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Keeping the Lines of Communication Open (Part 1)

Cleaners discuss importance of marketing in tough times

CHICAGO — Many cleaners see marketing as an expense — something great to do when profits are up, but the first thing to be cut when business is down.

This could be a fatal mistake, says Peter Blake, executive director of the Northeast Fabricare Association (NEFA) and the South Eastern Fabricare Association (SEFA), because the interactions dry cleaners have with customers should go beyond the transactional. Blake led a discussion about marketing and ways dry cleaners can tackle the subject during a session of the recent Fall Fest Expo, a virtual event co-sponsored by NEFA, SEFA and the Pennsylvania and Delaware Cleaners Association (PDCA).

“You have a relationship with your customers, he says. “You want to make sure you’re fostering that relationship, and you’re communicating with them in every way you can.”

Seeing is Believing

Jen Marquardt, a partner at Arthur’s Executive Cleaners, located in the Buffalo, New York area, didn’t have an overarching marketing plan when she started to post videos on her company’s Facebook page. She simply wanted to give people a break from the increasingly gloomy times that early 2020 brought.

“(The pandemic lockdown) was obviously a shock to the system in March,” Marquardt says. “There was so much negativity, and everyone was scared. Instead of making videos saying, ‘This is who we are,’ and, ‘This is what we do,” my main goal in starting these videos was literally to make people smile and laugh because there wasn’t a lot of that going on. There were some really scary times and in business and family and personal lives. So, I just thought, ‘Let's get a camera up, and we'll do some videos.’”

Marquardt’s videos are short — generally under a minute in length — and offer cleaning and organizing tips, thoughts for the day, behind-the-scenes moments at her company and other topics. Marquardt ends each of her videos with her tagline, “Have a happy day, have a safe day, have a clean day!” She posts a new video every weekday, with Saturday saved for a collection of bloopers from that week’s efforts.

“People relate to the bloopers, and, yeah, I look like an idiot half the time, but I don’t care because it’s making people smile,” Marquardt says. “And, of course, they're getting some awareness of who we are and what we do without shoving something in their face.”

Her only equipment is her smartphone and an app that allows for some basic editing. “It can definitely be uncomfortable when you are in front of a video,” Marquardt says. “I would tell people to pretend there's nothing there. We all talk to people every single day — new customers come in our doors or call us up every single day. I just act like it's that.”

Lou D’Autorio, COO for Sage Cleaners in Tampa, Florida, has also had success with Facebook videos in creating an audience, answering the questions his customers have and building his brand. “I get the same knot in my stomach now as I did six months ago,” he says. “You’ve just got to do it. You start small, and you work your way up.”

One tip that Marquardt would give aspiring cinematographers is that not everyone watches online videos with the sound on. “I’m a big fan of subtitles,” she says, “because I never have the volume up on my phone. Never.”

Being Social

Effective marketing through social media is an elusive animal that has eluded many small business owners, and dry cleaners are no exception. Although Marquardt has built an audience and brand recognition through her videos, it’s not a one-stop solution for all her marketing needs.

“I’ve paid to boost some posts on Facebook, and that does get them a lot of views,” she says, “but I don’t know if that has correlated with more customers coming in.” Her company has also tried a promotion where people who comment on her posts got a 50%-off coupon, but it didn’t prove to be effective. “We’ve done it twice and got next to no return.”

“I do some boosting on Facebook,” D’Autorio says, “but not through LinkedIn, however; it’s too expensive,” he says. He does have a way around that, though. “I have a network on LinkedIn, so when I share anything, I will typically tag them, and they’ll like and share the posts for me, and that will boost that up, and I do the same for them.”

To truly gauge the effectiveness of not only your message but the medium you’re using to connect to your audience, you need to know what metrics are most important to you, says Dave Coyle, owner of In The Bag Cleaners, based in Wichita, Kansas. Coyle also operates a Facebook group, Maverick Marketing Mastermind, dedicated to providing cleaners a place to discuss ways of getting their message out.

“The idea of trying a lot of different advertising, like throwing a dart at a dartboard, can get frustrating very quickly,” Coyle says. “So, if you’re following metrics such as clicks, views or impressions, be a little cautious with that. You need to figure out a way to tie it to the real metric, which is sales. It’s ringing the cash drawer. That’s the truest metric.”

Marketing with Meaning

While everyone would love to find the “magic bullet” — that one perfect message that will create a line of happy customers who will wrap a line around their store — the reality of marketing is that it’s a long-term investment in the business, Blake says.

“Even if it doesn’t have an immediate ROI, what you’re doing today is planting seeds that are going to grow into a much better relationship,” he says.

There’s an old saying that “perfect is the enemy of good,” meaning people can get obsessed with the details in a project to the point where they never actually get started. This thought process, Blake believes, is a problem many small businesses face, and something they must overcome. “This biggest thing I can tell you is ‘Start,’” he says. “Do it. Do something. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. Don’t wait to have the perfect video or email list. Just go ahead. Start marketing your business, and the rest will fall into place.”

Check back Tuesday for Part 2, where we’ll examine how to attract — and keep — new customers!