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Adding Youth to Your Customer Base (Part 2)

Dry cleaners must adapt to stay relevant to younger customers

CHICAGO — Dry cleaners who want to grow in the future can’t get stuck in the past when it comes to maintaining a client base. Today’s younger customers differ from their older counterparts in fundamental ways, and cleaners who don’t account for these differences could find themselves with a shrinking customer list.

In Part 1 of this series, we examined just how important it is for cleaners to make the effort to add younger faces to their client bases. For Part 2, we’ll look at how the needs of younger clients differ from what their parents looked for when selecting a dry cleaner.

What's Important to Them 

Even before the pandemic struck, the younger set wasn’t as in need of formal business clothes as in past generations. “Business casual” had started eroding the “suit-and-tie” business long ago. Now that many people are working from home, cleaners are seeing what’s really important to this new breed of customer.

“We’re seeing a lot of yoga pants,” says Rechelle Balanzat, CEO and founder of the New York City-based dry cleaner JULIETTE. “They’re just wearing pajamas and gym clothes all day.”

Jennifer Marquardt, a partner at Arthur’s Executive Cleaners in Buffalo, N.Y., has experienced the same shift: “Believe it or not, I’ve seen more sweats and jogging pants,” she says. While these items are considered casual wear, they sometimes require a lighter touch. “They’re more expensive, so they don’t want to just throw them in the wash where they get the lint from everything else.”

Hats and sneakers are also becoming more popular items for Marquardt’s business.

“These are expensive items that they value,” she says. “These get dirty, and they don’t know how to clean them, so they keep wearing them and eventually just buy new ones. To connect with them, educate them on the fact that you clean hats and sneakers—and if you don’t, learn it. It’s a gateway. It’s a way to get them in the door for items that they value and care about. Then, a couple of years from now, when they’re also using suits, they’ll continue to come to you.”

Time, Convenience and Reputation 

Another major difference Marquardt sees between older and younger clients is the urgency they place on a quick turnaround.

“Efficiency and timing are key,” she says. “It’s what the younger generation is used to, through no fault of their own. They may procrastinate a little more than your traditional customers, as well. A lot of your older clientele are going towards retirement, and they also tend to pre-plan more, so they don’t need their shirt tomorrow; they might need it for their meeting next week.”

Balanzat has also found time to be a critical factor for the young adults she serves.

“In New York City, recent grads are new to the workforce and are typically putting in at least 60 hours a week because rent is so high here,” she says. “They just don’t have time to take their laundry to the cleaners, let alone do the cleaning themselves. We address that pain point by picking up and cleaning their items through our app.”

When young adults are deciding on a cleaner, says Bobby Patel, owner of Kona Cleaners in Orange County, Calif., all your marketing efforts can be wasted if your reputation is lacking, so it’s critical to maintain and bolster your online presence and status.

“They are not going to drive by a store and say, ‘Oh, that’s a nice-looking cleaner. Let me walk in,’” he says. “They’re never going to do that, even if it’s very convenient. They’ll stand outside your store and Google ‘dry cleaners near me’ or do other research on you first. They want to make good decisions based on what their peers are saying.”

Come back Tuesday for the conclusion, where we’ll look at the surprising preferences that younger customers have that are making many cleaners rethink their business model. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE.