TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Bar-Code Tags, ATM-Style Machines Drive High-Tech Laundry Business

Bar-Code Tags, ATM-Style Machines Drive High-Tech Laundry Business

Monty Solomon (
Fri, 7 Jul 2006 22:08:23 -0400

By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff

In the dry-cleaning world, they're called the 'not mines'. Those
too-small jeans and who-would-wear-that dress that infiltrate your
dry-cleaning order.

Zoots, a Newton dry-cleaning chain, has hit upon some high-tech
solutions to curb the 'not mines' and 'where are mines'? (the
favorite cashmere sweaters that go missing in a vast dry-cleaning
vortex) that plagued the company after it was launched in 1998 .

In the early days, Zoots was spending 6 percent of revenue on lost and
damaged claims -- about six times the industry average -- and not
doing a great job of cleaning the clothes it didn't lose.

"While we always knew this business would be challenging, we
underestimated the magnitude of the challenge," said Tom Stemberg,
one of Zoots's founders and creator of Staples Inc., the Framingham
office-supply chain. "As we lost customers' favorite garments or
failed to remove spots, we had huge customer payments and defecting

Zoots knew change was needed to survive. So the chain brought in a
manufacturing team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to
focus on quality and productivity. The leaders began investing more
in technology, such as permanent garment tags and ATM-style
dry-cleaning machines that automatically dispense orders.

In recent years, Zoots finally began to do what it had set out to do:
take the dry-cleaning world by storm, offering quality 24-hour
service, home delivery, and high-tech perks like e-mailed invoices at
dozens of stores. The 78-store chain says it has cut its loss claims
to less than 1 percent and made huge gains in adding new customers,
keeping existing customers, and improving margins at its locations in
nine states.

Along the way, the $66 million company got the confidence to continue
its acquisition spree -- including last month's takeover of Sarni
Cleaners -- and racked up more than 75 Readers Choice awards for best
dry cleaner.

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