Where have All the Craftsmen gone?

“A craftsman is a person with a master’s level understanding of not only how to do a certain type of work, but also a great appreciation of why and for whom they’re doing it. A craftsman has graduated beyond competency – they are fluent in their given trade, intuitive to the subtleties and nuances of every detail, and how those details impact the finished product.” (Ayars Complete Home Improvement)

Kevin Marois

Does that describe anyone in your organization? It used to be that people took a great deal of pride in the trade they practicsed. They honed their skills and continually tried to improve their craft. Now it seems a ‘Sorry but…’ tag means we don’t have to try very hard. Just check the box on the tag and send it on its way.

It is hard to get staff but it is even harder to get craftsmen. We don’t learn to do the difficult jobs and we’re not willing to take any risk. We take the easy way out and the customer is forced to find a better cleaner or throw the garment out.

Why we need craftsmen

Craftsmen and craftswomen are critical to our industry. We are not banging out burgers, where each one is identical and the faster you go the better. We deal with a wide range of customers, a broad spectrum of fabrics and garments, and who knows how many kinds of stains we are expected to remove. Often the customers’ expectations are not realistic.

You cannot learn all those things in two weeks or even two months. It takes time and hard work to learn this trade. Every customer has different expectations and not all garments are handled the same way. Knowledge and experience are critical. There is a lot of chemistry and physics involved in stain removal.

Reputation of Cleaners

Our industry does not have a good reputation. You never hear someone complaining about being taken to the plumber. Why do we have the reputation for taking people’s money and not delivering what they expect?

I don’t think we deliberately cheat people. We just aren’t able to deliver what they hope for or would like. We don’t have the skills, and we aren’t willing to spend the time to remove the stains.

Another factor may be that we need to manage expectations better. If a competent person was to discuss the stains on the garment and the cleaning process, we’d probably have better outcomes. If customers understand what you are trying to do and the risks involved, they will be more sympathetic when they don’t get the results they wanted.

What will you do about it?

Together we need to improve the reputation of our industry. Milk producers work together to convince people to drink more milk. We have seen their ads: Got Milk? They are working together to improve their industry. We need to do the same. Join a group like the Canadian Fabricare Association and contribute to our industry.

Our competition is not the other cleaners – it is the home washing machine and Starbucks coffee. People would rather wear their shirt twice and drink an expensive coffee. Standing at the counter and moaning that business is slow will not improve things. We need to do something.

One critical thing for you to do is to pass on the knowledge you have. We keep losing experienced people. They retire or move on to something else, then we have a knowledge gap. How are you going to transfer on your knowledge and experience? Sign them up for an online course and help them hone their skills.

Integrity Mechanical faces this issue every day. We have customers who can’t tell us if a ball valve is open or closed. They can’t tell us what part of the machine they are looking at. How can we help you if you don’t help yourself? And if you don’t know one end of a machine from the other, how can you possibly be a craftsman when it comes to stain removal?

The predecessor to the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) used to have a dry cleaning school in Toronto. It took 6 months of training to learn how to work in a dry cleaning plant.

Craftsmen are paid higher wages and get to do the more interesting work. Those who continually keep prices low and do substandard work are not helping our industry.

Are you a craftsman? What are you doing to improve yourself and our industry? Your staff have to be able to do more than fog a mirror to be useful to you. Invest in their training and you might just find your customer complaints go down and customer satisfaction go up.

Kevin and Paula Marois founded Calgary-based Integrity Mechanical in 2003 to service plants in western Canada. He writes on issues related to equipment, its purchase, maintenance and use. You can reach Kevin at office@imicanada.ca or via his website www.imicanada.ca.

Add a Comment

Before you go...

Give us your email and we will notify you
each week when we post fresh content.
We don't want you to miss a thing!