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Customer Connections: A Dry Cleaner's Competitive Advantage (Part 1)

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?


First, do the basics well, and be consistent. But a real competitive advantage results from knowing how to communicate with your customers and prospects to keep them interested, engaged and connected to your company.

Personal experience shows that the more you know about another person and their interests, the more engaging you can make the conversation for them. Just think of conversations with your family and friends. Do you discuss the same things with all of your friends or do the conversations vary?

The same is true for professional communications with customers and prospects. Give them a reason to pay attention.


You already know more than you think about your best customers. A good training exercise at a sales staff meeting is to have everyone think of their best customer, and in 5 minutes write a list of everything they know about that customer. Give a prize to the one that lists the highest number of items. Everyone will be surprised at how much information is already available just by thinking about it. One of the things your best sales people do is automatically use the information they know about your customers to make them feel welcome, valued and special.

Add to that list the information stored in the point-of-sale system and the knowledge list gets exponentially longer. Yet, even more sophisticated marketing information is available if you take the further step of scientifically profiling your best-customer database.

Many of you have stores that blanket an entire town. Whatever your message, if it is the same everywhere to everyone, you have probably experienced different response rates at different stores. Make a habit of tracking the response rates for each message by store and draw your own conclusions about what messages are more appealing at the “micro” local level. Also track who uses the offer, how often they use your service and how much they spend in total with you. Examine responses from your best customers in particular because they are the ones paying your bills and providing your profit.


Crafting the message for maximum appeal to your target customer or prospect is a combination of art and science, but it should start with what will appeal to them, and where that intersects with your best business interest. Focus on your profitable customers—they will tell their friends and the rest will follow.


Since by far the most common message sent by dry cleaners is discount or coupon, let’s examine that message first.

Despite the way it looks from the operational side, the cleaning business is a luxury business. Less than 10% of the total population can afford to be regular dry cleaning customers. But don’t despair, because luxury businesses can be extremely profitable. Many thriving niches fit this category: luxury autos, boats, clothing lines, designer household furnishings, cosmetics, wine, gourmet food lines, jewelry, arts and antiques, watches, and professional dry cleaning.

To put the available disposable income into perspective, at a base price of $80,000+, the Tesla electric car is outselling all of its “mass market” competitors, and has a waiting list for delivery. Thinking of your business in “luxury” terms opens a whole new approach to customer communication.

For example, when a man spends an average of $180 for a Thomas Pink shirt, do you think he is going to risk having it cleaned for $1.99? Will 50 cents difference in price on a golf shirt make the decision for someone who pays $100 or more to play a round of golf, and is emotional about that favorite course shirt? Will someone who pays $750 for a set of Pratesi sheets trust them to a cleaner that will process them for $5 per sheet? Is price really the No. 1 message you want to project?

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

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