SCMP Friday, May 18, 2001

Take them to the cleaners


Finding a good dry-cleaner is like finding a good hairdresser: it could involve a bit of trial and error but when you come across someone who does what you want to perfection, you're a customer for life. Hong Kong has a wealth of dry-cleaners - from high- to low-end - but how do you know whether your local laundry is any good when you don't have time to research prices and services? Here is a guide to finding the best dry-cleaner for you.
The way in which an outlet handles leather is a good dry-cleaning benchmark, and when trying somewhere new it is worth asking which method that particular company employs. The care it takes, such as hand-finishing, will be indicative of the quality of its other services.
At a high-end establishment, the process of cleaning a leather jacket is quite complex. Dirt apparently accumulates under the leather's finish so, to begin with, this finish is removed. The dirt is then removed by a lifting process quite like nail polish removes nail varnish. Then, depending on what kind of leather it is, the clothing is re-treated to return it to original state and then refinished (for example, if you turned in your napa leather purse to clean, they would have to refinish it in napa style after getting under the finish to clean the dirt out) - et voila, your jacket should look as good as new.
Most budget cleaners only rub and shine the surface of the leather (utilising the ever-so-scientific ''spit and polish'' technique), which merely buffs the jacket and tricks customers into thinking all dirt has been removed. Dry-cleaning can be expensive, but you do get what you pay for. As with many services, the more manual labour involved, the more expensive it becomes, and higher prices are charged according to the amount of hand-finishing involved. The bottom-of-the-line, often family-run, dry-cleaners that dot our streets with the same regularity of 7-Eleven convenience shops offer rock-bottom prices, but almost no speciality services and are mostly a laundry rather than a dry-cleaners. Since they often over-use their cleaning equipment to keep their costs down (for example, a 20kg machine is only supposed to hold 40 items of clothing, whereas these guys probably stuff the machines with 80 to 100 items of clothing), and so are best for larger, more robust items such as curtains, daily-use tablecloths and napkins and jeans that can handle a beating.
Top-end establishments, however (such as Jeeves, and The Valet at the Furama) oversee cleaning utilising professional-standard care and make it a point to talk to their customers, particularly where delicate fabrics and tricky stains are involved.
In addition, your clothes will be returned to you sans lint in pockets and dust balls that have gathered in the upturn of your cuffed trousers.
Places such as Park Avenue, a newly opened establishment in Mid-Levels and Shouson Hill, strive to bridge the gap between high- and low-end cleaners. They offer the type of customer care that cheap and cheerful outlets compromise, and go out of their way to provide good service. They don't abuse their machinery by overloading it, and provide all services up to cleaning out your pockets. They have no problem referring customers to reputable dry-cleaners (like Jeeves and The Valet) if they feel unable to do a job properly, a practice most good cleaners who care about their customer base should adopt.
With this in mind, we went undercover and shopped around for the best dry-cleaning prices and services.
Our verdict: If an outlet is willing to chat with a potential customer on the telephone and not get irritated with a slew of questions, chances are it will take the time and discuss your needs with you in person. Almost all the shops reviewed provide same-day or express service, but always at a hefty mark-up.
The Valet at the Furama (basement, Furama Hotel, 1 Connaught Road Central, tel: 2525 5111) is a time-tested, dry-cleaning staple. If you drop off the clothing before 10am, you can pick them up again at 5pm - but at a price. It charges from $70 a shirt, but this will incur a 70 per cent mark-up if you want it cleaned the same day. Loyal customers are willing to pay the extra, and keep going back because it is famous for consistent quality and always getting it right.
Jeeves of Belgravia (shop 2, Lobby Floor, Bank of East Asia Building, 10 Des Voeux Road, Central, tel: 2973 0101; 10 Yik Yam Street, Happy Valley, tel: 2574 9393; The Lee Gardens, 33 Hysan Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2973 0077) handles corporate accounts for major fashion houses but doesn't offer same-day service. It is very professional, but here too you'll have to pay for the privilege (from $70 a shirt). It will de-pill sweaters and also offers free minor repairs such as mending small holes and re-attaching buttons - but don't send them your ripped jeans unless you're prepared to foot the bill.
Goodwin's of London (shop A, 2/F, Dairy Farm Shopping Centre, 35 Beach Road, Repulse Bay, tel: 2812 2400; Central Building, 1 Pedder Street, Central, tel: 2525 0605; Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2918 1400) has slightly lower prices (from $54 a shirt) but markets itself as top-end. Same-day service (also with 10am drop-off and 5pm pick-up times) is offered at an extra 25 per cent on top of normal cleaning charges.
Park Avenue Clothes Care Specialist opened recently in Mid-Levels (33 Robinson Road, tel: 2536 9033) and Shouson Hill (16E Shouson Hill Road, tel: 2873 3986), and diligently keeps up with textile technology via the Apparel Research Centre to provide its customers with the most accurate cleaning methods around. Shirts start at $40.
British Dry Cleaners (2-20 Kennedy Terrace, Mid-Levels, tel: 2524 3905) has been in Hong Kong for over 30 years and offers free pick-up and delivery services. Shirts start from $50.
Vogue Laundry (shop 14, G/F, Empire Court, 2-4 Hysan Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2504 2318), operated by the Swire Group, offers a membership package including storage space for off-season clothing, cold storage for furs and leather, and boasts associations with the Fabric Care Research Association and the International Fabricare Institute. Shirts start at $38.
Clean Living charges $38 for a shirt with a 20 per cent extra charge for one-day service at its head office in Hung Hom (4 & 5/F, Eldex Industrial Building, 21A Matauwei Road, tel: 2333 0141/4), and 30 per cent extra for the Central, Causeway Bay and Admiralty shops (call head office for location closest to you).
Martinizing global chain (numerous locations; tel: 2526 7275) needs to work on customer service and has been known to provide inconsistent service. Its same day service requires a 9.30am drop off, with a pick-up after 6pm, and comes with a 20 per cent surcharge.