PEMBROKE, Mass. — Urban dry cleaners have much more competition than most of us have.
Take New York City, for example. There are 2,600 stores, some with multiple locations, so that means about 3,500 to 4,000 outlets. On Lexington Avenue between 82nd and 83rd streets, there are three dry cleaners on one block.
There’s Chen’s Cleaners, Mak’s, and KM Cleaners. Some customers could become so befuddled that they go to Chen’s one week, Mak’s another, and KM Cleaners the third without ever realizing it. That’s a slight exaggeration, but the point is that the competitive marketplace in urban cities is fierce.
With about 36,000 stores in the country, that’s about 7% of the drycleaning operations in a 300-square-mile area. That’s a lot of dry cleaners crowded into a very small space.
Such fierce competition is the rule in major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Boston, and Phoenix. Perhaps there aren’t three dry cleaners to choose from on every block, but there are a half-dozen dry cleaners in any marketing area.
The question is, how does the urban operator handle the rivalry?
One way is to simply accept the business that comes your way. People walk in and you do their work as thoroughly as possible. You’ll probably manage. You’ll lose some customers but you’ll gain others. It doesn’t really matter, because every person is simply a job to you.
A second option is to do high-quality work and maintain area-wide prices. Through word of mouth, you’ll gain clientele. The only problem is, because you take time to do the cleaning really well, your costs will be significantly higher, and profitability will elude you.
If you raise prices to compensate for the fine work you do, a significant portion of the customers would leave because they refuse to pay $3.50 for a shirt. So you’re in kind of a Catch-22.
A third way is to develop your clientele through the force of your personality. Relate to each customer in a way that makes the customer comfortable. Make the customer want to come in to see you.
Become a vibrant presence in your shop. Do this and the existing accounts will stay, plus you’ll win a steady stream of new business. To reframe the strategy, use your personality to build your business.
This is not as easy as it sounds. You must first size up the customer. Then you must figure what that person wants as far as interaction. Then you must interact with the customer to create the magic bond.
That means you must spend quite a bit of the time on the counter, even though you might be more valuable in the plant. To start, perhaps covering the counter for several weeks in a row is a good practice.
Then you must train someone to be your alter ego at the counter. That is, to make Mr. Jacobs or Mrs. Brueder or young Jim Staretti feel a sense of comfort in your store, not an easy job.
To get to know your customers, ask questions when they enter the store. Find out a bit about them. Ask about their family, their work, and their interests. Through asking these questions and listening to the answers, you will get a sense of the individual.
Write down some comments in a notebook next to their name. I know this task takes time. After all, you’re very busy. You’ve got customers waiting. But it is important to make that “face” connection.
Possibly it will take several of their visits and exchanges to learn their individual information.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion.