IT cleans up

Fed up with your dry-cleaning coming back late -- or going missing altogether? An Auckland dry-cleaner promises to change all that with a sophisticated barcoding system that keeps track of every garment and the time each garment is due. At Paul Stoddart's chic new dry-cleaning outlet, Premier, on Ponsonby Road, he has staff in fashionable blue and black uniforms and, he claims, the most high-tech dry-cleaning equipment available on the New Zealand market.

Fed up with your dry-cleaning coming back late -- or going missing altogether? An Auckland dry-cleaner promises to change all that with a sophisticated barcoding system that keeps track of every garment and the time each garment is due.

At Paul Stoddart's chic new dry-cleaning outlet, Premier, on Ponsonby Road, he has staff in fashionable blue and black uniforms and, he claims, the most high-tech dry-cleaning equipment -- imported from Bowe, Germany -- available on the New Zealand market.

But it's the IT aspect of the business that will ensure your clothes are where they should be. Barcodes -- some of which are invisible -- manage the cleaning process. Invisible barcoding, Stoddart says, "is based on products available internationally which allow us to replicate the manufacturers label and ëlose'the barcode in that label".

The process begins when items are dropped off for cleaning and are logged in through a touch screen computer at the counter, assigned a number and tagged with a simple barcode. The bar-code tags are designed to withstand the chemicals involved in the cleaning process so they remain attached until the whole order is scanned as "finished". The barcode printers and scanners are linked to a Windows-based front- and back-end tracking system developed by Auckland-based software developer Cash-Link, to Stoddart's specification.

An MBA graduate, Stoddart set up the business earlier this year with a group of friends as shareholders. "Between us we've got various skillsets -- legal backgrounds, financial, public relations and so on," he says. "I looked around at all sorts of business opportunities, to find something where we could add value with the skills we have available." Eighteen months ago they settled on dry-cleaning.

One of the shareholders -- who would rather remain anonymous -- has a background in IT and worked with CashLink to develop detailed process maps of each stage of the process, and built a system "from the ground up".

The integrated front-of-house and back-end systems were the first stage, he says, and the business's general ledger system is now being tied in.

Phase two, which is about to start, will be an e-commerce product using CashLink's OrderGenie product. "Rather than compete on price, we seek to drive costs out of our customers'businesses," he says.

"If you look, for example, at a suit hire business -- they need to log each item as it comes back, usually by hand. Once they have 20 or 30 garments they call the dry-cleaner and get them cleaned over the next couple of days.

"What we'll do is put some hardware and software in their premises so they can scan invisible barcodes that we'll put on the garments. That's linked into our system, and we know when to pick it up."

This will improve the customer's bottom line by cutting the time and work involved, and "also by letting them track, for example, which brands wear well and which need to be replaced quicker", says Stoddart.

Eventually, he plans to have a Web site through which customers can place orders and to provide a pick-up service using mobile palm computers.

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