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Customer Connections: A Dry Cleaner’s Competitive Advantage (Conclusion)

How do you stand out and become irreplaceable?

SAN FRANCISCO — Theoretically, to some degree, all cleaners clean clothes. They all press them. They offer thousands of convenient locations. There are thousands of them (about 27,000 in the United States at last count). With all those choices available to consumers, how do you stand out and become irreplaceable?

Pricing wars don’t seem to be the answer because they create disloyal customers and disappearing cleaners.

So what will retain and increase your loyal customer base?


If price isn’t the most effective message, what is? That depends entirely on your best customers, their motivations, interests, habits and lifestyles.

Let’s examine consumers who demographically meet the same criteria, and then examine ways to get their attention.

First, according to GENERATIONS Clustering System, there are generational factors based on the five classic age-based groups:

Seniors (Born 1945 & Earlier) — Bleak economic times meant fewer children in the ’30s and early ’40s. Born before, or between, two world wars, the senior generation embraced traditional values when young; marrying and having children early; conforming; and quietly respecting authority. They enjoyed the music of Frank Sinatra and watched James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in theaters. In adulthood, they bucked the trend; women entered the workforce, and divorce rates skyrocketed.

Leading Boomers (Born 1946–1955) — Free love. Peace. Hippie. In a time of political unrest marked by the Vietnam War, the draft, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., 44 million Leading Boomers demanded change. Through protests and riots, they voiced their support for civil rights, protection for the environment and women’s rights. These free-spirited individuals experimented with everything from sex to social structure and psychedelic drugs.

Trailing Boomers (Born 1956–1964) — Born after 1955, nearly 50 million Trailing Boomers were lucky to miss the draft. Less optimistic than older Baby Boomers, their distrust of the government only grew with each political crisis: Watergate, the oil embargo, the Cold War and raging inflation. Their cynicism, though, didn’t deter their love of pop culture; Star Wars smashed box office records, and disco exploded with the release of Saturday Night Fever.

Gen Xers (Born 1965–1974) — From the rise of the Internet to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gen Xers experienced historic changes with global impacts. With increases in the divorce rate, a rise in the federal deficit and the emergence of AIDS, they were skeptical of previous generations’ values. The outlet for their cynicism was a new genre of music—grunge—from bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Millennials (Born 1975–1990) — Rivaling the Baby Boom generation in size, Millennials are high-tech, fast-paced and always multitasking. They are always plugged in; listening to an iPod while instant messaging online and talking on a cell phone is the norm. Most can’t remember life without the Internet. Because of the Web, tastes in fashion and music change with the click of a mouse.

Since the dry cleaning industry is good at attracting boomers and seniors, let's focus on two prospects that fit in the Gen Xer segment: They are both successful in their careers and earn similar incomes; and they both have families.

Prospect A fits into the subcategory of “Moving on a Steady Course.” These multitaskers are busy fulfilling daily obligations while also planning for the future. These folks are both parents and investors who enjoy cooking, gardening, sewing and exercising. They seek control and convenient solutions, are avid mail-order buyers, and cope with common ailments.

Prospect B falls into the subcategory of “Big Bucks in the Big Cities.” Living in the big city costs lots of money, and these college-educated men and women have plenty of it. With the highest household income among their peers, these family-focused individuals have the means and desire to support those who mean most to them.

Although the profiles can be much more detailed relevant to interests, habits, activities, charities, etc., this gives a framework for our discussion. Simplistic approaches include:

Time saving and “stay-in-the-car” convenience of your drive-thru is a message that will resonate with Prospect A.

Prospect B is likely to respond to the “you take care of it” valet service to their building.

Reaching Prospect A might be easier through a joint venture with the local school, gardening center or cooking school, whereas Prospect B is more likely to be reached through a theater program or “evening at the museum” event.

The more you know about your target prospects, the more compelling your communications can be by appealing individually to what interests them, what they care about and how they view their world.

Understanding what drives customers’ decisions allows for communication to become more relevant, marketing more effective, customer relationships stronger, and your return on investment much higher.

Connecting with your customers is good business.

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