CHICAGO — It’s inevitable for any business—the demographics of the customer base shift over time. A younger group comes in and replaces those who are aging out of your system.
Unlike in previous generations, however, the young adults who are now starting to need drycleaning services are often a different breed from those who came before. The way they communicate, the items they bring in and the demands they have of their cleaner are forcing the industry to adapt at a pace that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.
What worked in the past has no guarantee of success with this new brand of customer, and cleaners who don’t adjust their approach might find themselves left behind.
New Minds, New Methods
While many cleaners have been reluctant to include an app in their business model for customer interaction, Rechelle Balanzat, CEO and founder of the New York City-based dry cleaner JULIETTE, chose that method to start her business, reaching out to younger customers before opening a brick-and-mortar shop.
“We went to market with a technology-first approach,” she says. “I launched my app in 2014, and it took me about a year to develop it. Then, in 2017, I opened my first store—a drop store—on the Upper West Side. And then in 2019, I opened headquarters in the Bronx.”
This new model made a lot of sense to Balanzat when she considered her business’s location and the clients it would serve.
“In New York City, the traditional store can really only cover a three- to five-block radius,” she says. “With the app, we’re able to service all of Manhattan because clients can easily request a pickup, and then our driver knows where to go pick up and bring the clothes back to our store. The customer is able to use the app to monitor the status of their order and pay for it. It’s completely cashless. They get an email receipt, and they’re also able to see their order history.”
The Need for Youth
For cleaners to maintain their business, let alone expand it, the need to gather younger customers is paramount.
“You want to get them started early so they can form a habit of coming to your cleaners,” says Bobby Patel, owner of Kona Cleaners in Orange County, Calif. Patel is also a founder of the marketing firm BeCreative360. “They’re going to be a valuable part of your client base, so it’s a good idea to reach out to them early.”
The confusion many cleaners have is how to reach out to them. Finding the right solutions means paying attention to their needs and staying current with emerging trends.
“When I first started in the business, which was about 17 years ago, I didn’t have a cellphone glued to my hip,” says Jennifer Marquardt, a partner at Arthur’s Executive Cleaners in Buffalo, N.Y. However, she recognized that times were changing and now uses social media extensively to connect with both present and potential clients. This includes making daily videos and releasing them on Facebook, Instagram and her LinkedIn page.
“When the pandemic hit, the first thing I did was grab my camera,” she says. “We had to get out there because everyone was home, sitting on their computer and feeling depressed. We didn’t know what was going on in our world. My first video was about wash and fold, but then it transitioned to just making people laugh and entertaining them.”
To be effective, Marquardt knew that one of the first rules of marketing is connecting with people where they are.
“The younger generation is on their phones all the time,” she says. “Whether they’re reading an email or looking at some silly video, they’re on their phone. So, how do you get in front of them on their phone? It’s not going to be standing at your front counter just waiting for them to come to you—you’ve got to find a way to go to them now.
“I definitely was not comfortable in front of a camera, but I knew, for survival, we had to get to this younger generation and our current customers and speak with them.”
Check back Thursday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll look at what’s most important to younger customers, and what cleaners can do to connect with them.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].