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Beyond garments: Dry cleaning shoes and bags

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Harshita Maheshwari, CEO, London Dry Clean

Every reader of this magazine knows about the laundering and dry cleaning of garments, but…shoes and handbags? Who cleans them, and how? How prepared are B2C customers to spend on the maintenance of high-end items? Harshita Maheshwari, CEO, London Dry Clean spoke to Valencia Fernandes, Sub Editor, Clean India Journal about this space.

What are the most common stains and issues you encounter in shoes and handbags?

For shoes, it has to be dirt, mud and scuffs. Makeup stains, ink stains, a pen left open and food crumbs are all issues with bags. What is more common rather than a stain is leather peeling. Because artificial leather is frequently used and tends to peel, peeling and wear and tear are very common problems that we face.

What SOP do you follow for assessing dirty items?

There are multiple levels of checks. One check has to be done at the store, which is a visual check; then it goes to the workshop, where an expert looks at it.

Clearly communicating to the customer the processes that will be used, the extent of damage that can be rectified, and the damage that might occur during the process, is very important.

In most cases, customers don’t know what happens to their items after they leave them at the store.

Communication from the workshop to the customer is an important aspect that is often overlooked. Hence, it is imperative to have the right people in place.

How do you deal with items that are extensively stained or completely worn out?

Some things have lived a full life and are beyond repair. We should learn to just appreciate that and let it be, rather than trying to clean a stubborn garment, which we frequently tend to want to do.

One consideration is how much risk you – and the customer – are willing to take. You may want to take that risk as a dry cleaner, but you don’t know how the customer will react if something goes wrong. So sometimes, it is best to desist as it can go either way.

What cleaning chemicals and technologies are you still on the lookout for?

Worldwide, there are developed markets with a wide range of products and a high level of awareness about shoes and bags. India has not reached that stage yet.

Right now, people buy expensive shoes and bags, but can’t seem to figure out how to care for them and keep them in good condition. As professional cleaners, the issue we face is that we don’t have enough products. As a result, maintaining shoes and bags is a huge challenge.

For example, the number of different types of leather is huge; however, only an all-purpose leather cleaner is available in the market.

How does cleaning shoes and bags compare to cleaning garments?

Garment cleaning can have a set of processes in place for all garments made from a particular fabric. When it comes to shoes and bags, one process does not fit all. There are all kinds of treatments that haven’t yet been defined. Every shoe and every handbag is so unique that the person in the workshop must be an expert and needs to have a complete understanding of the item itself: what is it made from? What dye or tanning agent has been used?

And then there’s the stain. How did the stain react with the colour of the fabric? How will it interact with the cleaning chemical? What are the possible outcomes? It’s not as simple as putting it into and taking it out of a cleaning machine.

Is there a time of year when the demand for your services increases? What causes this increase?

The demand for bag cleaning is usually stable. As a brand, we haven’t seen many fluctuations in terms of bag cleaning. For shoe cleaning, the peak season is from June to September. Living in Mumbai takes a toll on your shoes because of the rains, and it’s difficult to maintain them. So, there is clearly a surge then.

What is the attitude of customers towards paying a premium price for cleaning shoes and handbags?

There are two segments. One which spends a lot of money on ‘investment’ bags and shoes that they want to have for life. The amount such a customer is willing to pay to keep those shoes and bags in good condition has no limit.

When it comes to the other segment, they are unlikely to pay a premium to purchase a shoe or bag in the first place. Fake leather abounds in such items. These do not last long. As the article’s shelf-life decreases, so does the amount people are willing to pay for its upkeep.

If the customer sees the value in your service and you can provide a good experience to them, they will return and pay the premium, but this is primarily determined by their initial investment in the article.

Apart from individual customers, do you also have clients who give bulk orders?

We often get individual customers who give bulk orders, usually at the end of the year, when all of their shoes or bags come out and become one bulk order.

There are many smaller outfits offering the same services as you. How does a professional entity like yours distinguish itself from them?

Your knowledge of the subject matters. If you don’t know anything about leather, about the fabrics that are used, about the materials that are used, and you decide one day to start cleaning shoes and handbags, it won’t work. Your knowledge will influence how your customers perceive you.

Service quality is extremely important. The most important difference between a professional and a non-professional is how much responsibility you’re willing to take for delicate and sensitive items.

Do you also offer restoration services?

We don’t offer restoration because we don’t have enough products to do it in our price range, and it’s critical to be able to deliver restoration when you’re going above and beyond on a budget. There is also a financial constraint when it comes to restoration.

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