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Map Out Your Dry Cleaning Market

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — Do you have a map on your office wall? No? You should. I don’t mean a road map, but rather a map of your marketplace.

This map would depict your competitors, busy main drags, affluent neighborhoods, any information that tells you where your customers are coming from.

This is not something that you can purchase, so I suggest you get started making your own. Start with a town or city map that lists streets; have it blown up. Then fill in the information that you need.

Obviously there’s the town you’re in, but if you do business in neighboring towns, include them. Put in competitors in all directions. Color-code affluent high-use neighborhoods. Mark in busy shopping streets and commuter roadways. You might have to drive around and explore the territory in order to do justice to your project. The effort gets you canvassing the territory, which is a good thing to do, because you’ll continually make discoveries.

I suggested keeping this map on your office wall so that it will always be there, forcing you to look at it from time to time and serving as a constant reminder that you are missing some of the market.

So what can you do with this marketing map? Start with the competition. How far are they from your store? Draw a line at the midpoint. At that midpoint, who has most of the trade? (Obviously, you don’t have the specific facts; you will be inferring. But this assignment is all about inferring.) You could check your files to see the number of customers on those streets.

After you estimate your portion of business, ask questions. Do you do more than 50% of the trade? Are there road flows that orient customers to competitors? If there is a roadway to the highway that leads to the big city, where many work, then this might account for the competitor getting the lion’s share of the business. If not, what is the reason for the slowdown?

Is the competitor stronger than you? Is it priced lower? Does it offer a pick-up and delivery route in the area? Is its clientele your type of customer?

How could you change the situation? You could add delivery service in that area with a strong salesman. You could shower the area with coupons. Perhaps you know something about the competitor—he really overloads the upcharges, for example—that might be a potential inroad for you.

Emphasize in a mailing that your upcharges are minimal, that you generally use the one-price-per-garment model. Walk door to door dropping off circulars. Go through the phonebook and make random calls to people living in that neighborhood. You know the street names from your map, so the task is easier.

Are there any pockets within the competition’s area where you do well? You would think that the customer would patronize the closer dry cleaner, so this find is significant. But why is this occurring?

Is it some sort of traffic flow that moves by your store? Have several customers had problems with the competitor and perhaps spread the news around the neighborhood? Perhaps it’s because your store is older, and people have stuck with you. Speculate what the reason might be and see what you can do with it.

If customers have had problems elsewhere, this gives you an insight: the competitor is unable to retain customers when it makes mistakes. Put that knowledge to use in your marketing efforts to win new business.

Or, if the reason you do well is because traffic flows by your store, use your stand-alone sign to win more business: We Service Brentwood Woods — Try Us.

If, on the other side of town, you find that the competition has the majority of the business both at the midpoint between you and deep into your territory. Analyze the area. Perhaps the houses are new and you haven’t promoted yourself in this area? Does the competitor have a delivery route which has made heavy inroads? Maybe the competitor offers high-end service. Attempt to win some of this trade.

Visit several homes and suggest the owners try using you, pointing out the specialties you offer that the competitor doesn’t. For example, if you do shirts and the competitor doesn’t, that would be a good sales point. Come up with a high-end service offer and promote this.

Are there market segments that don’t seem to be well-covered by anybody? Why? Are they low-use families? Have they just not been serviced well? Try to figure out a way to win their patronage. Win one customer, and give him/her significant discounts to recommend you. Door-to-door circulars is another possibility.

Maybe there’s an opportunity for a drop store. You know your demographic needs for drop-store profitability. Calculate the population base, the percentage of homes expected as customers, and the average monthly volume per account. Do the math. Add it all up and see if it meets minimum requirements. In a rural area, or where the demographics don’t warrant a drop store, another possibility is to arrange for an area store to take in dry cleaning on a percentage basis. This is a much less expensive option.

If you have some real strong neighborhoods, think how can you increase that patronage to 100%. If you are driving to make deliveries there all the time, it would be an excellent opportunity for you and your salesman to solicit the area. It’s the easiest argument to make: “We service almost everyone on the street and we see you’re not on our list. Is there something we could do to encourage you to give us a try?” Such words often bring results.

Now envision the big picture. How much of your marketing area do you have as customers? Eighty percent? Fifty percent? Forty? Who has the lion’s share? Figure what portion of business is inside your marketing area and what percentage is outside. How many new customers do you need to boost volume by 10%? These are the building blocks which you can use, once you have created a marketing map, to evaluate the marketplace and understand what needs to be done.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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