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Panda Express headed for the cleaners

  |   Dec. 28, 2011 at 2:11 PM
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. fast-food chain Panda Express said it is turning its Chinese food franchise expertise to a new venture -- dry cleaning.

"There isn't any consolidation in this particular industry. There is no McDonald's of dry cleaners. We see this as an opportunity," said Andrew Cherng, co-chief executive officer of Panda Express.

The company, which began in 1973 with one restaurant in Pasadena, Calif., and eventually became an empire tucked into food courts in U.S. shopping malls, earned $1.4 billion in revenue in 2010, The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Jeff Wampler, chief executive of Agile Pursuits Franchising, which manages the Tide dry cleaners business at Procter & Gamble, said dry cleaning customers have, "generally been dissatisfied with the poor physical environment, routine errors with garment care and unremoved stains common at many dry cleaners.

"We're trying to elevate the industry," he said.

Panda Express expects to open five stores in 2012 and as many as 200 more if the franchise takes off.

Cherng said, "The restaurants are already pretty saturated. Doing another line of business presents us with more real estate opportunities."

Some voiced skepticism that dry cleaning could succeed as a franchise business, due, in part, to the training that is required to do the work.

At this point, it is rare for a dry cleaning company to operate even two or more outlets. Ninety percent of the $9.2 billion per year industry is comprised of owners who operate only one shop, research firm IBISWorld reported.

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