CONCORD, N.C. — I recently received a phone call from my friend, Norman Oehlke. Norm probably served IFI (now DLI, the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute) in most every technical position and wrote this very column until 2008. When he speaks, I listen. Closely.
He still keeps a close eye on the cleaning industry and the changing solvents. We talked about the changes we had seen and the struggles facing owner/operators in today’s marketplace. We exchanged a few ideas and agreed that many cleaners have fallen victim to the concept of processing over pampering.
A symptom of this is that large companies have perceived there is profit in home dry cleaning kits due to consumer dissatisfaction with the quality of garment care available. Sadly, these dry cleaning kits have intimidated a number of cleaners, owner/operators who consider the end product of their service to be little better than the level of quality delivered by a rag, a bag and a home dryer.
In the past, there has been a place for those who just get by with going through the motions of processing. There will always be a place for those who do it well. The fact that you occupy a corner lot, with drive-around service and offer coupons/discounts in an attempt to maintain volume, is no guarantee of success.
Protect and enhance your monetary investment, by investing in continuing education for yourself and your employees. Instead of discounting your service, enhance it. Diversify to pamper your customers and their garments. The change requires a simple adjustment in attitude and the effort to acquire a working knowledge of fibers, fabrics, dyes, trim, and stain-removal protocol.
There are many owner/operators who will spend $12,000 for an additional piece of finishing equipment but refuse to spend $42 for an additional chemical tool to remove tannin stains. These same people will spend $1,000 to update software but refuse to spend $30 to provide a continuing education class for a cleaner/spotter. The review of information presented at these seminars, and the new options for stain removal, will increase confidence and reduce potential claims. One often overlooked benefit to cleaning and spotting seminars is the ability to use the information learned to get one’s self out of problem situations that arise from misclassified garments and in-plant incidents.
It is the little things that can make a big difference. The addition of neutral synthetic detergent (NSD) to the steam spotting board is an inexpensive way to effectively improve stain removal. The addition of a sodium perborate soaking bath, in an old detergent bucket, can give new life to pastel cotton sweaters. The addition of an enzyme digester bath in an insulated cooler will reduce the time and effort needed to remove medium to large blood stains while improving quality. These are just a few of the ideas that are presented at an industry seminar. Being able to remove redeposition and deal with an ink run can more than pay for the minimal fee structure of these seminars.
The chemicals at the spotting board are just as much tools of the trade as is a press or a boiler. Silk garments are less tolerant of the pH of a spotter than polyester and cotton. One spotter does not get out all stains. There are times when the mild formula that is safe and effective on a fresh stain in silk and rayon is unable to remove the aged stain from a cotton garment. Your stock of spotting chemicals can easily be upgraded by ordering a single bottle (8 to 12 ounces) of a new/additional chemical tool. The $18 investment in a 12-ounce bottle will pay dividends if used sparingly.
You must explore all options to guide the success of your business. Being technically proficient at stain removal is one of those options, and it is an option that many of your competitors will not explore. They concede a niche in the marketplace to the operator who is willing to put forth the effort to not be a “me, too” cleaner. When you choose not to differentiate yourself, you are giving potential customers your permission to go to the competition.
It always comes down to dollars and cents. Here is a real-world example for you to consider. A cleaner with potential gross sales of $5,000 per week is discounting that figure by 10% through coupons and specials. In essence, the cleaner is “spending” $500 per week in an attempt to maintain market share. That amounts to more than $26,000 per year. A cleaner that is perceived as a little better than the competition can afford to upgrade the skills of current employees through continuing education. A cleaner that is perceived as a little better than the competition can boost the number of chemical tools available to its employees by commanding a non-discounted fee structure.
The choice is yours. The start of a new year is the perfect time to think about your business model and your price point. Now is the time to look at how you want your potential customers to view your business. Consistent quality in stain removal is a sure way to make an impression and ensure repeat customers.