Improving Productivity Behind the Counter (Part 1)

Howard Scott |

Opportunities to make sales during downtime

PEMBROKE, Mass. — I have walked into many dry cleaners to see the counter staffer sitting there, blindly staring into space. When I entered, she would ask, “Can I help you?” and I would say something. But, before I entered, she was just sitting there doing nothing. Yes, her job is to help customers. But can’t we get more productivity out of that job slot? Can’t we get her to do some work between customers?

One dry cleaner told me that his counter staffer had other tasks to do besides helping customers—she had to mark in jobs, research specific projects, keep the front clean, and attend to other tasks. When I asked him if she ever has “nothing” to do, he said, if she finished her work, she could do nothing. Then he shrugged. “What else could she do?”

What indeed? Couldn’t we motivate her to become a salesperson, or rather a sales agent, during downtime? How do you do that? you ask. There’s a phone right there, and a phone book under the counter—all a sales agent needs.

A two-minute phone call could win a new account. If the sales agent is interrupted by a customer entering the store, she could, depending on how far along in the conversation she is, hold up her index finger and indicate that she’ll “just be a minute.” Or, she could begin processing the customer’s order while manning the phone. Or, she could say, “I’m sorry. A customer just walked in. May I call you right back?”

During the sales call, the counter staffer makes the pitch for patronage. He/she might say, “We’ve recently upgraded all our equipment so that everything is environmentally friendly. If you are worried about your current dry cleaner’s chemical use, please give us a try.” Or she might say, “Our cleaner is a wizard at getting out stains, and we’d appreciate a chance to prove it. Next time you have a stained garment, bring it here.”

Here are examples of other sales pitches:

  • “When you see our finishing and the way everything is folded and hung, you know we care about your clothes.”
  • “If you give us a try this month, your first order will be half-price.”
  • “If you want pick-up and delivery service, our driver is really conscientious. He’ll make it problem-free.”

One might choose the wrong approach, but one rejected inducement could lead to another.

All of these are sales pitches that could entice individuals to give you a try. Some prospects will be dissatisfied with their current dry cleaner, which will be even more incentive for them to give you a try. It could be that you call someone who’s just moved into town and doesn’t have a dry cleaner.

As with all sales, it’s by the numbers. Make enough calls and a percentage will stick. That share might vary from 10% to 33%, depending on several factors. They include your staffer’s sales technique, luck, and the elements of the marketplace, such as whether your store is well known and where it is located. But no matter what’s in place, everyone can win new business.

How are you going to get counter staffers to make calls when they’re not salespeople? That’s where your training ability comes in. You must convince counter staffers that it is an important task and that it is just a matter of talking. Of course, some will be upset when prospects hang up or are rude. Others will be stymied with some questions. So, you must train them.

Check back Wednesday for the conclusion: Scenarios and incentives

About the author

Howard Scott

Industry Writer and Drycleaning Consultant

Howard Scott is a former business owner, longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant. He welcomes questions and comments and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359; by calling 781-293-9027; or via e-mail at


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