The ability to change, to adapt to the conditions on the ground, is one of the most vital attributes a business owner can possess — and can make or break a company.
This was the theme of the fourth installment of the Leadership Forum, presented via Zoom by America’s Best Cleaners (ABC). The monthly forum, scheduled to run through March, brings leaders from various areas of the cleaning profession together. They can then share their experiences and talk about some of the lessons they have learned leading their teams through the global pandemic and the economic challenges it has presented.
Mary Scalco, CEO of the Drycleaners & Laundry Institute, said that she and her organization felt a duty to go to the next level of service for their members. “This is when you shine,” she says. “This is when you step up to the plate because you know that sometimes your members just want to hear that they're not alone through all this. So, early on that’s what we tried to do and that's what we keep trying to do. We want to listen to what our members need and listen to what the industry is hearing. We’ve learned as much from the outreach to our members, I think, as our members learn from one another.”
One of those lessons is to embrace change. “I’m amazed at how well the industry has pivoted,” Scalco says. “You know, if you're waiting for dry cleaning to come through your door right now, you're going to hear crickets because it's not coming through at the same rate it was. So, the industry has done really well at pivoting. We just feel that our job (at DLI) is to make sure we get them the information they need to do what they need to do to survive.”
Tony Stephens, CEO of Calgary, Alberta-based Tower Cleaners, says that cleaners are far stronger working together than competing against each other, and he’s followed his own advice a number of times. “One cleaner in our area called me and said his landlord had shut him down, and now he was out of business. I told him, ‘No, you’re not. I’m going to give you a van, you’ll convert all your customers to pickup and delivery, and we’ll do your cleaning.”
But perhaps the most significant change, Stephens said, was the deal he struck with a former competitor. “We’re the largest cleaner in the area, and we got with the second-largest cleaner and amalgamated our production,” he says. “All the cleaning for our two companies is done at our facility. We moved a bunch of equipment and moved his staff into our facility. It’s been positive. We couldn't have asked for a better agreement. He has his brand, I have my brand and we run our own companies, but we split the share of the costs.” By working together, pooling resources and making other changes, Stephens says that, while actual sales are down $2.2 million, revenue has stayed level with what his company was making pre-pandemic.
Sharing information is vital for surviving downturns such as the one we find ourselves in right now, says James Peuster, owner of The RoutePros, a company that coaches cleaners on how to profitably offer, operate and market route services. “One of the things we talk about with our staff is to ask, ‘What’s our lesson learned? What did we learn this week?’” he says. “We then share that with our members, and our members share their incoming data and the lessons they’ve learned from the previous week.”
One of the biggest lessons Peuster has learned is to mind your mental outlook. “As the leader, one of the things I do here is to stay positive,” he says. “You hear a lot of negativity from the industry. You hear it from people calling in, and you see him on the forums. We try to reverse that and just stay encouraging. And so, while garbage gets dumped on us from a consulting perspective, I make sure that that's checked at the door. We look at everything that's going on well, and we support our staff.”
It’s also important to recognize how conditions are, rather than what you’d like them to be, says Catherine McCann, CEO of Best Cleaners NY and partner in ABC. “Planning has always been important to me, and nothing’s changed; you still have to plan,” she says. “We’ve got our 2021 plan together and we have no data from 2019 in it because that world doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not reality. We’re looking at the back half of 2020 to build 2021’s plan. And we're looking at basics. What are we good at? How's our product? How are our people? How are we communicating? We’re also looking at what we learned in 2008. That's how we're going to get through the year, and it's going to be good.”
Tom Stites, sales manager of Unipress, believes that this ability to change plans is vital to ongoing success. “I think the biggest thing is you have to be flexible and fluid in this situation,” he says. “Instead of trying to solicit business, we're working with our customers and retraining the employees they are bringing back in. We’ve got a few products in the mix we were going to release at The Clean Show, and everything we’re doing in house, as far as development is concerned, is making and enhancing products to make them labor saving. By reducing the burden on labor, cleaners can better control their cost on the backend. I got a feeling, come September, we'll all feel a lot better about the business environment that we're in.”
To register for the next installment of the free webinar, or to watch videos of this or previous forums, visit americasbestcleaners.com/leadershipforum. You can also visit the “News” section of americandrycleaner.com for recaps of these past Leadership Forums.