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Building a Route Business (Part 1)

Hitting the Road to Maintain a Relationship with Your Customers

CHICAGO — Successful dry cleaners know that besides the services they provide in cleaning a customer’s clothes, they offer two things: They free up their customers’ time, and they offer them convenience.

And, in an era where customers are increasingly demanding these two things from their service providers, many cleaners who have embraced a route system are finding they have an advantage over those who only offer in-store pickup and delivery.

But beginning, maintaining and growing routes can be a complicated process. Proper planning, staffing and expectations must be put into place to reap the benefits of adding route services.

Increasing Drive Time

“When I first got into the industry 21 years ago, routes were mainly done by franchises,” says James Peuster, owner of 21st Century Dry Cleaners in Kansas City, Missouri. Peuster also founded The Route Pros, a consulting firm that assists dry cleaners in planning and growing routes and training staff. “They were really a minor focus for dry cleaners.”

Times have changed. “Most cleaners now have at least one van, and I believe that number is going to continue to rise,” he says. “After 2008, when the recession hit dry cleaners, they started to realize that opening stores was more costly — to grow their business, the best way was to go out and get business. I believe that, because of those economic factors — COVID now included — that routes will continue to increase. It’s pretty evident, when we look at the numbers and at the focus of all the point-of-sale systems, that it’s all route-focused.”

The benefits, both for customer and cleaner, make route systems increasingly attractive, Peuster says.

“You can notice that, for the past 15 years, the entire world has started to go to delivery,” he says. “I fell in love with routes 21 years ago because I noticed that you could do the same amount of volume, if not even more, with a van than you could at a store.”

Having a properly operated route service is one of the quickest ways to build up a customer base, Peuster says: “You can look at it as increasing your bottom line, because it’s getting more cost-effective to have a van out there than it is a store, or as a way to increase your top line is by finding a way to get new customers.”

Routes have come to make up the vast majority of business at Jason Loeb’s Sudsies Dry Cleaners & Laundry, based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Our goal, when they come to our retail boutiques, is that we drive them right to pickup and delivery,” says Loeb, Sudsies’ president. “We aim for about 10% retail and 90% pickup and delivery. Customers, when they go from retail into a pickup and delivery system, tend to use the services more often and become more loyal, so we want to get more people on that. We use the boutiques as a feeder to pickup and delivery. We’re in the pickup and delivery business.”

Sudsies offers four storefronts, but currently has 36 vehicles on the road.

“We started with one truck about 18 years ago,” Loeb says. “Our route system is constantly growing — it’s organic growth, which shows the proof of the system. Sudsies has never bought a competitor. The growth has been natural.”

Loeb has a different way of viewing his pickup and delivery offerings: “I don’t do routes. I do mobile stores. When you do mobile stores, it’s a different philosophy.”

Part of this philosophy is offering pickup and delivery on his customers’ timetable, and not from a pre-determined schedule.

“Our trucks go to the same area, the same time every day, Monday through Saturday, for consistency,” he says. “We’re always in your neighborhood at your convenience when you want us. If a customer wants a pickup on Monday, I didn’t want to say, ‘We’re not in your neighborhood until Tuesday.’ Our theory is to provide a service to our customers when they want it, where they want it and how they want it.”

Come back next Tuesday for Part 2 of this series, when we’ll look at some benefits of having a route service, some of which go beyond the items the van brings into the store.


Building a Route Business

(Photo: © alphaspirit/Depositphotos)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].