Taking the long view to futureproof purchasing29 April 2016
Wise purchasers consider running costs when making a decision on the type of machine they want, says Kathleen Armstrong, who finds that hydrocarbon and K4 solvent machines win hands down over perc models in this scenario.
Buying a drycleaning machine is not a simple matter. In a tight market, the appeal of buying a machine with low upfront cost is high, but in the long run, it may not be the most cost-efficient choice, according to Renzacci UK managing director Jason Alexander.
"To make the machines cheaper, manufacturers often don't use the best materials or things have been taken off the machines to reduce the cost," Alexander says. "But people who want to run their drycleaning shops as a profitable business are thinking three to four steps ahead. They are thinking about longevity and making their shops futureproof."
According to Alexander, that includes looking at the newer generation hydrocarbon machines, a market that is growing for Renzacci. "If they looked into what they were really getting, they would understand the long-term cost," he says. For example, he explains, a perc machine wouldn't have refrigerated solvent cooling, which means it is cheaper upfront - but cooling means you don't have to reclean it - and that reduces the cost in the long term. In addition, he adds, the hydrocarbon machines have a slightly gentler process than traditional perc machines and produce excellent results and are easy to maintain and less expensive to run.
Nevertheless, the company currently sells more perc machines in the UK but Alexander says the number of alternative solvent - particularly K4 - machines is moving nearer to parity every year. Renzacci's most popular machines are the Nebula 35 and the two-tank version of the Progress 30 and 35.
West London-based The Dry Cleaning Business placed its feet in both camps in its recent expansion into a new factory unit. It took delivery of two new Renzacci machines - one a Planet 90 perc machine and the other a Nebula hydrocarbon machine, as well as extra Pony finishing equipment: a Pony Formplus and trouser toppers.
Renzacci also helped the firm to move its existing Metalprogetti Garment Assembly, Automatic Bagging and Dispatch conveyor system to the new site.
"As always, we were delighted to be able to support our valued customers in their business development and it is great to see The Dry Cleaning Business doing so well and expanding into larger premises," Alexander comments.
Alternative solvents growing
Matt Dowse, operations manager for Parrisianne, agrees that interest in alternative solvent machines is increasing but says that people will continue to buy perc machines, at least for the next 10-15 years.
Since March 2015, the company has installed around 10 perc machines and three alternative solvent machines but on 2016 order books so far, it is half and half: three perc and three alternative solvent machines.
Like Alexander, he believes alternative solvent machines do work out to be more cost-effective in the long run. "The price of a K4 machine is about 25-30% more expensive than a perc machine, and set-up costs more, but hydrocarbon is cheaper over time."
But the headline price of a machine is still a driving force in purchase decisions. Dowse says the company has lost out on a machine sale for as little as £100 difference in price, although he adds that Parrisianne's customers tend to return to the company because of its backup and technical support - "Our lead engineer is regarded as one of the best in the business," he says - and because of the reputation of managing director Jimmy Holt.
Another factor that can influence decision-making is the need to treat spots and stains before cleaning with hydrocarbon. "A lot of drycleaners think that perc will get anything out, so they just rub the stain and put it in the drycleaning machine. The art of spotting has disappeared," Dowse comments. "And if that's the mindset, then an alternative solvent machine is a hard sell."
It wasn't a hard sell for Tony Moran of London's Salisbury Cleaners, though.
He replaced his Union perc machine with an 18kg Union K4 machine after reading about a case in France that raised concerns about the safety of perc.
"Finishing the clothes is now much easier and waste has gone down dramatically," he says. "And we have seen a real difference in the brightness of the light work."
The only drawback is that cleaning and drying time is longer and maintenance is more expensive because when the oil and pressure need to be changed, it has to be done by calling out Parrisianne. Nevertheless, he says, the benefits outweigh the costs: "I wouldn't go back to perc."
Replacement to comply with SED
Most machines sold by the UK drycleaning equipment companies are replacement machines. Dowse says 60% of its orders are for replacement of old machines. Similarly, the majority of Parrisianne's are replacing like for like.
Dane Realstar founder Paul Higgs agrees: "Many have left buying a new machine for so long, they now need to tighten up on their SED compliance. We have had very few new installations in the past year."
Higgs says that although price plays a key role in the purchase decision, compliance with regulations and codes of practice and knowing that there will be a good level of service, backup and support are even more important.
"Who you deal with is key," he says. "Our customers come to us because we are an established supplier and they know we'll be around to support them."
Philip Moir, owner of the Dry Cleaning Centre in Weybridge, Surrey, is the third generation of a family business that has been on the same site since 1953. Customer service was also a key factor in his choice of machine.
When he wanted to replace his drycleaning machine, Moir chose Dane Realstar as the Dry Cleaning Centre had been dealing with the company since 1984 and he knew he could count on its customer service. Although the shop's 15-year-old machine still worked perfectly, Moir wanted to take advantage of advances in drycleaning technology to improve his business.
"I believe in being proactive instead of reactive," he says.
Surrounded by customers who expect high quality, including CEOs of major companies and well-known actors and musicians, the shop needed a machine that could deal with the increasing number of handmade suits, sequined dresses and delicate fabrics brought to the counter.
After investigating a range of solutions, he chose a 15kg perc machine.
"We looked at hydrocarbon and other solvents but still felt perc offered the best solution for what we wanted - and it is tried and trusted," Moir explains. "The new machine offers better mechanical action; it is more adaptable, can deal with more delicate items and it is more efficient in solvent usage."
Most of the machines Dane Realstar supplies are perc machines. Higgs says the modern perc machine is an efficient cleaner, uses less solvent and has an efficient distillation process, so that wastage is low.
For many of Dane Realstar's customers, the high maintenance requirements of hydrocarbon machines and the uncertainty of their cleaning quality gives perc the edge.
However, Dane Realstar also has a GreenEarth machine, which has been quite successful in the UK, according to Higgs. It uses polar refrigerated solvent cooling instead of water. He suggests that it provides the drycleaning shop with a good complement to wetcleaning, especially for those that are trying to market themselves as more environmentally friendly.
"We are trying to make our machines as energy efficient, green efficient and solvent efficient as possible," he adds.