PEMBROKE, Mass. — A dry cleaner recently called me, complaining of losing $17,000 business in the month after he moved his plant. Simultaneously, he had to move his drop store. I advised him that with proper promotion, business will return to normal. But perhaps that isn’t the whole story. You can’t just sit there and wait. You have to be proactive to return to your regular business level when dealing with business interruption.
First, expect volume to drop.
You move. You have a construction project in front of the store. You close up for two weeks because of a family catastrophe. It makes sense that customers avoid you. Possibly they can’t find where you moved, and you didn’t provide enough advance notice. Or they anticipated the move, and cleaned enough clothes in advance so they wouldn’t have to use you for a while.
Because of the construction going on, it’s inconvenient to park in front, and so the customer goes elsewhere. Maybe the patrons are mad that you are closed, as they made a special trip to come to you during normal business hours. Conceivably, they haven’t needed any dry cleaning done. It stands to reason that you are worried, because business isn’t what it supposed to be, and if this continues, there will be a point where you won’t be able to pay your bills. Panic sets in. You see collapse in plain sight.
Don’t go overboard.
The usual pattern is for business to drop considerably on the first month of change and slowly return to normal. Four to six months later, you’re back to normal. Of course, there are things you can do to mitigate the decline in volume.
Here are some suggestions:
CONTACT CUSTOMERS AFTER THE MOVE
When things are back to normal, go on the offensive. Keep a list of the 200 customers who come in weekly, and the 500 who come in monthly; the rest are occasional customers. If a few weeks go by and you don’t hear from the 200 weekly customers, call them. If a few months go by and you don’t hear from your 500 monthly customers, make a phone call. Yes, it is a hard call, but it must be done. There is a reason why they are not coming back, and you want to find it out. Of course, you want to make sure they are still customers.
The conversation might go something like this: “Hello, Mrs. Sweeney. This is Mike Karl at One-Stop Cleaners. You know that we moved, right? (Waits for answer.) Then we’ll be expecting you to bring us work. We love to clean your clothes because they’re always a challenge. You’re the type of discerning customer we like, and we don’t want to lose you. OK, Mrs. Sweeney, see you soon.”
Note several aspects of the conversation. I refer to the customer by name. I identify myself right away. I point out the move. I presume they’re still customers, rather than asking them if they are still customers. Otherwise, such a charge could be embarrassing.
I compliment the customer. In this case, I called her “discerning.” In another situation, I might say “sharp dresser.” Yet again, I might say she wears “lovely clothes.” Or I might cite her/his customer regularity. Or longevity. Surely you can come up with one compliment to give the customer.
Finally, I structure the conversation so that it isn’t confrontational. All the customer needs to do is listen. But, at the same time, it gives the customer an opportunity to complain. Be sure to choose statements in your talk that achieve a positive vibe.
This time, it is important to speak to an individual and not to leave a message. This is an important call, for it might be the difference between retaining or losing a good customer. Therefore, these calls should be done at night, before or after supper, and be made by you. Only the boss can have such influence. But remember that this is an informative call. Never let your voice rise above a conversational tone.
Then, as time permits, an assistant can call the occasional customers.
It does take time to win back 100% of business. Change is always discombobulating. Plus, there could be other market forces at work—a slow time of year, etc., that keeps sales down. Most likely, it will take four months for business to normalize itself. Spending sleepless nights worrying about the decline of business is not what you want to do.
HAVE AN EMERGENCY PLAN
Finally, if business persists in remaining low, then perhaps it is that your new location is less than perfect. Parking is harder. The area is less safe. There is more competition in your neighborhood. The plant is too far off the main drag. If that is the case, you must roll up your sleeves and create a strategy to reclaim your former level of business.
If walk-in patronage is lower, perhaps you might consider opening a drop store, possibly in the very neighborhood that you left. Or initiate a pickup-and-delivery service. If you are in a more industrial area, where many potential commercial customers are your neighbors, go after this bulk volume. Another option is to get into the wholesale trade, processing clothes for other dry cleaners.
Whatever you do, don’t just sit there and wait for your old customer base to return.
Miss Part One? You can read it HERE.