CHICAGO — If you think about the drycleaning industry as the human body, distributors are not only part of the circulation system but could also be considered connective tissue.
Not only do they get much-needed supplies and equipment to stores so they can continue their daily efforts of serving their own customers, but distributors also bring a lot more with them. By working with several clients spread over a geographic area, distributors can provide their customers with a vantage point of the industry that is impossible to see from just a single storefront.
The relationship a dry cleaner has with his or her distributor is one of the most valuable connections he or she can have with the industry as a whole. However, making the most of this association requires effort from both sides, and choosing the right distributor can be critical for maximizing a cleaner’s success.
The Building Blocks
Like any long-term relationship, certain factors must be there from the beginning to keep the connection between dry cleaners and distributors alive, just as others will develop over time.
“It’s kind of like a friendship,” says Ann Hargrove, director of events and special projects at the National Cleaners Association (NCA). “You want to know that, when you talk with your distributor, they’re telling you the truth and that you can always call on them for advice. After the sale, you want to know that, if you have a problem, you can pick up the phone and they’ll answer you. It takes time to build a relationship — it’s a gradual thing. I have a few who I call automatically if I have a question about a piece of equipment or anything because I know I’m going to hear the truth. They have no agenda.”
John Silverman, president of Tschopp Supply Co., based in New York state, agrees: “It’s treating your customers as friends, and all the things that go with it — integrity, honesty and being willing to work with customers when things don’t go right,” he says. “If they need a little extra time to pay, for example, you extend some credit.”
“We focus on being honest with our customers and try to put ourselves in their shoes,” says Andrew Dubinski of Texas-based Mustang Enterprises. “We make recommendations based on what we would want for our own drycleaning plant, if we owned one.”
Another essential element in forging a lasting relationship is maintaining open lines of communication. Because of the pandemic, keeping the supply chain intact has been especially difficult during the past year.
Because of this, Silverman believes that clear communications can ease — or remove — the pain involved.
“There have been a lot of chemicals that haven’t been available,” he says. “Rather than just sending nothing, we call the customer and explain that product XYZ has been in backorder for three weeks, but we have another product and ask if they would be willing to try it. A lot of distributors just send the other product, but we call the customer to notify them that day and explain the substitution. It’s important to our relationship with our customers that we communicate. That’s what we owe them.”
“The key to maintaining good relationships,” says Larry Lieberman, president of North Carolina’s B&G Lieberman Co., “is doing what you say! This includes communicating, being fair with pricing and helping solve customer problems.”
“We do our best to update our customers on new equipment and innovations in the industry,” Dubinski says. “We also have insight into which brands have proven the most reliable. We push products that we have had the least amount of trouble with.”
Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll look at the importance of longevity and building a relationship when it comes to working with a distributor.