Fred Butler and the Future of Dry Cleaning
Who is Fred Butler? And what does he/she have to do with your laundry? "Fred Butler®" is the registered trademark and penguin mascot of a new dry-cleaning product-service which is the brainchild of German industrial gas giant, Linde. Linde's concept augers change and causes journalists at the Oakland Tribune to ponder the end of friendly and personalized corner laundry service amidst reports that the Europeans are moving in to take over the American dry-cleaning industry. What is behind the buzz?
Dry-cleaning is a dirty business. The current dry-cleaning solvent, perchloroethylene, was heralded as a huge advance when it was introduced to replace the explosion-susceptible flammable solvents which preceded it. For decades, this chlorinated hydrocarbon has efficiently removed the greasiest burger drips and stickiest splashes for customers concerned about their fine textiles. But the solvent is a danger to groundwater and suspected of causing serious health damage--at least among workers at dry-cleaning shops. Bans on the solvent are progressively forcing dry-cleaners to look for alternatives.
Ask TreeHugger already pointed out the three main substitutes* for "perc": carbon dioxide, silicon-solvent (Green Earth) and carefully controlled wet-cleaning methods. But all of these newer techniques require substantially more investment than the traditional machines. This is the driver for a new direction in the industry. The corner shop may remain, but in at least one vision of the future, they will collect the laundry for delivery to a large central cleaning installation which can use economies of scale to defray the higher costs.
Linde has another vision. Linde created a franchising program, reducing the investment required to enter the field but reaping more profits over the lifetime operation of the small business using their carbon-dioxide based cleaning process. Currently, Linde has 19 Fred Butler® franchisees in Sweden, 13 in Germany (mostly in Frankfurt and Munich), 11 in the Netherlands, and 11 in Denmark. Is it only a matter of time before Fred Butler® targets further continents and begins a ploy for world domination, as the dry-cleaners quoted in the Oakland Trib fear?
Perhaps. But they will find the competition already waiting for them. As reported here over a year ago, OXXO® Care Cleaners, also based on a European model, have been franchising the Green Earth silicon-solvent cleaning system and are looking for entrepreneurs nationwide.
So is it un-American to drop your suits off at the Euro-franchise next door? Don't be silly. It is a bad world citizen who can't accept an idea that will help businesses to get a better idea off the ground.
* Of course, we feel compelled to mention: the best substitute is not to dry clean: hand-wash or use your high-efficiency gentle-cleaning washing machine.