When customers return a plastic hanger to Hallak Cleaners, the green
dry cleaner contributes 10 cents to a foundation for children with
cancer. A message about the Manhattan shop's environmental
certifications plays when telephone callers get put on hold. And in an
Earth Day promotion last April, staffers handed out reusable shopping
bags with Hallak's logo, outside a Gourmet Garage.
"We printed up 500 bags and unfortunately ran out more quickly than
we anticipated,” said John-Claude Hallak, who owns and operates the
second-generation business with his younger brother, Joseph. Keeping
their green efforts at the top of their customers's minds has helped
them grow sales to $5 million.
Around 30 green cleaners offering alternatives to traditional dry
cleaning have emerged in the city since the first "wet” cleaners using
biodegradable soaps and conditioners appeared here in 1998, according to
the Manhattan-based National Cleaners Association.
Trying to stand out
Though green shops make up a fraction of the 1,500 dry cleaning
outlets citywide, competition has heated up recently. Finding ways to
remind consumers of their uniqueness has been essential to their growth,
given that they are competing not just against each other but also
against traditional dry cleaners with lower overhead. Moreover, the
dry-cleaning industry overall is reporting declining sales.
Nora Nealis, executive director of the NCA, says that getting set up
as a green cleaning operation typically costs $65,000 to $160,000. Using
environmentally safe cleaning fluids that leave clothes odor-free
usually costs more than employing traditional chemicals. And the owners
are expected to minimize their environmental impact in recyclable
hangers, reusable garment bags and biodegradable detergents and
additives, according to guidelines developed by the Green Cleaners
Council. This poses a financial challenge for the city's typical
"mom-and-pop shop with $250,000 in sales and three or fewer employees”
struggling to make ends meet, Ms. Nealis said.
Green cleaners say that loyal customers are willing to pay more for
odor-free clothes and environmentally friendly practices. But their
clientele also expects competitive quality, service and convenience, so
Hallak Cleaners focuses heavily on these aspects on its website.
"If my marketing were only based on being a green cleaner, it would be one-dimensional,” said Mr. Hallak.
Bridgestone Dry Cleaners and Laundry, in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill and
Dumbo neighborhoods, makes being green the linchpin of its marketing
efforts. For instance, it offers discounts when people recycle wire and
Owner Ken Kinzer opened his Dumbo plant in 2000, using a wet cleaning
technology, and recently added the GreenEarth dry cleaning product,
which brings odor-free liquid silicone into his operation. Consumers are
biting. Mr. Kinzer expects to see revenues top $1 million this year.
Meurice Garment Care operates two stores in Manhattan and one in
Manhasset, L.I. It sends regular messages and promotional offers to its
e-mail list, touting its use of wet cleaning and hydrocarbon solvent
(another green alternative), both of which clients are requesting.
"Such customers range from the über-wealthy to the starving
fashionista,” said Chief Executive Wayne Edelman. He predicts revenues
exceeding $3 million this year.