Advantage: You (Conclusion)


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Tim Burke |

Personal touches can set you apart from that ‘new kid in town’

CHICAGO — “Go do, that voodoo, that you do, so well,” exclaimed Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles.

And he was right: Go do what you do best.

Don’t fear a new competitor entering your area. After all, a new player in town can serve to re-focus attention on what makes your own store special, what makes it great.

“Someone who opens across the street is competing for the same two square miles,” says John-Claude Hallak, president of Hallak Cleaners in New York City. “To put it simply, that new competitor sheds light on whether or not you are a good operator.”

That competitor comes in and tries to offer specials, Hallak points out, “luring people away to try the ‘new flavor of ice cream today.’”

But Hallak insists that if you are doing a good job, those defectors will filter back to you. He says “lots of new operators are P&L driven but may not have eyes on the long game.” And insists that operators shouldn’t worry about the first skirmish: “win the war, not the single battle,” he notes.

Forget the rest, do what you do best.

“Stop looking over your shoulder all the time. It can be very distracting and can slow growth and create fear,” says Dave Coyle, owner of In The Bag Cleaners in Wichita, Kan., and member of the Tuchman Advisory Group. He says he has grown his business from 1% to 70% market share in only 15 years.

“Aggressive marketing,” Coyle explains, “telling our story, making relationships, having great retail team members on the counter, giving away home-baked cookies and bottled waters — all of these things are part of the picture.”


Smart, effective marketing in the community not only includes goodwill participation and workable business partnerships but also must take into account electronic services and print as well.

“The U.S. mail, while expensive, is a great way to remind people in specific neighborhoods of your brand,” says Kevin Kneafsey, who owns GreenStreets Cleaners in San Francisco.

“We are in a market with a lot of innovators and app-based business,” says Kneafsey, “including several for dry cleaning.”

He points to convenient online services in dealing with new competition: “We always want to make sure our website is super user-friendly. It’s easily viewed and navigated on a mobile device, and the user experience is seamless.”

For dry cleaners looking to expand their “compete level” online, he notes, “There are a lot of new third-party apps/services that people are using to compete in the on-demand economy. So if you are not ready to dip your toes into on-demand delivery, there might be third-party vendors that will tackle the logistics side of it for you.”

New meat isn’t bad. Fresh players are a barometer of vitality. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

“Competition in the marketplace is healthy,” says Steven Toltz, president, Denver’s Dependable Cleaners.

“It allows for us as business owners to constantly be striving to improve our services and features, and it offers options to consumers for where they take their business,” he adds.

To compete from strength, place the emphasis on the personal touch with your customers.

There’s very little proprietary equipment in our industry, Hallak relates, but service is the key. “How you reach out to customers is the differentiating factor,” he expresses.

“To point this out,” says Hallak, “I can relate a quote I heard recently, ‘People may not remember you, but they will remember how you made them feel.’”

Want to know how to weather the occasional storm when a new customer enters the market? “If you’ve stepped up and gone beyond, it will pay dividends,” he answers.

His store celebrates a customer’s “anniversary together” of the date the customer first came in. Hallak Cleaners keeps electronic records and makes use of them in this way.

“We give a coffee mug with our company logo printed on it, and inside the mug we tuck a $10 Starbucks gift card on the customer’s anniversary day,” says Hallak. “You can make an indelible impression on a customer this way. We use data, use information, to stay in touch.”

Also, his company sends a personal letter saying “We miss you” to go the extra step to reach out and bring those lapsed customers back. He reaches out to 10 or 15 a week to bring them back.

“It takes a little commitment and a little time to stand out,” says Hallak. “Some things seem obvious, but many don’t take the time to do them.”

Another tip: “If you want your customers treated well, treat your employees well! It trickles down.” It’s a philosophy that can and should be part of your whole operation, all your employees, he adds.

These ideas can “apply in any niche,” notes Hallak.

Toltz says that being environmentally responsible and dedicated to customer convenience are a couple of the things he believes elevates his business from competitors.

“Marketplace competition allows us to think of how to continue to perform in those standards while we strive to improve and bring in new customers,” Toltz says.

Coyle’s suggestion: “Send your best clients flowers, just because, to show appreciation for their loyalty. Have you ever heard of getting flowers from your cleaners? I didn’t think so. It will be talked about a lot!”

Whether your operation is in a big city or a rural area, making your customer feel special is the overall theme of competing successfully.

So go do what you do best. Voodoo it up to the max. Don’t worry about the other guy. Show you care.

“Personal touches,” concludes Hallak, “have impact!”

To read Part One, go HERE.

About the author

Tim Burke

American Drycleaner


Tim Burke is the editor of American Drycleaner. He can be reached at 312-361-1684 or [email protected]


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