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Dry cleaners say post-pandemic work changes taking toll on their business

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Drycleaners say post-pandemic work changes taking toll on their business
WATCH: Drycleaners say post-pandemic work changes taking toll on their business – Jun 22, 2023

The darkest days of the pandemic are over. Mask mandates are gone, public events are back; at your local gym, mall and department store everything seems normal again.

But not all industries have fully recovered. In some cases, post-pandemic changes to work culture are actually hurting business.

This is largely the case for Canadian dry cleaners according to the trade organization that represents dozens of launderers across the country.

The Canadian Fabricare Association says work-from-home and hybrid models are cutting into their bottom lines.

With people spending more time in their pajamas and less time in suits and skirts, they’re taking fewer trips to get their formal wear cleaned.

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Precise numbers are not available, but the Canadian Fabricare Association claims there has been a sharp drop in the number of such businesses across Canada.

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The Association cites an article in the trade magazine Fabricare Canada that uses partial 2021 numbers from market researchers IBISWorld and 2020 figures from Statistics Canada to claim that roughly half of the dry cleaners across the country disappeared during the pandemic.

Among the survivors is Dufferin Custom Cleaners in Thornhill, Ontario.

“The first two years of the pandemic period (were) very, very challenging for everybody,” said Harry Lim, who owns and manages the business with his wife Sue.

“Sales roughly dropped off over 50 per cent.”

Harry and Sue Lim stand outside Dufferin Custom Cleaners, which they’ve run since 2003. (Mark Carcasole/Global News).

With things stabilizing over the last couple of years, Lim told Global News they have luckily managed to bring business back up to about 80 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels; but it has taken a lot of work and investment. Namely a digital sales system and pick-up service.

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“(Customers) can schedule by themselves using our app, so it’s very convenient,” Lim said, standing by the front entrance to his shop.

“Just schedule by themselves and I’ll come to your house to pick up.”

Innovations may help businesses, but industry leaders say launderers are still receiving fewer orders and offering more services while facing higher wages, costs for supplies and energy, and coping with staffing shortages.

The CFA has lobbied all three levels of government to consider an approach taken in Sweden.

“If people will send their garments out … to a professional dry cleaner or launderer they get a tax break,” said the Association’s executive director Sidney Chelsky.

The Swedish Laundry Association successfully lobbied the country’s federal government in 2021 to grant a 25 per cent tax rebate for customers.

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The CFA says its pleas have largely been ignored by Canadian government officials.

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Earlier this month, an email sent by the group’s president directly to Premier Doug Ford did get a reply, letting them know he’d pass the request on to Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy.

“Your input is important. You can be sure our government will consider it when developing policies and deciding how to address the various challenges we face today,” wrote the premier.

Changes in the business and the future of dry cleaning will be the subject of the Canadian Fabricare Association’s three-day convention in September.

Lim, a CFA member and staunch supporter, told Global News he believes in the Association and its push for a tax rebate, but he’s not going to rest solely on his hopes for it.

“You’ve got to work harder, that’s number one. Keep that high level cleaning quality. That’s the most important.”

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