CONCORD, N.C. — I came away from New Orleans with “a burr under my saddle.” As I networked with my brother cleaners in and around the Clean Show, I was chastised for being “old school.” I am old school, because I was trained in a business model that stressed pampering the customer.
I have had the benefit of having as my friends and influences people like Norman Oehlke, Stan Caplan, Bill Seitz, and my dad. All of them have stressed the necessity of supplemental stain removal and the “bizarre” idea that exceeding expectations will lead to longevity.
According to a few people, stain removal has become passé, a luxury, not worth the effort. Stain removal was once the staple of the industry and the major reason for customers using our service. Today, a number of cleaners are relying solely on the drycleaning machine for their garment care. With this attitude has come a consumer that has been conditioned to expect “Sorry” tags instead of results.
However, this is a good thing for some cleaners/spotters. Spotters armed with the attitude that each spot can and will be removed, and with the knowledge gained from continuing education in fibers, fabrics, dyes and techniques, are safely removing stains and enhancing their reputations.
Good word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to promote your garment service. Removing the last traces of blood and mustard simply requires knowledge and effort. As my dad had a habit of telling me, “While you are hitched up and headed that way, get the rest of it.” While you have the garment, give the customer a job that will have them talking to their friends about you rather than ranting at you.
This subject was brought into focus by a series of e-mails I happened to read. The idea being presented was an advertised policy of “Guaranteed Stain Removal.” Never lose sight of the fact that time is money. Effort should be compensated, successful or not. The most common business model addresses this by doing little or no supplemental stain removal and processing garments quickly and at a reduced cost.
The road less traveled—yet highly profitable—is the one of supplemental stain removal as standard policy. The price point for this service varies from the first business model and may even involve a “Time and Materials” charge for stained areas that are established as excessive. These particular stains must be returned to the customer or must be dealt with at a profit. They may require additional time for repeated steam spotting, the use of chemicals to soften and remove the stain, or even a soaking bath. More time and extra chemical usage means additional business profit.
I have always believed that supplemental stain removal is a part of the drycleaning process. I never want to feel hesitant to face a customer because I failed to use everything in my arsenal to produce the best results possible. On one occasion, I had a customer admit to me that the old stain that I had removed from her dress had been her key to getting free cleaning at other cleaners.
Being an Award of Excellence/Seal of Approval cleaner immediately raises a customer’s expectations. Meeting and exceeding those expectations has been the basis of prosperity for 32 years.
Using “Guaranteed Stain Removal” as a marketing tool could have advantages. It will attract garments that are not easily discarded due to their high value. Once you receive them, you will need to restore them safely or risk a disappointed customer. You can market the sizzle, but eventually you must serve the steak.
If your commitment to supplemental stain removal does not equal your guarantee, customers will quickly discover that the “guarantee” is a hollow shell. Guaranteed stain removal requires training and tools, plus an attitude that is focused on giving the time, when necessary, to a multi-step treatment protocol.
Over the last few years, combined economic and environmental pressures have taken a heavy toll on the cleaning industry. The cost of immersion solutions has risen sharply, as has the cost of chemical tools used to enhance cleaning in the machine and to effect supplemental stain removal. Far fewer cleaners are including a price as part of their business name or in their long-term advertising.
Do a good job for a customer and he/she will come back. Do a great job and your customer will tell his/her friends about your fine service and how to find you. A business model based on mediocrity will only survive in a strong economy. Set yourself apart as the “go to” stain-removal specialist in your market. Customers do not take clothes to the cleaners expecting to get their clothes back with the stains still in place.