For many who survived the drastic downturns of 2020, 2021 was a rebuilding and rebranding year, with many cleaners finding new ways to serve customers and increase their relevance in their customers’ lives.
So, what will 2022 bring?
To answer this question, we asked some dry cleaners and industry experts what they believe the coming year will bring to the industry. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how cleaners fared in 2021 versus 2020, and in Part 2, we saw the value of learning to pivot to provide the services today’s customers want. In Part 3 we examined some of the challenges cleaners might face in the coming year, and how best to deal with them, and today, we’ll wrap up this series with some advice and final predictions.
The Customer Experience
Cleaners should understand that customers value their experience with their store — and if they ignore that facet of the relationship, they do so at their own peril.
Mary Scalco, CEO of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) compares the experience of getting a coffee from Starbucks versus stopping at the convenience store: “I don’t think people would pay $4 or $5 for just a better-tasting coffee,” she says. “They want that whole experience. I think that’s what we have to do. We have to realize who our customers are now and who our customers are going to be in the future.”
These future customers, she says, will be the ones who grew up always having the internet and cellphones.
“They’re highly technical, and they feel more comfortable in that realm,” Scalco says. “Our current customers are in their 50s or 60s, and we didn’t grow up with that technology. It was sort of forced upon us, and we’ve learned to adapt to it. In the future, it’s not going to be that way.”
She points to services such as GrubHub that younger generations have embraced to make their everyday tasks easier; she believes dry cleaners could learn a lot from that model.
“Whatever we can do to be more convenient for our customers, to enhance their lives, is what we need to do. We have to realize we’re in customer service.”
To provide that service, Sassan Rahimzadeh, president of ARYA Cleaners in San Diego, California, believes that there’s one area that cannot be overlooked by business owners.
“Focus on training your team,” he says. “We can become far more effective and efficient by using the labor we already have. I think that’s one of the things we learned throughout COVID, because we had so much more time to actually spend on training. Operators who spent that time training are now reaping the rewards.”
He has experienced those rewards firsthand.
“We are far more efficient than we ever have been in our company,” Rahimzadeh says. “I really wish I had done it five or 10 years ago. Train your people and get them more engaged, and then utilize that asset and reward it. We’re having our best profitable months in years — some of the most profitable we’ve ever had — and yet we’ve been paying our employees substantially more.”
A Brighter Future
Although there are still many challenges that lie ahead, Nora Nealis, executive director of the National Cleaners Association (NCA), says she is optimistic about dry cleaning’s future.
“I think 2022 is going to be the year of transition, where everybody settles into whatever their new life is going to be,” Nealis says, “but everybody is going to start to live their life again. I think the days of people acting like hermits are behind us.”
“The one thing that the pandemic has taught everybody is that time is valuable,” says Peter Blake, executive director of the Northeast Fabricare Association (NEFA), South Eastern Fabricare Association (SEFA) and the Mid-Atlantic Association of Cleaners (MAC). “We are seeing a lot more people value their time more; they’d rather spend time with families and do laundry. It’s a matter of getting people to understand the relative cost as opposed to the benefit.”
Scalco believes if clients are educated on all the services dry cleaners deliver, this new viewpoint could mean brighter days ahead.
“Dry cleaning is going to come back,” she says. “Probably not 100%, but higher than the 20% that it was. So, if you’ve adapted to performing other work and are at 70% of past profits, and dry cleaning comes back at 50%, you’re going to go beyond those past profits.”
Although it’s an element often neglected, attitude will be key to achieving success in the coming year, according to Nealis.
“It’s important that owners keep their spirits up, and they don’t start feeling defeated,” she says. “They need to have optimism. Otherwise, they communicate that attitude to their staff and to their customers, and that’s no way to get to the other side.”
“We’re past the ‘doom and gloom’ phase at this point, in my opinion,” Scalco says. “We’ve learned what we could learn from the pandemic, we’ve put new processes in place, and I think the industry itself will build upon this foundation and only get stronger.”
For Part 1 of this series, click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE. For Part 3, click HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected] .