Buying a business: Dry cleaners

One opportunity where you could clean up

What is it?What does it involve?
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To understand the tremendous growth the dry-cleaning industry has enjoyed for the past 20 years, and the growth it will certainly experience in the years to come, consider these factors:

  • Personal garments today contain more natural fibres – wools, cottons, linens and silks. These fabrics require professional cleaning and finishing.
  • There are 50% more women in the workforce today, and this percentage continues to grow.
  • Both men and women require the professional services of a dry-cleaner.
  • Today’s hectic lifestyle dictates that we do not have time to clean and finish our clothes at home.

Add to this a whole list of new and exotic and devastatingly horrible foods and drinks that make stains that only professional cleaners can remove – saffron, turmeric, sun-dried tomatoes, teriyaki sauce, extra virgin olive oil, red wine, and pesto – all feature in the ten most common stains left on clothes in 2001 according to a report by Johnsons Cleaners – and you can see why a dry-cleaning store can provide a nice income for the owner-operator, (alternatively it can be operated as an investment with absentee management). It is also an ideal business for the entrepreneur who wishes to expand into a multiple store operation.

What is it?

Although the invention of man made fabrics is largely thought of as the start of the dry-cleaning industry the dry-cleaning industry itself is actually a lot older than you think. Dry-cleaning was discovered by accident in Paris in 1825. A Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Jolly knocked over a lamp, spilling spirits of turpentine onto the tablecloth. Jolly noticed that when the oil evaporated that the area of the cloth was cleaner. He subsequently immersed the whole tablecloth in a bath of turpentine. He was so impressed with the result that he decided to exploit his discovery. Jolly and his son-in-law decided they would start a dry-cleaning business.

However spirits of turpentine are flammable and this meant that precautions had to be taken to reduce the risks of fire. Whilst the discovery of dry-cleaning is accredited to Jolly, records show that turpentine had been used for spot cleaning oil type stains since 1720.

A wide range of solvents have been used for the process of dry-cleaning. However the major solvent used world-wide continues to be perchloroethylene which is sometimes referred to as “perc”.

Types of dry-cleaner

There are three different types of dry-cleaners. High street cleaners that operate a bureaux service and use a third party to do the cleaning and just handle the customers coming in. The second is cleaners who do the cleaning on-site using a single machine. The last is industrial cleaners which just deal with contract cleaning and who take dry-cleaning from high-street cleaners.


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