Life AU (After UGGs)

Carolyn B. Nankervis |

APPLETON, Wis. — As I finished my last column, I was preparing to travel and speak at the DIA “Twin Clean” show in Sydney, Australia. I was awash in doubts about my keynote presentation on customer service at the counter.

Would my 17-plus years working with dry cleaners in the United States translate to their businesses? In more practical terms, I wondered if Australians had some kind of secret to cleaning UGG boots, which are popular in the States.

I have some sad news for all of you who are making a nice profit cleaning those Australian boots.

George Masselos is the owner of Centennial Cleaners, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and an infallibly gracious host. He gave me the scoop about UGG boots.

“UGG boots, whilst big in the States, are not that popular here now,” he told me. “They were huge in the 1970s and 1980s, and as they were so cheap, when they were too dirty, we all just got new ones. I think the climate here also prevents their use. I actually have not seen a pair of UGG boots in public for over 20 years.”

Many cleaners consider cleaning UGG boots to be the best, easiest, and most profitable cross-sell ever. But it appears it might be time to start looking around for something new. Change is inevitable, and it’s best to have a plan.

In Australia, as in the United States, there is a great deal of worry about low-price leaders and one-price cleaners stripping away business from traditional dry cleaners. If cleaning is only about pricing, there is a lot to worry about.

Marketing is becoming more fragmented. So, how and who we sell to gets narrower and narrower. Why should it be any different with drycleaning customers?

If we are expecting customers to drop off hundreds of dollars of dry cleaning a week without a thought, we are not living in the current, digital world. Customers can easily pick and choose services based on customer reviews, online pricing comparisons and personal experiences.

So, what’s a worried dry cleaner to do? Here’s my AU (After UGGs) plan:

  • Be aware of the competition, but not afraid. Be sure to know what they are doing and charging. If you aren’t mystery-shopping the competition, you should be.
  • Evaluate your counter staff. Have they been around forever? Times have changed. To be really impressive to customers, replace surly, unhelpful and out-of-touch counter staffers with helpful, kind and pleasant ones. If you are not mystery-shopping your staff, you should be.
  • Provide front-line staff with knowledge and a great answer to “The cleaner down the street can do it for less.” (More on this a little later).
  • Think seriously about what you are providing. Is it “worth” the money you are charging or are you just hoping that you are better? What’s better? Does the customer think your cleaning is the same or similar to another cleaner? If so, it’s time for your front-line staff to develop and use a “sales pitch.” It’s a CSR’s job to make sure a customer understands why the cost is higher.
  • Are you “winning” business or just hanging on? Doing the same old thing isn’t going to put you in the winner’s circle. Shake, dust and rearrange anything you can think of. This includes personnel.
  • The only way to get more business is to ask. Start with your current customers. At the counter, your CSRs should be cross-selling, period. This is part of their job. Developing relationships is key to long-term happy customers. Get started. Great CSRs are your secret weapon, one your competition doesn’t have.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the “costs too much” complaint. Here’s what I know: That statement is a smoke screen. It means something else. Here are some ideas:

  • “I’m paying too much for the questionable service and the cleaning is the same.”
  • “The cleaning is pretty good but there is no compelling reason for me to come here.”
  • “The other cleaner is nicer to me, and its cost is about the same, more or less.”
  • “Times have changed but this cleaner hasn’t.”

Please figure out what your customer is telling you. In this business, it is one sale at a time. Be sure front-line staff is effective in selling and interacting with customers. It’s going to count in dollars and cents—especially during life After UGGs.

About the author

Carolyn B. Nankervis

MarketWise Consulting Group


Carolyn B. Nankervis is president of MarketWise Consulting Group, Appleton, Wis. Her firm specializes in small-business market research and highly detailed mystery-shopping programs. She can be reached at [email protected], 920-735-4970.


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