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Be Prepared to Shift Priorities

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Diana Vollmer |

CHICAGO — A drycleaner’s priorities often seem to be in a constant state of flux. Not long ago, everyone was saying you had to have a website. Today, you’ll hear that you have to be on Facebook and Twitter. Wow, when are you supposed to do the drycleaning?
Times change, customers change, and their preferred methods of communication change. Our methods of marketing, advertising, promotion, and delivery also must change, but we still have to find the time to clean clothes.
Have you noticed that whenever you change your priorities and become committed to a new project, something else comes along that needs your immediate attention? On days like these, it seems like nothing can be accomplished. It’s one step forward and three steps back.
Have you ever really thought you had full control of drycleaning? Volume changes every day. The product mix changes by the day, week and season. Employees come and go; some don’t come when they should. Equipment works, then it doesn’t. Tackling any of these issues practically guarantees that another will raise its ugly head.
Many issues are beyond your control. Sales volume can be managed somewhat with marketing, but customer flow patterns and the weather are beyond your control. Employee selection and retention is not a science, but a skill that must be practiced daily.
Preventive maintenance can help head off breakdowns, but it is no guarantee. Fashions will change to include ever-more-challenging constructions, dyes and “bling.” You can’t manage all of these tasks—no wonder it’s so hard to start on a new one.
The danger is that these ongoing challenges create unpleasant surprises and become distractions, like fires spreading through the business. They demand immediate, personal action, and encourage you to shelve a new project that might move the business forward.
The ability to keep that momentum is directly related to how well you can reduce the surprises. For example, a point-of-sale (POS) system can provide up-to-the-minute information on mark-in volume, so production isn’t shocked when the trucks arrive either overloaded or empty. The plant can ramp up or reduce staffing ahead of delivery. 
A written plan for a critical equipment breakdown will help everyone deal with the problem. Thinking through the plan before the pressure of the moment will help when the crisis actually occurs. And if you communicate these strategies within the organization, others can step up when something unexpected happens.
Of course, even the best-laid plans can go awry. That’s why you need feedback loops—systems that offer continuous updates on the critical components of the business. They take little time to review and can help avoid the worst consequences.
Different plant functions require different monitoring schedules. Management should check on-time delivery and pieces per operator hour every day. Sales, wage and quality reports can be checked weekly. Every month, you’ll want to file detailed income and expense reports. By monitoring these key components, you can choose the items that need your attention the most, acting on a few specific items and saving time for new projects.
Some larger projects may never end. A website, for example, is not a one-time project. It must be updated and kept fresh. Part of the challenge of any new project is to know how it will continue to grow, evolve and flourish. Likewise, hiring a new employee is not the end of the job. Who will continue to develop, cross-train, reward and perhaps promote that person?
Any plan needs a feedback system so you know that it’s moving ahead after you take your eye off of it. If this is not in place, you will have to return to the project yourself—and probably when you’re in the middle of something that’s just as important.

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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