CHICAGO — Let’s talk about employee relations. Your employee relations.
How key are your employees to the success of your business?
One dry cleaner we asked is Todd Ofsink, founder and CEO of Todd Layne Cleaners, in NYC, who relates: “With 100 percent certainty, I can say that my team holds the keys to the success of my business.”
He describes his cleaners as an eco-friendly drycleaning and specialized laundry company.
About his employees he says, “They know the majority of my customers by first name and are able to follow all of their individual instructions. We keep a profile for each customer with specific needs like best pickup/delivery times, laundry choices, etc. Without the right staff, the business wouldn’t survive more than a few days!”
Employees are often referred to as a team at drycleaning operations. Are your employees treated like a trusted team? Do you empower them to make decisions?
What can you say about that team feeling in business today, and what does it take specifically to create that special environment at a cleaners?
Ofsink weighs in on the topic: “Motivating a team of people at an investment bank is very easy because of the high compensation. Creating a team feeling with people at lower ends of the pay spectrum is quite challenging.”
You strive for a healthy relationship in your drycleaning store’s employee relations. It benefits all: the owner, the team, the customers, and the business overall.
So what does it take to create that special team environment?
“When we hire an employee we stress the importance of attention to detail,” says Ray Kroner, president of Kroner Dry Cleaners in Cincinnati, Ohio, in business since 1939.
“We want to make the ‘extra step’ our routine. Clear communication of goals and respect of our employees input is crucial to our success. Monthly production meetings go a long way in creating the team atmosphere,” Kroner points out.
In these meetings, he relates, “we discuss the state of the industry, unsatisfied customers, what we’re doing right, and where we can improve. More importantly then meetings is daily interaction with our employees. This creates a rapport that instills confidence and loyalty.”
Kroner says: “For 80 years we’ve continued to provide our garment care service to western Cincinnati. I am the third generation of the business. We have 25 employees, many who have been with us over 16 years.”
He notes they just celebrated their 80th year in business with a customer appreciation party.
“We invited our employees, family, friends and customers to a Saturday afternoon open house and over 250 people attended,” Kroner says.
There are short and long term goals associated with this official celebration, he notes. “First, and most importantly, it’s good to recognize the hard work of our employees and family, and mark the occasion.
“Second, it shows appreciation to our customer base and they continue to have confidence in our service. Lastly, we received recognition from county officials and the local news ran a short segment on the event. It played well on social media as well,” Kroner says.
He relates that after his business has a good month or good season, buying lunch for the staff goes a long way in showing appreciation.
“We are a family-oriented industry, and also very close to our communities,” he notes. “These elements are highly important for your drycleaning business longevity.”
He indicates that through growing routes, “We have evolved from a neighborhood cleaners. Yet, it’s still extremely important for us to demonstrate how personal this business is. We believe that your wardrobe is a piece of your personality and it’s our professional mission to protect our customer’s investment.”
About family involvement in business Kroner points out: “My family has always been active in church and civic groups. My father Lou Kroner Jr. started a program called the Outstanding Young Citizens Banquet.
“The event recognizes students from ten of our areas junior high schools for being good civic leaders in their classroom. It couples them with sponsors from the business community. Teachers are also invited so we can thank them for their efforts as well.
“The banquet concludes with a guest speaker. In all about 100 attend. Along with my daughters and our marketing director, I have taken over the event. This year will be our 55th annual banquet.”
Kroner also adds a final thought about balance in employee relations: “When we use the term family it creates a bit of a challenge because we are still running a business. It is important for the employees to know that while you are compassionate to life’s obstacles, business comes first.” Business is
business, and the bottom-line rules, yet the front line of a service business is the interaction between that customer walking in the door and the team member at the counter. That’s critical.
“The employees we have on the counters and drive-thrus at our retail stores are the face of our company. They are a new customer’s first impression of our brand, and this is something we take very seriously,” points out Robert Walker, III, president of Max I. Walker, a 102-year-old drycleaning and laundry business serving the Omaha, Neb. metro area.
“We diversified our services in 1974 to include uniform rental and facility services. Today, both sides of the company are quite successful,” Walker relates. “We have 22 drycleaning stores in the metro area, and service uniform rental for nearly all the automotive dealerships in town, amongst other well-known companies throughout central and eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.”
In total, he notes, his team consists of more than 120 team members across both divisions of the company, some who have worked there for 35 or more years.
Based on customer feedback, he indicates, “We know that our customers become and remain loyal to Max I. Walker because of people and relationships. We of course have extremely high standards and strict quality control, and employ the best methods and technology available for garment care.
“But beyond cleaning, we know that customers follow employees around if they move to a different location, that customers go out of their way to keep coming to their same store if they move to a new home, and that they know they could go elsewhere and pay less but choose to remain loyal to their local neighborhood dry cleaner because of the excellent customer service they receive.”
Team is a special feeling that takes everyone: owners, managers and employees, working together.
Walker describes how they create an environment where employees feel comfortable asking for help or advice, “even if it’s not work related, and we do what we can to help people out in times of need.”
He notes that: “While this approach is not infallible, it has proven to be successful with our rising stars. We have many incredibly hardworking and dedicated people on our team who have overcome some tough situations, in part due to our support and coaching.
“We like to think of our team members as family, and we treat them as such,” says Walker.
Can a team run self-directed so an owner can be away?
“We have a group of trusted managers and veteran employees whose judgment we trust entirely,” Walker explains.
“If they are left to temporarily run things, we know we can count on them to not let us down. These team members have gained our trust by repeatedly showing us they are reliable, hardworking, and willing to go above and beyond because they care about this business and its success as much as we do,” he adds.
What tips can we pass on to other owners to help build a family feeling of trust for their drycleaning operations?
“Owners and management need to get out into their stores and build relationships with employees,” says Walker.
“Let them know you appreciate what they do for you, and that you are invested in their success. Work to overcome the ‘us versus them’ mentality — you’re all on the same team, with the same goal.”
He passes on these ideas: “Invest some time and resources into showing employees that you value them — actions speak louder than words.
“We have an annual family picnic day at a water park. We give each employee a turkey at Thanksgiving and a ham at Christmas. We do a monthly pizza party with birthday cake. And we hold an annual service awards luncheon where we recognize milestone anniversaries and give each honoree a gift commensurate with their length of employment,” he says.
Walker adds: “We also give out ‘kudos’ cards whenever we notice someone doing an exceptionally good job or going above and beyond, which they can turn in for $10.
“But above all else, genuine attention from top to bottom in the organization is key. An attempt to spend a little time with everyone no matter what their position is, as often as you can, is the key to strong leadership and a culture of family that persists,” Walker concludes.
Do you want to grow your special team feeling and grow an even more special workplace family feeling? Take some of these tips to heart. Many of you do this now. It’s a unique and personal business you run and the service you provide your clients and your community shows you always give 100 percent!
To read Part 1, go HERE.