CHICAGO — Bob Marks and his wife Ruth bought a Laundromat in Perry, Mich., population 4,000. Then they bought some used drycleaning equipment and, as he tells it, just started dry cleaning in 1990.
“There was no dry cleaner in Perry so I started one. I saw a need,” he relates by phone recently.
There’s the sudden sound of a customer talking to him in the background and he excuses himself a moment to chat briefly. His friendly voice echoes through his store behind a hand over the phone, and then he’s back again, picking up right where he left off.
“Then we bought Stoner’s Cleaners in Owosso, Mich., in 2000. This became our main drycleaning plant in this town of once about 40,000. It’s located between Lansing and Flint in the middle of the state.”
Marks is the owner of Ruthy’s Cleaners. Ruth does all the bookkeeping while Bob runs the operation and, he mentions, “also serves as vice president of MILD.” That stands for the Michigan Institute of Laundering & Drycleaning.
“When I bought this store, there were five cleaners, but now it’s just us. Our population is down to well under 20,000 and falling. It’s becoming a sleepy retirement town.”
In this scenic town, there’s a castle and a steam railroading institute, according to Wikipedia.
This resilient owner offers a tip he learned about raising prices in his small-town market, which he passes along: “Our price raises are small. I don’t like to raise prices. So we maybe raise them 10 cents or 15 cents. We’ll do it every six months,” he relates.
This small-business owner shares how he does business in his town today, showing how he has adapted, found out what works, and where his niche lies.
“We now serve courthouses, police departments, small business offices. We go right to their businesses as it’s such a small community,” Marks says. It’s busy again where he is and there’s another brief pause. But only for a moment.
“We wanted to keep our business revenue growing,” he says. “We got into fire restoration. Now we have two Laundromats and we bring fire-damaged clothing and work overnight to separate clothes and use the ozone room.”
He found out another new pathway for his business to thrive. And he went with it. Ever the opportunist.
“Fire restoration,” Marks exclaims, “is the most profitable thing I’ve ever done. But things are feast or famine, as many drycleaning owners know. The price of the restoration cleaning is set by the insurance company. I don’t set prices.”
HIS DIME, HIS DANCE
There is brief chit-chat again on his side of the phone line. But he’s right back again.
“I’m busy but I still want more.”
Is it hard to be profitable today?
Staff is an issue, he points out. “To have people working for you who show up, who care, you pay a premium for them.”
Marks talks price again, a factor in his profits, as with any business owner, that must be delicately maintained. He gauges his customers carefully. He knows what competitors get, but he knows his customers so well.
“For the setting of prices, I’m doing shirts at $2.50 and making money but we don’t want to price ourselves out of our market,” he notes. “The bigger towns of Grand Rapids and Lansing are getting more per shirt.”
One last bit of advice from the owner of Ruthy’s before another customer demands his attention and he has to get going:
“If you are planning to raise your prices, do it in ‘little ups’ of price increases.”
He says that by doing it that way, customers barely notice.
“That’s the way I’ve learned my lesson,” Marks advises. “Maybe twice a year, do small, incremental price raises, a dime or so. You can’t just jump up 50 cents.”
That’s one pathway to profit, pointed out by one drycleaning owner. No doubt there are many more ways dry cleaners go about it. But for this Midwestern cleaner, it’s all about those little ups!
To read part 1, go HERE.