Spare a thought for the harried office junior of days gone by. It’s two minutes to five and with great trepidation he tries to introduce the subject of a dry-cleaning problem on a Friday afternoon after he’s forgotten to pick it up. The agent’s shop has closed and half the staff is about to erupt knowing that they have nothing spick to wear on Monday.
We all know the feeling and pray, now that the underling has been given a dressing down barely short of marching orders that an early morning opening will permit enough time to change out of the coffee-stained suit before anyone arrives.
Lindus has resolved these dilemmas by encouraging forgiveness and more productive deployment for the poor staffer as well as telling everyone to come into the twenty-first century. After all, he was only following instructions when he lodged the unwieldy bundle of garments at the local dry-cleaning outlet.
What an age ago it sounds now for the market leader of today, the Lindus Group.
Yet this dynamic company also had tentative beginnings as Peter Pelleri, son of the company’s patriarch, Selgio Pelleri, candidly relates.
“In 1961, Dad was working for a dry-cleaning business as a pick-up and drop-off delivery contractor. After two years’ exposure to the industry, he saw an opportunity. The Merrylands shop was his first venture and it went well.”
Several other outlets followed over the next half a dozen years at Carlingford, Epping, Greystanes and Galston.
A spirit of optimism, the progenitor of success, drove these businesses and buttressed every advancement thereafter with the family moving to Dural onto farmlands and selling all but the Galston plant.
While Peter was still at high school, Selgio started another operation at Dural. By the time the son was twenty-one, the family-run businesses had once again multiplied with shops at Beecroft, Cremorne, Hornsby, North Sydney and Manly.
At this juncture Peter was intimately involved in setting up and promoting the new outlets that included Castle Hill and Wahroonga. In all by the late nineties, there were up to 15 plants.
Looking back, one of the key drivers of the Lindus experience has been a willingness to adapt and move with the times. Innovation has been the hallmark of the company’s success.
The brand itself arose after Selgio and Peter’s trip to Italy in 1991. There they investigated the merits of various firms who might be able to provide the latest machinery. After weighing up a number of contenders, they settled on the Italian company from which they borrowed their name.
“Dad brought out dry-cleaning equipment made by the Italian company called, ‘Lindus’ and we became distributors of this brand within Australia. So we also decided to use the name for our businesses with the consequence that the brand became synonymous with excellence in dry-cleaning.”
The focus of the Lindus group over time became the greater western Sydney area where growth in population and infrastructure development provided a boon to its activities. Every year since its inception, the businesses have expanded.
The head office of the company is now based at the Bella Vista’s Lexington Corporate Complex, Norwest Business Park.
Over the past forty years, part of growing the dry-cleaning operation was the development of a licensing system. Shops were operated under this arrangement whereby the financing and capital outlays were met by the licensor, in this case the Lindus Group.
“We found it particularly enterprising to license out the business. People who had worked for us we trained in all aspects of the industry. They were keen to become entrepreneurs and the system in place involved license agreements with individual shops like a franchise but we had the capital and no equity could be acquired under this mechanism.”
Along the way, another initiative was the creation of a separate company to import equipment from Italy. This development provided an excellent return in its own right as it became a supplier to other players in the industry.
“Essentially, in this process of development, we cut out the middleman in respect of our own acquisitions of plant and equipment in an environment where burgeoning increases in patronage was commonplace. Supplying to other like businesses was a natural progression and an added bonus.”
With the expansion in demand and increasing turnover came the need to promote and develop name recognition even further. Peter quickly appreciated the desirability of separating the various arms of the operation.
“We decided to incorporate another company to do marketing and sales, as it was found that pigeon-holing discreet areas made the operation more efficient and productive.”
Innovation dominates the Lindus philosophy and this comes through at every level. They have sixty-six solar panels providing renewable energy at their head office. That installation in itself has saved their bottom-line costs considerably and they are looking to make even greater use of renewables.
But most of all, the “Redbox” technology has revolutionised everything about their industry beyond any single development they have so far undertaken be it new machinery or other internal changes.
The Redbox is not dissimilar to an ATM in its operation and in many respects, looked at front-on, it resembles just that. Peter explains its inception.
“About ten years ago a man called Barry Deacon, a professional in IT and automation systems, came to us with a concept. He was a very persuasive and brilliant innovator with practical skills as well. We implemented his ideas early on and now automation in dry-cleaning is sweeping along like a firestorm. And it shows no signs of abating.”
The service entails pick-up and drop-off around the clock seven days a week. In some cases turnaround can be as little as one hour and for most things not longer than four depending on the complexity of the item and the task to be performed. The SMS notification of readiness to pick-up provided a dramatic increase in efficiency and was extremely user-friendly.
“This development has taken the business to another level. Things just took off after that,” says Peter, while his father beside him beams with satisfaction.
More is on the way, the next process being the RFI system. This will entail electronic tagging of items that can identify the customer, the particular garment and the service required for it. Again the labour-saving and streamlining aspect is stressed as with the entire firm’s operations.
“So someone might bring in five shirts or trousers and they are tagged the moment the person walks through the door without them even appreciating it.”
This ultimately will put an end to the cumbersome paper tags and pins concept that has driven the industry since it began. As many users of the old system will know, mistakes can be made. On the other hand, electronic tagging is virtually foolproof and of course much more user-friendly and efficient in delivery.
The other areas of innovation come from the specialised items of plant now being installed into the dry-cleaning tasks themselves. Tensioning equipment makes for a better finish and minimises the time required for the pressing process. Lindus has state-of-the-art equipment for these tasks.
“Look, no one more than us appreciates that dry-cleaning is an old industry, lots of old school ideas and inertia for change. We at Lindus have seen this for many years but our structure has always been one that moves with the times.”
Lindus has a proud record of achievement. Only one operation in fifty years did not reach its full potential and that related to intense local competition and inability on the part of the licensee to handle the operation.
Peter stresses that customer satisfaction is the key driver of their success. There is a combination of care, filling the needs of the client, using advances in technology and even old-fashioned elbow grease for stain removal, combining synergistically to attain the greatest reward, namely a smile on the face of the satisfied customer.
Peter is asked what it takes to be successful in a business like this one. He chuckles quietly, like a man totally at ease with his life but lacking any hint of being smug about it.
“We did not happen by accident. It requires hard work and, like the old cliché, ‘the more you put in it, the more you take out.’ It’s a passion, not merely a job.”
To the objective outsider, he sounds every bit as keen now as he was when a fifteen year old sweeping the shop floor. Hard work has obviously not had the effect of daunting him.
“The hours can see you at work for as long as eleven at night followed by four am starts. Actually, these are not uncommon,” he says brushing it aside as part of the incidents of life in one’s own business.
The industry has experienced phenomenal technological advances in the last dozen years and it is apparent that the pace of change shows no signs of stalling.
Experience shows in every facet as Lindus demonstrates with their web page citing Sir Francis Bacon’s famous dictum, By far the best proof is experience.
It pretty much sums up everything that Lindus stands for.