Starch Levels in Shirts –

So what about starch levels?  I feel compelled to write about this today because today, like most days, I get a question about it.  Seems that so many of my clients, acquaintances and friends in this business handle starch as almost a company secret.  Here’s what I mean:

If you are among the 90+% that have 2 starch levels: yes and no.  (that is; starch or no starch), you may already be relieved to know that you are in the tremendous majority.  So many of my clients tell me that they have this company “secret” in a kind of apologetic tone.  Often the wash person will say in a hush-hush voice, “we only have starch and no-starch here.”  They are so happy to hear that I expected that.  I think that some of the employees in a lot of places think that management is deceiving the customers by seemingly offering 4 options; no starch, light starch, medium starch and heavy starch.  Some of the employees will tell the customers that they can’t have light starch.  They’ll pressure the customer for a yes or no answer.  Do you want starch or don’t you?  We don’t do light starch here.  These statements are probably unnecessary.  Few consumers will understand the reasons why the starch feel will vary from fabric to fabric.  They may claim to understand, but they probably don’t.  Most have no clue that starch is a rinse additive.  Let’s say John Doe brings in 4 shirts.  One is a 100% polyester, one is a 60/40 blend oxford, one is a cotton oxford and the last one is an all cotton broadcloth.  Pick any starch level that you like, but each shirt will feel different than any of the others.  You can even try some creativity if you like.  Heavy starch the polyester shirt and no starch the cotton oxford.  You won’t get them to feel alike.  Never.

I have a client on the west coast that had 5 starch levels.  I have been doing shirts for almost 40 years and I didn’t know that there were five levels.  He had (notice the key verb is had) no starch, light starch, medium starch, heavy starch and extra-heavy starch!  This happens, I speculate, when a relative new-comer to the business is a bit too eager to give the customer whatever she or he wants.  I don’t advocate telling a customer that “we don’t do light starch.” Or, “medium starch, heavy starch…it’s the same thing.”  My advice, don’t bother.  Chances are quite high that he is only saying that he wants light starch because he is happy with the starch feel on his shirts now.  If he says anything but light starch, like medium starch or no starch, he fears that he will be disappointed.  Have you ever had a customer that, every week, asks for “Light starch on the cuffs, heavy starch on the collar and no starch on the rest of the shirt”?  There are lots of people like this across the country.  Everybody in the business knows that this person can not be accommodated, but this customer, most likely fears that if she/he forgets to exclude the cuffs and the body of the shirt from the dreaded “heavy” starch, he or she will be disappointed.  I have seen customers make a phone call back to the store that they just left to say something like:  “I forgot to tell you that I want light starch on my shirts.  I didn’t mean to say no starch.”  In 9 out of 10 plants, it is exactly the same thing.

So then, why not be honest with the customer?  Because if you tell a customer that you “don’t do light starch,” you run the risk of saying this to a customer that knows that they can get light starch at your competitor’s place.  Your customer may feel that you are ill-equipped to do it correctly and therefore you cut corners by not offering light starch.  In actuality, your competitor doesn’t do anything that you don’t do, and knows nothing that you don’t know except to know enough not to tell a customer something that they don’t absolutely have to know.

In the English language, if you add the word “yet” to the end of a sentence, you completely change the meaning of that sentence.  Why am I saying this now?  Because I am going to do it.  Here it goes.

There is absolutely no difference between light starch, medium starch and heavy starch, and yet…

There, I did it.  I have left some room for doubt.  The new starch cookers seem to be exacting enough to show some distinguishable difference between starch levels.  This is a revelation to an old laundry man like myself.  After putting forth some 700 words here, implying that there is no difference, I thought it quite important to say that there can be.  I do not advise, though, buying a starch cooker for that reason.  They have several advantages, not the least of which is being able to starch colored shirts with perfect results.

So how do you decide what to do in your plant?  Have an employee bring you 3 completed bundles of 4-5 shirts each.  Hang them on a rack in front of you.  Now, without looking at the invoices, touch the cuff on each of the shirts.  Tell yourself what level of starch is in each of the shirts.  You may be in for a surprise.  This is how I changed the west coast client’s perceived need for 5 starch levels.  I took 3 bundles of 5 shirts each.  All of the orders were marked for medium starch.  I asked the client to tell me the starch level in each of the shirts.  Every shirt should have felt like medium starch, but I knew that there wasn’t any way that that was going to happen.  I’d like to say that he gave me 15 different answers for 15 shirts.  Naturally, I can’t say that, but he did say that some were starch heavily, others medium starch, some no, some light.  Wow!  If this happens to you, think abut the trouble that you go through to separate those shirts by starch type.  It is only worth the trouble if you get measurable results from all of that sorting.

Starching shirts is important because a customer cannot do it themselves, at home.  They really must come to you.  Give the customer what they want, but be sure that, at the end of the process, you are giving the customer what you think you are giving them.