Jolly Belin of France opened the world’s first drycleaning “business” in the 1840s. He accidentally spilled some kerosene on his stained clothing and saw the spots vanish. The rest is history, as they say.
Today, there are more than 30,000 drycleaning establishments in the United States. About 85% of are small, Mom-and-Pop establishments employing approximately five people and generating about $200,000 in annual sales.
As all industries do, drycleaners are struggling with challenges that limit steady growth. Ask yourself: How many of us still wear business attire to work every day? I no longer do, nor does anyone else in my office—not even the CEO. Most people are dropping off much less at the drycleaners these days, due to the casual workplace.
Another major challenge the drycleaner faces is stricter environmental regulations designed to restrict the use of perc. This has led to higher hazardous-waste costs, expensive changes of equipment and even lost leases.
And finally, increased wages and intensified competition have taken a toll on many smaller businesses. With low profit margins, you just can’t justify hiring more people to do unskilled and semiskilled work. So, what can a Mom-and-Pop shop do to attract more business?
The answer is simple: Invoke your creative powers and ramp up traditional and social-media marketing efforts to get more business in the door.
“It is much better to be preparing a well-conceived and comprehensive marketing plan and get ready to use an appropriate mix of outreach and networking strategies rather than just sticking with one or two that haven’t been working so well lately in the drycleaning industry,” says Andy Gaur, CEO of RiaEnjolie Inc., a New Jersey-based web developer specializing in affordable websites for small businesses.
“If you don’t jump on different things—like social media—that show promise, you may end up in a struggle to retain your current customers, and fail to gain new ones that are unaware of your business and what you can offer them in quality service and affordable pricing,” he says.
The following are items one through four of the eight things drycleaners can do to build a successful business:
Determine your niche. Determining a niche market is an important first step to take, as it narrows the search for customers and makes marketing less overwhelming. Drycleaning niches may include focusing on one type of merchandise, such as leather clothing, wedding gowns, etc.
Perhaps you want to position yourself as the ecofriendly drycleaner, concerned about the health of your customers and the environment. Or, you might consider corporate drycleaning as a niche, and serve clients who work at business corporations. Some drycleaners specialize in “couture” cleaning and cater to celebrities.
Advertise your business effectively. You need a prominent sign at the retail store and a professional-looking, content-rich website on the Internet. Your business needs to reach out to customers wherever they may be—on land and in cyberspace. Cover both bases equally and effectively.
Make up business cards and postcards listing your services, operating hours and phone number for the “land-lubbers.” Encourage them to pass them on to neighbors and friends. On the Web, send out regular e-mail blasts, Facebook posts and Twitter Tweets to keep everyone informed of any special offers they might wish to avail themselves of.
Make your website a memorable place to visit. Occasionally offer your customers, potential customers and other website visitors a free resource, such as a guide or “white paper” that’s packed full of information related to your product or services in exchange for their name and e-mail address. Since these items are delivered as e-mail, there’s little or no cost involved.
Every few weeks, follow up with a little more useful content; it is not a sales pitch, but you will include your business contact information. Internet 101 tells us all to build credibility, establish trust and remind potential customers about your products and services in a non-obnoxious or “in-your-face” way. When they’re ready to buy, you’ll be the first company they contact.
List your business where locals will find it. Make sure your drycleaning business is located on as many local business directory websites as possible. Local people go online to search for local businesses first. They stop at the online yellow pages, Citysearch, Yelp!, and the local business pages of Google and Yahoo!. They are free to use and easy to find, so make sure your business is listed.
Take the time to upload pictures, rates, or something relevant to your service and product. Make your business stand out.
To read the next four things drycleaners can do to build a successful business, please return for Part 2 of this story on Friday, Aug. 27.