CANCUN, Mexico — When was the last time you shared ideas with industry peers on how to make your dry cleaning business more efficient, expand your customer base, or boost your bottom line?
More than 100 dry cleaning professionals traveled to a Cancun resort in January to exchange best practices during a joint conference sponsored by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) and the National Cleaners Association (NCA).
Brian Johnson, DLI’s director of education and analysis, called Secrets The Vine resort a “fantastic venue.” Attendees learned each other’s business secrets at daily, three-hour seminars. For example, motivational speaker and author Jack Mitchell discussed his “Hug Your Customers” philosophy that helps his business operating men’s and women’s specialty stores to thrive.
“His methods were fascinating,” says Johnson, explaining that “hugs” are unexpected gestures like placing a birthday card in a customer’s suit pocket.
“He enters every bit of information he learns about a customer into a database—the names of their spouse, children and pets; anniversaries; favorite sports teams; where their kids go to school—then uses that information to build relationships.
“Customers not only remember those hugs, but become loyal, and encourage their family and friends to do business with him.”
Economist Ray Keating told attendees that the sun will rise sometime soon.
“According to what we heard, even bad economic times present opportunities to the creative and forward-thinking entrepreneurs,” says Ann Hargrove, director of special projects for NCA. “Ray’s message was to be creative, keep trying inventive ideas and to remember the ancient proverb, “This, too, shall pass.”
Nora Nealis, NCA’s executive director, found the mix of seminar and leisure time to be ideal.
“Some great information came from the sharing done among the cleaners when they were poolside, dining together or just sitting around,” she says. And the best part of any conference, according to Nealis, is the opportunity to meet and greet. “Renewing old friendships and forging new ones in such great surroundings is always a high spot for everyone attending.”
Jamie Albano, president of Albano’s Cleaners, Norfolk, Va., says she took home a lesson on how to hug her customers.
“I am working on how, with a central plant, to make sure all staff feels like they are hugging their customers, even though they may never see the customer,” she says. “Teaching them to take pride in what they do will ultimately make a huge difference.”
Joe Hallak of Hallak & Sons in New York City says he found the energy generated by such a wide cross-section of cleaners to be extremely exciting.
For Fred Schwarzmann, president of A.L. Wilson Chemical Co., the networking opportunities were a highlight. “I think this year’s event had about double the number of people as last year’s event, because it’s the second year now and people were very positive about last year’s event.
“The more people who come to these events, the better because it facilitates a more robust cross-pollination of ideas.”
His allied trade co-sponsors, Adco Chemical, CLG Insurance, Electrolux and The Green Garmento, agree that it was great to be able to spend relaxed, quality time with such a group of cleaners.
DLI CEO Mary Scalco summed up the event by saying the annual collaborative conference represents a unique opportunity for dry cleaners to discover new practices, address common challenges, gain industry insights and receive constructive feedback about specific operational issues and solutions.
DLI and NCA have already begun planning next January’s conference. In the meantime, more educational opportunities await attendees of Clean Show 2013 in New Orleans (June 20-22) and NCA’s Texcare 2013 in New Jersey (Oct. 19-20).