If you've been to any hospital - whether private or public - in Northern, Western or Central Belize, there's a one hundred percent chance you have come in contact with fabrics laundered by Belize Dry Cleaners.
In fact, not only do they clean all hospitals garments, linens and fabrics, they own most of them too!
Indeed, Belize Dry Cleaners does much more than dry clean. In the twenty years since the company was established - it has vastly diversified its operations.
And as they celebrate their twentieth anniversary this week - owner Lascelle Arnold told us what's been the key to his success:
Jules Vasquez Reporting
Looking at it from the outside, Belize Dry Cleaners - might look like only that, a dry cleaning business, - but inside there are five operations:
Lascelle Arnold - Celebrating 20 Years as Manager/Owner of BDC "It starts from just a dry cleaning store, to a laundromat, dry cleaning, drop-off laundry, hospital laundry, and tuxedo rental."
The hospital laundry is the most volume based (it streams in all day) - and the most high tech - and about as interesting as laundry can be.
This brand new machine is called a finishing, folding stacking unit and it takes in freshly laundered sheets, dries them, irons them and then folds them for stacking - al in less than forty five seconds.
These sheets are already dry so they were just ironed, folded and stacked, but the wet ones came out just as quickly.
The European - made device has 11 motors inside - all computer controlled, and is a huge unit, but consumes half the power and butane of its predecessor.
If you're into that sort of thing, it's a pretty neat tool - very advanced - the cleaning equivalent of 4G - according to the owner:
Right beside it is this also very neat small piece folder - which must be the dream of every home-maker. It folds anything from towels to doctors gowns - and it does so in a flash using a few bursts of compressed air to whip the fabric into place.
Lascelle Arnold "That machine folds everything else that you can think about, scrubs, drop pants, doctor gowns, patient gowns, all sergical fabrics - shirts and pants. Whatever we need to fold, this machine has the program for you to fold. And you can do up to - if you can put 500 in there per hour, it will fold 500 pieces per hour."
And after that, it stacks it, and when it reaches a certain count - the conveyor belt rolls it away.
And when those ware out or get damages, he has more waiting in store because he not only cleans the sheets, he owns them stamping them to each hospital's needs.
All this equipment - a whole floor of it and more is dedicated to hospital laundry - which as this flow chart shows is a very big part of the enterprise:
Lascelle Arnold "The reason I went down that road is because the institutional laundry is 7 days a week, 365 days a year because the hospital continues to operate. If things are good or bad in Belize, the hospital will continue to operate."
Every single stage of the process has been timed, and deadlined. Precision, in fact, is a very major part of the operation - as is maintaining a high standard:
Lascelle Arnold "One of my teachers, when I was growing up and starting in business was Barry Bowen, who always told me, 'Lacelle, whenever you do something, do it well. Get the best that they have in the industry to produce the best, so that you can eliminate competition off the top because of the investment you put in. But the real reason behind the investment is the efficiency of these equipment. I could have an old truck, V8 engine compaired with a smaller truck, 4 cylinder engine. That's what we are doing with all of our equipment. All of them are very highly efficient equipment. They burn like half or quarter of the gas, and less than half the electricity than others."
In the tuxedo rental business, the standard isn't for precision, it's style. The business has over 500 suits in stock - styles upon styles as they say - in the showroom and the store-room - racks on racks on racks.
It may seem a bit much for a country where Guayaberas constitute formal wear - and prom comes but once a yearâ€¦still Arnold says it's all part of his vertical integration model:
Lascelle Arnold "I think it's the business - in Belize having 300,000+ people. For you to make it work, you can't just look at one product or 1 business. You have to see how you can combine several businesses that complement each other, so that when one season is out, the next one is in. If you just depend on - for instance, if we had just the tuxedo rental, after prom season and December when people marry between June and December, and prom season, you have no business. So you have to put that in with the rainy weather, so there the Laundromat. Whenever it starts to rain, you then have the laundry come in. So it's a blend of different businesses in one. At the same time, you can use workers from one part of the business to the next."
And underneath all this - on the ground floor - is what the business started with - the dry cleaning and Laundromat.
Many mysteries of the laundry underworld are revealed here - such as - how do they iron those formal jackets?
And how do they get those pants creased just so, or how to get a crisp crease on a shirt sleeve?
In here, Arnold has this year also invested in an industrial state of the art dry clean washer - and other equipment
Lascelle Arnold "First of all, we changed all our pressers, and we then put in a new wet-cleaning machine. We put in a special dryer for comforters that goes forward and reverse."
And that is just part of a major upgrade this year;
Lascelle Arnold "For this year alone, we invested close to $400,000 and about a year and a half ago, we invested another $300,000. The thing is that if the economy of Belize should get any worse, we've put in equipment in place to absorb that shock with efficiency in electricity, gas, and water. So, now is the time for me to put that investment in, instead of waiting around trying to figure if it will get better, and I should invest then. I invest now with confidence and hope that the way how the world turns, you are at the bottom now. The only thing that can happen is that we go up. And if we go up, then we can capitalize on it."
He employs 22 - and has plans to expand his business - as a model of home-grown enterprise:
Lascelle Arnold "If we don't support each other, and we don't encourage this type of industry where Belizean businesses succeed, then at the end of the day, even for the local Belizean to get a job, we'll have a problem down the road because the people who are coming in are bringing in laborers from across the border, or their own people from India, China, or wherever. So it's very important for a Belizean business to succeed and to set an example that other Belizeans can do the same."
Belize Dry Cleaners continues to operate on Dolphin Street in Belize City and Arnold has recently acquired an adjoining property to expand his Laundromat and institutional laundry operation. He says in the future he hopes to start cleaning for major hotels.
Belize Dry Cleaners celebrates 20 years in service
Belize Dry Cleaners is celebrating 20 years of service. It is one of the largest Belizean owned businesses that provide a service for individuals and commercial companies throughout the country. The business started out with one storey and only provided dry cleaning services. Today, it has expanded to four stories with addition of a tuxedo rental, laundry mat and selling of detergent and other laundry materials. Owner of Belize Dry cleaners, Lacelle Arnold tell us more.
Lacelle Arnold, Owner, Belize Dry Cleaners For you to make it work, you can’t just look at one product or one business; you have to combine several businesses that compliments each other. So when one season is out, the next one is in, because if you just depend on, say for instance, just the tuxedo rental, then after prom season and December when people marry, you won’t have any business. Also you have to put that in with the rainy weather as well, so you have the laundry mat, so whenever it rains, you have the laundry coming in. Then Christmas, New Years, weddings and other events come around, then the dry cleaning kicks in. In addition, you have professional people who go to work everyday and they use the dry cleaning service. So it is a blend of different businesses in one and then at the same time you can use the workers from one part of the business to the next, instead of having a completely different set of workers for each part of the business. So whenever an area is slow, you can move one or two of the workers to another area. I think that is the kind of business model that I have.
Technically there is no competition but Arnold has made a tremendous amount of investment over the years, adding newer technology that is eco friendly.
Lacelle Arnold We changed out all our pressers and then we put in a new wet-cleaning machine. We also put in a special dryer for comforters that goes forward and reverse and it also has a moisture sensor. So whenever the comforter is finished, it automatically goes into cool down mode and then it fluffs the comforter, because if you just put in a regular dryer, sometimes it can over-dries it and shrink the comforter. So we are putting in those type of equipment this year. For the hospital laundry, we put in some new washers - high washer extractors and then we put in a presser that we can move from the washer (because it has high extraction, so it nearly dries it), to a presser that finish dries the sheet, presses it, folds it and stock it.
In a business that has no standards, Arnold has taken on the initiative to create his own. That includes meeting international standards when washing sheets and clothing for hospital and hotel use.
Lacelle Arnold One person in the Citrus Industry told me, “If you want to plant orange, plant when the price is low, because it is always a cycle and when the price comes to what you want, your tree will mature and you will harvest and reap the benefit of your investment. However, if you do it when business is bright and the price of fruits and everything is up, by the time you put in the investment, it goes down and then you lose the investment.” So I do the same thing with the dry cleaners, the laundry mat and the tuxedo rentals. Now is the time that you can get the best deals on tuxedo, you get the best deals on equipment and this is the time when your maintenance or people who do installations, don’t have much to do. So it is a good time to capitalize on all of this. The thing is if the economy of Belize should get any worst, we have put in equipment in place to observe the shock with efficiency in electricity, in gas and water.
According to Lacelle Arnold he has made an investment of about 400,000 over the last year.