PTC Corona Stories From Canada

In a recent article published in The Globe and Mail by Chris Hannay, a Canadian independent business reporter, with the support of CFA, several stories of drycleaners across Canada are presented with a focus on the manner in which the first year of pandemic has impacted their business.

When the pandemic started a year ago, dry cleaners across the country say, there was one household item that was brought in for cleaning in droves. “We got an incredible amount of duvets and comforters,” said Shelley Clair, owner of Orr Cleaners in London, Ont. Unfortunately for the cleaners, though, their customers were not bringing in much else.

Shelley Clair, owner of Orr Cleaners

A year of off-and-on lockdowns have kept Canadians home from the office, restaurants, weddings and other social events. Without a need to dress up, many Canadians are forgoing their usual trips to the dry cleaners, which have left the companies – many family- and locally owned – struggling with double-digit revenue drops. New services and government supports have staved off some closings for now, but without a return to prepandemic norms, many aren’t sure how long they can last.

Back in March, 2020, when the lockdowns first began, dry cleaners were among the businesses allowed to stay open. They were declared essential across the country because of the services they provided for emergency workers so they could stay “clean, protected and safe,” according to a letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the industry association.

Sheldon Fishman, who owns Fishman’s Personal Care Cleaners in Calgary, said demand at his nine locations plummeted when Canadians were first ordered home. His sales fell from $20,000 a day to “nearly zero,” he said, forcing him to reduce his staff count from 55 to three. It was only contracts for essential workers, such as the city’s police officers and firefighters, that kept the business afloat. “That was our only source of revenue,” he said. “That and comforters.”

Fishman’s, a 3-generations story about excellence

Ms. Clair said her revenue was down 80 per cent in April. She had to lay off almost her entire 21-person staff, leaving one person for each of her three locations. “I didn’t have enough business to have my entire staff in, so I would have two people come in,” she said. “One girl who was a presser and another who did the laundry side. I would do the actual dry cleaning myself.”

As spring turned to summer and public-health restrictions started to relax, some laid-off workers were welcomed back at reduced hours as customers began to trickle back in. Mohamud Rahim, who owns Busy Bee Gold Dry Cleaners in Vancouver, said when his clients returned, the volume of clothes they brought was lower than before. For instance, he said, many professionals who do video calls only ask for their top clothing items to be cleaned and not their bottoms. “We have a pretty loyal following, but a lot of people are working from home and the only thing they need on their Zoom calls is their dress shirt or their blouse,” Mr. Rahim said.

Some dry cleaners have tried new services, such as increasing their delivery and pickup options. Mr. Rahim said he found success by having his team of tailors sew cloth masks to give customers for free. The three-layer cloth masks are reusable – which furthers the company’s goals of being environmentally conscious – and they contribute to public health. “Our thinking is the more masks we give out, the safer people are going to be and the quicker we’re going to get past the critical phase of the COVID situation,” Mr. Rahim said.

But many cleaners and launderers likely won’t make it past the critical phase. Sidney Chelsky, executive director of the Canadian Fabricare Association, said his members say they have lost 60 per cent to 80 per cent of their revenue in the past year, and he estimates that close to a third of companies in the sector have closed down. Federal support programs, such as wage and rent subsidies, have helped deal with the biggest costs, but don’t totally make up for the steep revenue drops.

He said the decision in the early days of the pandemic to make dry cleaning an essential service turned out to be a double-edged sword: Shops could stay open, but no one was coming in. And for businesses in Ontario, being an essential service barred them from the province’s small-business grant of up to $20,000. “We would have been better off to have closed our doors,” Mr. Chelsky said.

Like a lot of small-business owners, Ms. Clair said she would have closed already if not for the government support. And, she said, she’s worried about what could happen if the aid ends before her business is back to normal. Orr Cleaners was once run by her grandmother, and then her mother, and then her. “I hope I’m not the one who loses the business after three generations,” she said.

Source: The Globe and Mail