”, or “oh no, you just missed cutoff your garment will be ready day after tomorrow”.

This business depends on comprehensive area analysis. There are three things to look out for: target audience, target market, competition.

The target audience is the people who bring the garments to the laundry to be cleaned. The target market (remember you are B2B) is the laundries themselves and the competition is your competitors.

You want to operate within close proximity of densely populated target audience.
You want to be within short distances of your collection points, laundries, tailors, holes in the wall etc.
And there must not be competition close by, if the laundries already have a dry cleaner they are happy with it is going to be hard (or expensive) to make them change.

All of these is of course contingent on whether or not Eskom can keep the lights on as to be delayed (out of schedule) is going to add risk (people need garments for important events, meetings etc.) and to operate a generator is going to add significant overhead.

This is not the most exciting business but it can be a very stable business if your business plan is right.

More information
You Need to Know These Things: Dry Cleaning

Image credit: Ybbor