SAN FRANCISCO — Consumers, especially drycleaning consumers, are busy people. They are pulled in a thousand directions and have little discretionary time. That’s why they outsource the maintenance of their wardrobes to us.
They also are bombarded with marketing messages every second of the day so it’s a challenge to grab their attention, even for information that’s important to them.
Concrete and convenient alternatives that make their lives easier will win their business and their loyalty.
One of the most inconvenient personal services has long been professional dry cleaning and laundry. Like buying gasoline for a car, it is a classic “nuisance” errand. Few, if any, other consumer services have such limited hours of access, such a delay in delivery of the final product, and, to make matters worse, such a long time to complete a transaction that traditionally takes at least two visits. Whatever can be done to overcome these hurdles can be a competitive advantage.
LIST YOUR CONVENIENCES
A good start is to list all the conveniences you currently offer, then add the ones you could include. Most of the list is obvious.
Drive-Thru Service provides a huge advantage to the consumer. Eight of the top 10 sales-volume locations with membership in Methods for Management Inc. have drive-thrus. They are especially valuable to customers with children and/or pets in the car, with orders that are bulky or heavy, when parking is limited or inconvenient, when speed of service is important, and when mobility is an issue.
One thing to note: The consumer advantage must outweigh staff resistance. The customer’s inconvenience shifts to the staff and that’s why they are paid to provide the service.
In-Car Service is still available if a drive-thru is impossible in your location. Implement the carhop/valet concept through your front door.
Whether you provide drive-thru or valet service, it is critical to beat the customer to their car door to properly provide this service. Don’t wait for them to call or ring a bell.
Drop Boxes can provide partial service 24 hours seven days a week, and are great for the busy professional working long or odd hours.
Drive-By Express-Drop Buggies are a particularly welcome element for rush-hour drive-by drop-offs, allowing a customer to toss a full bag into a waiting buggy.
24-Hour Locker Access can provide the pickup half of the service equation. Such access does have limitations, but it is less expensive than more automated systems.
24/7 Automated Kiosks provide full service for the consumer who wants round-the-clock availability. These systems stand alone or can supplement store hours. It is surprising to witness the amount of activity that occurs on these units in the middle of the night.
VIP Bags with bar-coded customer identification and preferences make all of these options easier for both customer and staff. Ensure that the customer has multiple bags so she can have one or more at home to fill while dirty clothes are being processed.
Outlets in High-Frequency Errand Locations, such as grocery stores, gas stations and metro/commuter train stations, take your service to the places that customers frequently visit in the course of their daily lives, and the locations remove the necessity of a separate trip to have any cleaning done.
Route Service (either at work or at home) eliminates the necessity to match preferred customer hours, even though it still has limitations or requirements that are hurdles for some customers. The more flexible the route alternatives, the broader the customer appeal, but acknowledging that flexibility also adds expense.
Designated Closets in the workplace or in a condo/apartment complex can overcome some objections to route service, such as the need to leave clothing outdoors.
Concierge Service can provide a similar advantage to help make the prospect feel more comfortable about leaving her clothing for a driver.
Agencies can provide convenient on-site locations such as a newsstand on a busy campus or at a tailor shop.
Cleaning Representatives serve the same purpose in group-living situations, such as in sororities, fraternities or dorms on a college campus.
Customer Communication is a convenience often overlooked in marketing, but it is appreciated by clientele when they know about it. Reminders, voice mail messages, texts, e-mails, websites, blogs, newsletters and promotional blasts all have value when the information is timely and focused on the customer.
24-Hour Customer Service (voice or electronic) is a rarity in the drycleaning industry, and our business is one of the last holdouts to provide this service. Consider how you can provide this service to your customers. Does outsourcing an off-hours answering service or instant chat make sense for you?
Joint Venture Partner Servicing is a lucrative alternative that is often overlooked by dry cleaners, but it can increase profit exponentially. The concept is to provide convenient and valuable services to potential referrers of business, which can include retailers and specialty providers such as wedding photographers, planners and caterers; event venues; costumers; and restoration contractors.
Providing them with convenient service will keep your dry cleaner at the top of the list when they refer business. For example, you could help a local theater catalogue and barcode its costume collection in exchange for making you its cleaner of choice.
The key to customer convenience is offering service when, where and how the customers want it. Be creative in your approach. Once you have identified your target list of conveniences, you can effectively promote them to your existing customers and prospects.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].