SAN FRANCISCO — Positioning one’s drycleaning business in the marketplace is a challenging and continual process. Done well, it can be your most valuable business asset; ignored, it can be your worst nightmare. Whether you actively design your brand positioning or passively allow it to just happen without your direction, your company’s image is in constant flux.
PRICE VS. VALUE
Traditionally, the drycleaning and laundry industry has relied on price to define the market. Marketing has focused overwhelmingly on discounts. However, if price was the driving factor for all drycleaning consumers, there would not exist the wide array of successful niche cleaners that price themselves above the discounters. Some consumers are price-driven while others value different attributes.
If you are comfortable differentiating on price alone and battling on that margin field, go for it. There is money to be made at the low end and at the high end of the market. The middle is more challenging, as described by Christine Birkner’s The End of the Middle?, published in Marketing News.
If you don’t target the lowest price niche, although it is challenging to identify and deliver the exceptional service for which the most discerning customers are searching and are willing to pay, it is well worth the effort. Lavishing additional attention on your best customers and their wardrobes will delight them and convert them to fans who will spread the word about your distinctive difference, thereby becoming your (free and effective) sales force.
CUSTOMER BENEFITS VS. FACTS
Customers and prospects want to know “What’s in it for me?” Answer that question first!
Example, the factual route ad: “We pick up and deliver to your home or office two days a week.”
The customer-focused ad might show a family having a picnic, or attending a sporting event or theater “while the laundry is being done.” Specific features and logistics can be detailed after the interest is created.
LUXURY VS. COMMODITY
Focusing on price makes our service appear to be a commodity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Discerning customers know better than we do the importance of our service to them. An international speaker at a drycleaning conference, when asked about drycleaning services, initially sounded like a dream customer. He owns 15 sets of identical clothing that he wears when speaking, so the cleaners in the audience assumed that an issue with one garment was no problem because he had several back-ups.
They were totally defensive when he said that “one broken button” would send him to a different cleaner—“no second chance.” His perspective is that he must look good and feel confident to be credible to his audience and earn his (extremely lucrative) living. He had no idea what price he paid for cleaning.
Especially discerning customers tend to be a challenge to staff, so many times your staff will shy away from them, or view them as too demanding or even spoiled by their wealth. This message is loud and clear to the customers, and results in statistics such as the often-quoted research by Michael LeBoeuf that “68% (of customers) quit because of indifferent attitude toward the customer by the staff.”
Based on U.S. census data, less than 10% of the population utilizes our industry’s services. If such a small segment of the market uses us, then we need to woo them.
Also, by default, our service is a luxury, defined as “an item that is desirable but not essential.” So how do we move our “luxury” service from non-essential to essential in the mind of the consumer?
EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE VS. FEATURES
Instead of focusing on price or features, target the emotional and experiential aspects of wearing beautifully cleaned and pressed clothing; sleeping on luxurious sheets that have been professionally ironed; enjoying the feeling of arriving home to clean, neatly folded family laundry (or even better, laundry stored in the correct closet or appropriate drawer); or the gift of discretionary time that you provide.
These images appeal to both people that live with luxury and convenience now and to those who would like to live with luxury and convenience. This segment of “aspirers” is looking forward to improved status in careers, social standing, financial position or other aspects of living.
They can be influenced by images representing the future that they would dream of. Examples might encompass leisure activities like yachting, great seats at the Super Bowl, a formal charity event in a designer gown, an impeccably dressed speaker at a lectern, etc. Let them envision themselves in the desired setting and demonstrate that you can help get them there.
Marketing segmentation companies can provide lists of these people in your market for you to target. They are much more valuable long-term prospects than the occasional customer who utilizes you only for discounts.
Whatever the market position you decide to pursue, ensure that the message and image are consistent in all media, logo, tagline, marketing, décor, uniforms, stationery, vans and staff.
Remember, your success depends upon winning the battle for your customer’s mind.