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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tips When Trying On Clothes

Last year I was shopping with my mother-in-law, Pat, when I saw it – the perfect little dress.  It was more than a casual dress but not quite a cocktail dress – knee length, sleeveless, scoop-neck, in black and white when a little pop of red here and there.  I tried on an 8.  It was too big!  So I tried on a 6.  It fit.  Good heavens – it was the cutest dress AND I could have it in a size 6.  It was my lucky day.  And of course, Pat encouraged me to get it.

Except I didn’t exactly think it through.  I didn’t sit down in the dress so I didn’t realize that it would ride up allowing the folks to see down the front.  I also didn’t think – where in the world would I wear this dress?  A year later that dress is in my closet, with the tags still on it.

According to fits.me, clothing returns average 25%.  There is a Facebook page called “You have a closet full of clothes but never wear any of it”.  An article on ivillage.com had these statistics:

• Ladies own $550 worth of fashion items that have never been worn
• Most women say 20% or more of their closets are full of never-worn items

How can we change these statistics?  I think there are two key fit tests to consider when shopping for clothes:

1. The fit on your body.  How does the garment look on you?  Walk out of the dressing room and take a look at it in one of those three way mirrors.  Try and get a glimpse of the backside.  Take a look at it in different lights.  Make sure the color looks good with your complexion.  Make sure it compliments your shape.  How does it feel?  Can you breathe in it?  Sit down.  Bend over.  Stretch.  Carefully and honestly evaluate its comfort.  If it is as cute as can be but is incredibly uncomfortable, what are the odds that you will regularly wear it?

2. The fit in your wardrobe and life.  If it something like a blouse, sweater, or skirt do you have something to wear with it?  Will it require new shoes?  Do you already have something similar and if so does it need to be replaced?  Do you really need another one?  Do you have a place to wear it?  (Case in point, Anne Taylor dress above).  Finally, check the care label.  If it requires hand-washing – are you willing to follow those instructions?
I’d like to say that I’m good at following my own advice when it comes to clothing.  I find that I think I need more than I actually do.  And if I’d carefully evaluate my purchases, I’d have far fewer long-term pieces with the tags still on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Meet Bryan Cabler

I find myself sometimes being surprised by folks.  Not in a bad way.  It’s just that when you work with someone, and that someone is at a different location than you so most of your interaction is business related and telephone based, you really don’t get to know them that well.  As I interviewed Bryan Cabler, Manager of the A Cleaner World at Golden Gate in Greensboro, for this blog and got to know him a bit better, I found that we like lots of the same things.  So normally when I profile a manager, I paraphrase the answers to my questions and try to tell their story.  But Bryan tells his own story way better than I would.  Here are a few questions I recently asked him:

How long have you been in the business and how long with A Cleaner World?

This year is my fourteenth in the dry cleaning business. I worked for Chapel Hill-based Carolina Cleaners for several years prior to that company being acquired by A Cleaner World in 2008-- my official first day with ACW was coincidentally my birthday also, July 12.

How did you get started and what keeps you going?

When I first got into this industry, it was as a counter clerk. I'd had a long history at that point in counter sales; I'd worked for businesses my family owned and always loved being around a business environment as a kid growing up in Alabama. When I moved to North Carolina, one of the first job openings I saw advertised was a CSR position for a dry cleaning store, and I felt at home right away because the focus of that job was simply knowing the customers, giving prompt service, and being organized-- all of which were things I'd been doing as long as I could remember.

Tell us a bit about yourself - family, likes, and hobbies.

My wife, Wendy, and I recently celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary. She's a first-grade teacher who loves nothing more than hanging out with a roomful of rowdy six-year-olds. We have an English springer spaniel, Abbey, as well as whichever creatures Wendy brings home from her classroom for holidays and summer break-- those have included everything from lizards to fish to a Praying Mantis, Monty, who I admit was fascinating to have around. We like to play chess, search for the mythical perfect restaurant, and endlessly discuss American history. I also play guitar and read a lot, and tend to my collection of MP3s, which runs to around 30,000 songs (including almost every popular recording of my favorite decade, the 1960's, although I wasn't born until 1974).

Given how long you've been in the business, I'm guessing you have a number of instances.  But can you share a couple occasions when you went above and beyond for a customer and really blew them away?

It's always nice when you can completely exceed a customer's expectations. I've had cases where someone needed something cleaned and pressed inside an hour, and, 'oh, by the way, there's a huge food stain on the front', and been able to deliver, which requires a lot of things to go exactly right. I also have a good memory for names and faces, so I pretty quickly learn who new customers are. There are times when I can tell by the way a customer pulls into the parking lot that he or she is in a huge hurry, and we'll have an 'all hands on deck' moment: by the time the customer is in the lobby, we've got his clothes hanging at the counter, his order pulled up on the computer, and he's on his way in record time.

What do you like most about what you do?

I really enjoy both people and details, so I'm really in the perfect business. I supervise eight or nine great employees, some of whom have worked in this very building for nearly twenty years and some of whom are college students. I'd say I have a minimum of fifty interactions with individual customers each day-- often more-- and I enjoy each one of those. Managing a dry cleaning shop is the ultimate multi-tasking experience: in the space of five minutes, I might start a load of dry cleaning, wait on a drive-thru customer, touch up a shirt collar, answer a series of detailed questions about wedding gown preservation on the phone, and settle a dispute over what we're going to order for lunch.

What tips and advice can you provide to customers so that their garments always look their best?

My biggest tip is to handle your garments with care; a lot of garments I see show signs of being handled carelessly by their owners. Some men have a habit of yanking dress shirts over their head, undoing the minimum number of buttons to get out of the thing, and causing unnecessary damage. It’s important to unbutton those cuffs before you pull your hand out. Also, putting a jumbled handful of hangers into your express bag with silk blouses is mighty risky. I'm thrilled when people recycle our packaging materials, but please let us give you a free hanger caddy to put them in.

I’m so glad I got the chance to interview Bryan.  I already knew that he was detail-oriented and that he could remove a wide variety of stains from my child’s clothing.  Now I am excited to also know that he too loves 1960’s music, American history, and is a foodie!  Most important for you, you can see that he knows what he’s doing, he likes what he’s doing, and he wants you to leave his store happy.

To visit Bryan or any one of our other great managers, here’s a link so you can find the A Cleaner World closest to you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Can Club Soda Remove Stains?

I am not a dry cleaning expert. I typically come up with way more problems than solutions. When I have a new garment related crisis, I either just send it to A Cleaner World or I call an expert like Mike Taylor, Mike Feudale, or Mike Smith. (Side note – we have a lot of Mikes at our company.) But I can be taught, and I’ve always understood that when you spill something on a garment, you should blot it with a clean, white towel and then leave it alone. Using something like club soda to remove the stain could actually make it worse especially if it is a dry clean only silk multi-color garment (think color bleeding). But recently I got an e-mail bulletin from the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) that said they had done an in-depth study of the merits of using club soda versus plain water in stain removal, and that yes club soda can be a big help in the short-term, but no it is not the be all, end all to stain removal. The article went on to say that when applied immediately to 10 commonplace food stains, both club soda and water removed anywhere from some to most of the stain.
There are some caveats:
  • Neither water nor club soda will completely remove the stains. An analysis under ultra violet light showed that at least a portion of every stain remained after the club soda or water was used.
  • If left untreated, the remaining stain residues can become permanent stains over time.
  • The sugar residue from the club soda in the beginning is unseen but it can caramelize during the drying process and leave a yellowish stain.
  • When it comes time to remove the stain, the chances are greatly increased if club soda or water is used to rinse the stain before it dries.
  • If you happen to try using club soda on a stain, then take it to a professional cleaner as soon as possible after doing so. Be sure to point out both the original stain and the club soda when dropping off the garment. If this is not done as soon as possible, the invisible residue can oxidize over time and leave permanent discoloration which on some fabrics cannot be removed.
  • There are also some stains that club soda makes worse. If water or club soda is used to remove a water and solvent combination stain, like ballpoint ink, it can actually set the stain permanently.
I was surprised. I called my trusted expert with over 30 years dry cleaning experience, and he said this, “I would never encourage anyone to do their own spotting unless it is an extreme circumstance and you need to do it to save the night. But if you do, be sure to have the garment cleaned as soon as possible or caramelized sugar stains are sure to set in.” He always gives good advice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

True Hanger Recycling

For many years, A Cleaner World has tried to do its part to reduce its carbon footprint.  A few months ago, we shared with you how our poly bag recycling program works.  In an article in The Business Journal, the President of A Cleaner World, Chris Edwards, shared how we continuously purify and recycle our solvent so that no perc is released into the environment.  For nearly 25 years, A Cleaner World has asked customers to return their no longer needed hangers to us. 

But what about the hangers that could not be reused?  Unfortunately, they were thrown away.  There was no other option available, and that was something that always bothered us.  It also bothered one of our suppliers, N. S. Farrington. 
I was curious how their new hanger recycle program got started, so I went to their facility in Winston-Salem and met with co-owner John Erskine.  According to John, for years dry cleaners had been trying to do their part to reduce waste and to be more environmentally friendly.  Many eco-friendly products were introduced, but few performed at an adequate level.  Customers were disappointed with the quality of the products.  But somewhere along the way the folks at Farrington recognized that packaging supplies would always need to be used.  That’s when they began to focus on ramping up their recycling efforts. 

Fast forward to today.  They developed a simple program, and we are very excited to be a part of it.  Here’s how it works:
  • N. S. Farrington supplies us with a recycling bin to place unusable wire hangers in

  • They pick up the bins once full and then will leave an empty replacement bin at no charge when making their regular delivery

  • They take the full bins to licensed metal recyclers
  • The recyclers melt down the hangers into raw carbon steel in the form of bar stock and piping and resell it to places like construction companies, small machine shops, and so on for use as raw material in their operations
Here’s the coolest part – this program is recycling almost 17 tons of hangers per year, and according to John, “At these levels, A Cleaner World and other participating companies are keeping roughly 5000 cubic feet of waste out of landfills each year.”  Nice!
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