Shirts are a pain because we treat them as the red-headed stepchild.  Right from the start – when a customer comes to the counter with shirts – they are treated as an outsider.  There is one procedure for all of the items that we service – pants, dresses, sweaters, suits, coats, jackets, ties, gowns, blazers, etc. – and a different procedure for shirts.  In some plants, learning to mark-in shirts is considered to be advanced training.  It is something that you are taught after you’ve learned some of the more basic things like running the computer, waiting on customers and vacuuming the rug.


Shirts are a pain because we view them as the loss-leader.  We think of shirts as the “dumb thing we gotta do” in order to get the drycleaning.  Rather than trying to make them self-sufficient, we accept them for what we think they will always be:  a pain.  This just isn’t fair.  When we do bother to analyze the department’s income and expenses, we usually conclude that the remedy for whatever ails it lies in either raising prices or cutting expenses or increasing volume.  The idea of raising prices is often quickly jettisoned because of competitive pressures.  Expenses have already obviously been reduced to a minimum because the department runs short-handed and we steadfastly refuse to add personnel.  Increasing volume is the path we often take only to eventually learn that this either does nothing, magnifies our problems or causes us to lose even more money.  As an additional oddity, how queer is it that we sometimes reduce the price to get more volume.  We settle on dealing with them as a loss-leader.  After all, that’s how we get that super-lucrative drycleaning.


Shirts are a pain because the equipment necessary to do them is expensive and specialized.  There probably is one singular thing that is more frustrating that dropping $50,000 or more on a shirt unit and that is finding out that you can’t do as a good a job as the “professionals” at the trade show once you get that shirt unit into your store.  I thought that we were the professionals?  It is indeed aggravating to need to buy a new shirt unit so that we can make no money on them.  Although we may not ever use our legger for anything but pressing pants, there is a comfort zone there in our hearts that says we could use it to press anything if we really had to.  Not so with the shirt unit.  Try as hard as I might, but I still can’t press a pleated dress on the shirt unit.  It is for shirts only.  Period.


Shirts are a pain because they take up an unfair amount of space in the plant.  What about all that real estate?  Just for shirts?  Are you kidding?  Two or three big pieces of equipment?  Surely, you jest.


Shirts are a pain because the revenue that they generate is disproportional to the amount of headaches they cause.  Shirts are a pain because they require 50% of our management time and only 20% of our gross revenue. Sometimes we sub-contract the headaches to another person or party.  Does that cure all?  Hardly.  Sometimes it’s worse.  And subbing out the shirts doesn’t necessarily mean that we use a shirt wholesaler either.  Sometimes it just means that we have a manager in that department that deals with stuff that we don’t want to deal with.  Things like training, absenteeism, service, quality… uh, everything.  Somehow, we still feel the pressure though.  Either because we see the myriad of issues that exist or because we know that customers still have complaints in spite of our efforts or because payroll is too high even when we are short-handed!  All of this would be a whole lot more acceptable if only we were able to charge more for our shirts.  Perhaps our revenue per piece is $2 less than it is for a drycleaning piece, but we spend just as much time administering issues with shirts as with drycleaning.  If we sub-out the shirts to a wholesaler, we have no sympathy for his plight.  When a customer complains or when we need to double-check every shirt for missing buttons to head-off complaints we are suitably annoyed.  We believe that we have delegated this chore and we really shouldn’t have to do this.  Furthermore, we believe that we are paying a premium for this wholesale service, further reducing our revenue not to mention increasing our personal work load.  We reason that if we did our own shirts, they would be perfect, and our cost would be less.


Shirts are a pain because it takes a while to train a presser.  Pressing shirts is more of a specialty than other items.  So much so that we sometimes over-pay a shirt presser just because we have found someone that is good and we want to keep them on the staff.  If a presser does an inferior press job on a shirt, the touch up necessary may take longer than it took to press the shirt (correctly on incorrectly) in the first place.  This is important and contributes heavily to the making shirts a royal pain.  Conversely, when an inspector finds a pressing defect on, say, a pair of pants, the touch-up necessary to bring the garment from unacceptable to acceptable often takes mere seconds.  A quick pass with the all-steam iron or dancing the pants – still on the hanger – over a puffer and you’re done.  Try that with shirts.  It will yield poor results.


We are in denial that they are an integral part of the clothing care business.  They are, and we want them to remain so.  Shirt pressing can not be duplicated at home.  It becomes addictive.  Once your customer’s cotton oxford has been starched and pressed professionally, it is difficult to accept the same garment spray starched and hand-pressed, however meticulously and lovingly.  We need to realize that some customers bring you drycleaning because they have to go to the cleaners anyway for the shirt service.


Not to be confused with one that is content with noticing problems and then leaving them as they are, I will discuss each of the issues over the next few months and see if there is anything that can be done about dealing with them.


I have a positive attitude.  Nothing has ever been accomplished with a negative attitude.


“If you do what you’ve done, you’ll get what you always got.”