All’s Quiet on the Boring Front

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — If your dry cleaning shop is in a strip mall, I’m sorry to tell you that your storefront is boring, forgettable, nondescript.

A mall dry cleaner in Peoria has a front identical to a mall dry cleaner in Miami, which looks just like a store in Portland, and so on. Whether a drop store or a plant, few passersby take notice. There’s lots of glass, a door with hours printed on it, perhaps a 2-foot-high wall, and not much else. Your front matches the optometrist on one side and the tax office on the other.

No one walking by would ever turn to look at your shop. And if he or she did, nothing would register. It could be that your shop is four miles closer to his house than his current dry cleaner, but you will not get the prospect to give you a try. That’s because he will not see you, even though he looked right at you. And that is your problem, Mr. Strip Mall Dry Cleaner: lack of identity.

A stand-alone dry cleaner has the advantage. There is a building with space around it, and signs. Even the most nondescript building commands attention. The public’s natural curiosity alone gives this type of operation visibility.

So what are you going to do about it?

A) Nothing, because I have my clients and that is sufficient

B) Go on a major—and expensive—ad campaign to get noticed

C) Try to make my front expressive

C is the correct answer. There are things you can do—things that don’t cost a fortune—to make that blank glass front into a memorable sight.

For a minimalist approach, erect a lime green or bright purple neon sign with your business name in the front window. Around the edges of the full-length window, place a neon border in filigree effect. That will turn people’s heads. Walkers might stop in their tracks to look at the design for several seconds. That pause is sufficient for the fact to sink in that this is a dry cleaner. From that realization, the knowledge will spread.

The visual image might jar a passersby’s memory that he needs his winter outfits cleaned, so he brings them to your shop. A week later, his sister-in-law asks his wife about a good dry cleaner, and his wife recommends you because she remembers her husband talking about the cleaner’s new look. The next morning, the sister-in-law, commuting to work with a friend, mentions the dry cleaner—you—right around the corner from their neighborhood. In this manner, word will spread.

Raise the bar and go for more effect. Some of these suggestions depend on gaining permission from the landlord.

  • Hang a large banner across your front, above the door, with the words Dry Cleaning. The letters should be 3 feet tall or so. If you have a high roof, such a large visual effect will catch a driver’s vision.
  • Set up a sandwich sign in front that says something like, We Create Sharp Dressers. Such a bold statement will cause people to take notice, and they will make the connection.
  • Paint a picture on your window. Try a different one every month if possible. One summer week, paint a picture of a young lady in a light, cool dress. In the winter months, paint a picture of a skier in attractive outfits. People will notice your shop, and even anticipate your next month’s effort.

For you Internet users, notice how Google has a different logo configuration every day you use the ubiquitous search engine. These creations are quite artistic: one day “Google” is created in flowers, the next day in black-and-white relief, and the day after that it’s an Egyptian motif. Millions of users look forward to seeing what Google will do next. So will your customers and prospects.

Beneath the large entrance sign, hang a sign stating your weekly special: Five Shirts for Price of Three, or 50% Off $20 Order or More, or Curtains and Comforters Now Half Price.

Be bold. Ever visit a major fashion city in Europe, Paris or Barcelona, for instance? There, retailers create brash, colorful fronts. While vacationing recently, I saw a storefront with a giant cardboard peace sign, covered in multi-color torn slips of paper, with all kinds of hippie paraphernalia in the background. Another store had headless mannequins, dressed in colorful outfits, carrying their heads.

Even these retailers’ minimal efforts are spectacular. A shoe store had a pile of shoe boxes whose tops were covered in felt, with a dazzling gold shoe sitting on top. Use their creativity to stimulate your imagination.

Create a display of giant shirts that stack 8 feet in the air, which you can wheel out each morning and take in each night.

For your front window, obtain a life-sized mannequin, dress her in a fancy outfit, and attach a sign: For the Million-Bucks Look.

Employ a family member—son, daughter, nephew, father, someone with a bit of theatrical jazz—to dress in a top hat and tails (sometimes obtainable at second-hand shops) and hand out discount coupons in front of your store. Or better yet, have the person walk up and down the mall handing out these coupons. After a week, you’ll be amazed at the effect such showmanship will have.

Anonymous storefronts do not bring in business. To prove the point, do a survey. Stand in the middle of the parking lot and ask customers if they know where a dry cleaner is. If more than half shrug and say they don’t know or suggest that you use the one downtown, then you know that your storefront is not doing its job. Certainly everyone who patronizes the mall should know your store. Another test is to ask nearby store clerks. If a lot of them don’t know of your dry cleaner, you know you must do something to change that.

We’ve come up with a few suggestions, but it’s up to you to put on your thinking cap. What can you do to call attention to your shop? You must put yourself out there, by declaring, “We’re different.”

If you don’t make changes, consider this: about half of your rent is going out the window.

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at


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