CHICAGO — Business owners can often rely on past performance and habits to indicate future results when things are going well. For some, innovation — leaving their comfort zone — isn’t high on their list of things to do when they don’t see a particular need for it.
When that business model gets upended, however, as the pandemic did to the drycleaning industry in 2020, new business models and fresh streams of income can go from thoughts of “that would be nice” to red-alert status.
Building New Business
“They had to pivot,” Mary Scalco, CEO of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), says of dry cleaners. “They could not rely on doing things the same way they’ve always done them. When your business goes down by 80% overnight — and that’s what most people saw — they had to figure out a better way to do things.”
For Joe Gagliostro, president of Muldoon Dry Cleaners in Auburn, New York, this meant reexamining some fundamental beliefs and attitudes about his business.
“I was always anti-laundry,” he says. “We were way too busy and more equipped than we needed to be to spend my time doing people’s dirty socks and underwear. When COVID hit, and the volume dropped off, some people started inquiring about wash/dry/fold, including some of our top clients. So, we absolutely accommodated those customers.”
This led Gagliostro to examine other areas that could fill the gaps that the fall-off in drycleaning business had left.
“Another area where we did well with was (cleaning) outdoor furniture, and specifically patio cushions,” he says. “We kind of went nuts with those. We did some for people, and those people told other people. Outdoor patio cushions ended up being the biggest thing that we’ve pivoted to.”
Casey Walker, vice president of retail operations for Max I. Walker, based in Omaha, Nebraska, says his company had a similar experience and found there was business to be done because of the pandemic.
“The pandemic really accelerated the push of wash and fold as a service for other businesses,” Walker says. “This service was somewhat of a niche for mostly residential customers prior to the pandemic. But as small businesses evaluated their practices, many realized they needed to improve their sanitation of a range of textiles that are used day to day. We have been able to fill that need.”
Max I. Walker also took the opportunity to assist its surrounding area in any way possible. This included partnering with hospitals to clean cloth face masks at no charge, laundering donated sleepers for premature babies in the NICU, and offering deep discounts to first responders.
“While this did not help profitability during the initial downturn, it sent a clear message to our community that we were doing everything we could to provide support and assistance,” Casey Walker says. “In turn, these gestures of goodwill led to increased profitability later, as things began to open back up.”
Come back Tuesday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll examine the choice of one dry cleaning company to open a completely separate company alongside their existing one.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].