Network or Seclusion: To Share or Not to Share (Conclusion)

Diana Vollmer |

Most cleaners happy with status quo or too burned out to copy others

SAN FRANCISCO — Many dry cleaners keep their operational details private and don’t readily share with others. This may lead to a cozy comfort zone or to a feeling of isolation and loneliness.

In light of the positive networking opportunities available in various conferences like NCA/DLI 5 Star Brainstorming and the upcoming Clean Show, let’s examine the benefits and risks of an owner of a dry cleaner being willing to open up to other cleaners in an effort to improve their own operation.

For most CEOs, it really is lonely at the top. The isolation may be self-induced or created by being surrounded with a management team that fears making waves, so just goes with the flow of the current direction. Either way, the distance from the daily realities of the business and the outside can result at best in loneliness and at worst total separation from the innovations and information that are necessary for the continued health of the company.

As the number of cleaners has fallen in North America (and globally), how many cleaners have you known that closed down while they were active in their associations or their owner peer management bureaus?

Comparisons of industrywide results contrasted with the results of companies that network consistently show that networkers have better results, especially in profit performance, where it really counts for the enterprise. The reasons may be numerous, including that better operators self-select into sharing opportunities, but the correlation is real.

Of course there are degrees of sharing.

In Part 1, I examined the rewards of sharing information with a network. Here, I’ll follow with the risks so the two can be weighed from an informed perspective.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Methods for Management is fully engaged in the business of consulting and particularly in facilitating non-competing owner peer management groups. However, there are multiple consultants of this type available inside and outside of the industry, and your associations all offer valuable networking opportunities as well.

RISK OF NETWORKING

You probably believe that your drycleaning business is exceptionally unique, since most owners hold that belief. Perhaps you are the highest-quality cleaner in your market, or your unique selling proposition (USP) is your low price or fast turnaround time. You may have the most attractive stores, the largest route or the friendliest staff. Whatever your distinction, you may be hesitant to share your “secrets” to success with other owners for fear of strengthening a current or potential competitor who might copy you and infringe on your success.

Take a moment and realistically ponder the question: “What trade secrets can a cleaner conceal that are not easily visible or ascertainable to a curious competitor?”

If you still believe that your individual competitive advantages are top-secret, that concern can be addressed by networking with broader, more geographically diverse groups of non-competing owners. These groups play an important role, because the cleaner who is 1,500 miles away is not likely to compete with you even if they do implement your ideas. They are likely to hold your information in confidence, as a reciprocal sharing of information is critical to both of you.

Another question to ponder: “What aspects of your superior operation are highly visible to anyone in the market?” Perhaps your vans are distinctive, you have the best parking, you offer the customer convenience of a drive-through, pick-up and delivery or 24/7 access. Maybe your uniforms are professional-looking or your packaging makes the inventory look like new retail. All of these things can be seen by any customer or competitor. So why have they not already copied you?

The risk of most cleaners in your market copying your innovations are relatively low because it takes planning, hard work, follow-through and/or a required investment in time, capital, people or other crucial resources. Most business owners are happy with the status quo or are too burned out to make the effort.

One of the highest hurdles to networking is that, initially, owners are reluctant to share because they don’t want to disclose their financial or operating results to anyone. This can be avoided completely, depending upon the event chosen for participation. It can also be delayed until a comfort level is reached within the chosen group. Once a trust level is established, this fear can be overcome by sharing figures on a percentage basis rather than disclosing the actual dollar amounts. If and when total trust is gained, you may find that full disclosure benefits your operation.

Whatever level of networking is chosen, shared knowledge is an efficient path forward, and for this reason there will always be market leaders who take a proactive approach, network, interact, improve and innovate.

There will also always be another larger group of cleaners that will continue operating as they always have, hoping for better results and complaining about the death of the industry, the negative effects of the current economy or some other factor that is “not their fault.” They will continue to hope for an upturn, and ignore or fail to adapt to the changes in the world around them.

The poorest-run of these competitors are likely to be forced out of business through attrition or acquisition, as has been proven true with the reduction of approximately 10% in the number of cleaners over the last few years since the previous commercial census. The rest of these operators will trudge along hoping for the best and that outside factors and influences will improve their results.

Being one of these disappearing cleaners is a risk of not networking.

Miss Part 1? Read it HERE.

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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