Hollywood typically depicts the dry cleaning experience as unbearably hot, with steam billowing and an older worker hunched over a table, ironing clothes.
But that’s far from the case at Anytime Cleaners in west Olympia, which has brought the dry cleaning experience into the 21st century.
The business at Cooper Point Road and Harrison Avenue has automated the visit to the dry cleaners, giving customers the chance to drop off and pick up their clothes at any point during the day or night.
Business owner Steve Melton opened a home delivery dry cleaning franchise four years ago, then decided to expand, looking for something unique that might set his business apart.
He settled on an ATM-like technology called Fetch, which is manufactured by an Arkansas company called HMC Solutions, largely because of the familiarity most people have with bank ATMs.
Melton, who retired after a 32-year career with the Army, including service in Vietnam, added the technology and opened his storefront at the end of August.
Walk into the business, which is open 24/7, and it feels a bit like a bank lobby.
Here’s how it works: Customers enter their personal information into the ATM-like machine, including the amount of starch and alteration information, then the machine prints out an order and a customer copy of the order. The order is placed into the customer’s laundry bag – the machine also supplies bags if you don’t have one – then the customer opens a shatter-proof plastic door and places the bag inside.
And that’s it. The order explains the pickup time, as well as a text that gets sent to the customer.
The typical turnaround time is three to four days, and then the customer can pick up his clothes whenever it is convenient.
Customers do that by once again entering their personal information into the ATM-like machine, and then their laundered item shoots forward on a conveyor rack. The customer opens the door to retrieve it. Payment is made at the time of pickup by choosing the preferred payment method at the machine.
For larger items, such as comforters or long dresses, they are put into one of six automated lockers that flank the machine. The lockers pop open once the customer enters his personal information.
Since opening, business has been slow, Melton said, but he believes he is in the right location. He’s next to a potentially customer-generating Starbucks and he’s also near professional offices, such as Capital Medical Center. The next legislative session is bound to bring business, too.
Melton is the second dry cleaners to use the Fetch technology in Washington. Morrell’s Blue Wave Cleaners across from the South Hill Mall in Puyallup was the first.
Owner Aaron Morrell added the system to his Puyallup store about two years ago and its use is growing every month, particularly on Sundays when most dry cleaners are closed.
There is a learning curve associated with most new technology, including Fetch, he said.
“But the people who use it love it,” he said.
Morrell also runs a dry cleaners in Tacoma and he’s considering the technology for that location, too.
Fetch is the flagship product of North Little Rock, Ark.-based HMC Solutions, a 10-year-old business that was formed by people with industrial automation backgrounds, principal, chief executive and co-founder Tony Cassady said Wednesday.
He said the Fetch technology is in its fourth generation and is in use throughout the country, but mostly in the Northeast.
Morrell said his was the first on the West Coast.
Cassady said they targeted dry cleaners because there was a market for added convenience, as well as for reducing labor costs. The technology also reduces overhead, because it doesn’t require much space, lowering rent, utility and power costs.
He said dry cleaners can purchase or lease the technology, and it costs about $50,000.
Both Melton and Morrell outsource the actual dry cleaning of clothes: Melton to another dry cleaners in west Olympia, while Morrell sends it to his business in Tacoma.
Melton said a typical two-piece suit costs about $14.76 to dry clean. In an effort to stimulate business, he’s running a $1.49-per-business-shirt special through the end of the month.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403