A tale of two countries

28 September 2020

The effects of Covid-19 on the drycleaning/wetcleaning sector in in Nigeria and China pretty much mirror experiences elsewhere across the globe as Brian Pierce reports.

Brian Pearce has travelled widely in China and Nigeria as well as many other parts of the world where he has trained people in the art of drycleaning. He was most recently in Nigeria where he was very nearly trapped as he missed the last official flight but managed to get home somehow to endure lockdown in the UK instead. He writes: “Both Nigeria and China have an expansive drycleaning industry, and over the past 15 years the numbers have rocketed. The majority are small individual shops set up by individual owners, Nigeria also has some small companies with multiple shop outlets, while in China there are also large companies with many shop outlets plus van collection and deliveries. These companies invariably are very high tech and cater mainly for the low end, low cost market. In both countries there are high end drycleaners, but these are at a minimum.

Both countries experienced an immediate lockdown when they became aware of the Covid 19 virus. In Nigeria the number of infections were listed as very low but it would be difficult for the administration there to produce accurate figures, China also showed figures which although much higher than Nigeria were also considered to be inaccurate.

Since the lockdown both countries have experienced a sharp reduction in turnover some stating as much as 50%, this may be due to customers fearing cross infection of the virus but there will be other factors similar to those we are experiencing in the UK.

Namely there is concern that drycleaning may not return to previous levels because working from home has proved to be popular and could continue even after the pandemic as people do not dress for the workplace at home. Also, currently management and sales representatives are still not active therefore their suits and shirts are not coming in for cleaning.

In addition, functions and weddings have yet to restart, meaning that valuable business is being lost with dresses, wedding outfits and suits not coming in for cleaning. The same is true of holidays – with fewer customers being able to take a holiday there will be less garments to clean before they go and after when they return.

With regard to cross infection and health and safety considerations in Nigeria unless the drycleaner is a Guild member the industry does not have access to a Trade Association so they would not have received advice on preventing cross infection or how best to protect themselves and their customers. At least, not, unless they purposely set out to find the information for themselves which I know was the case with several larger companies. It is fair to say that general safety information was given out by the Government via the TV channels for personal safety and hygiene.

China does have an active Trade Association, namely the Chinese Laundry Association, which has informed its members of the risks of cross infection and the means to avoid it plus advice on personal protection and protection for customers.

I anticipate that, like the UK, there will be a significant number of independent drycleaners in both Nigeria and China that will be forced to close as a result of the pandemic. Existing dry cleaners will need to improve on their standards of service and quality in order to attract high end customers. Designer garments will continue to require drycleaning but only to the highest standard, and customers may also demand a higher level of competence by the cleaner and may also be prepared to pay more for that level of skill.

To survive, drycleaners will need to add additional bolt-on services, such as leather cleaning, handbag and shoe restoration, carpet and rug cleaning, key cutting and so on. They will need to improve their breadth of technology skills, for example improving websites and making them more proactive to book in and pay for garments collected and delivered by their van service. Ideally, they should look at creating their own app and use social media more to send customers regular information of offers and company activity. Customers will still need to use professional services for duvet cleaning, which are bulky and take a long time to dry; there could also be an opportunity to put in an ozone box to de-odourise items, offer a curtain take down, clean, and rehang service but give more publicity to the flexibility of the business.

In conclusion, I anticipate the loss of many independent dry cleaners, how many will depend on how long the drop in turnover remains, the groups will struggle at first but will survive given the resources they have. Naturally, the loss of substantial numbers of independent cleaners will also have a knock-on effect on the suppliers and the trade associations linked to our industry.”

GLOBE TROTTER: Brian Pearce has recent experience of the drycleaning market in China and Nigeria

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