CHICAGO — One of the major lessons successful dry cleaners took from 2020 and 2021 is that the way we’ve always done it might not be enough going forward. By pivoting to provide services today’s customer desires, cleaners might find new arenas to serve them better and increase their bottom line.
In Part 1 of this series, we examined why pivoting could be a great strategy for forward-thinking dry cleaners. Today, we’ll take a look at an extreme case of pivoting, and what it meant for the company.
For Tim McCann, who owns Best Cleaners in the Albany, New York, area with his wife, Catherine, pivoting meant striking out in a totally new direction, using the tools that dry cleaning provided. They did this not by “adapting” the Amazon model that has changed consumer behaviors but rather by joining the Amazon model.
“In 2020, we started Best Logistics,” McCann says. With this business, McCann’s team works to complete “last-mile” deliveries for Amazon.
“We had been considering and working on that pre-COVID and were actually awarded a contract from Amazon right before COVID. Catherine and I were not sure if we were going to do it, and then COVID hit, and that answered that question. And we absolutely decided that that was going to be something that we pivoted to. It became a very important contributing business unit for us, and over the last two years continues to be.”
One element that made this choice attractive to the McCanns is that Best Cleaners and Best Logistics use the same infrastructure.
“We share the same back office, we share the same physical space, and we share employees,” McCann says. “Many of our last-mile pickup and delivery team members had been working for the cleaners. When COVID hit, we went from 90 employees in the cleaning business to about seven in a week. Many of those team members pivoted over to work with us on the logistics side as we were building that up.”
This diversification might look like a massive departure from Best’s previous business model, but McCann doesn’t see it that way.
“For us, it was a good extension of what we were already good at on the retail drycleaning side,” he says. “We were good at attracting great people and great talent. Sometimes this is untrained talent, but they are great humans, and we provide a skill set, and then provide a career framework that allows them to grow with us. That has worked well.”
Making deliveries for Amazon didn’t require as much retooling as one might think, McCann says: “It’s really just a simplified service business. In a lot of ways, it’s much simpler than retail dry cleaning. I don’t have to be a great marketer to deliver packages to your door. I don’t have to deal with or understand chemistry or steam fitting, plumbing, HVAC, or the many disciplines that are required to be successful in garment care.”
This logistics element is the third facet of McCann’s entire business, having become a restoration partner with CRDN in 2009.
“Dry cleaning is about 30% of our total top line, restoration is about 35% and logistics Is 35%,” McCann says. While he expects the drycleaning numbers to pick up as people return to the office, this diversification is valuable to McCann and uses tools his business already has available.
“Any successful garment care company has this crazy, broad set of skills,” he says. “I am looking to leverage and maximize the assets that we have. Over the years, we’ve invested in our plant and equipment, and built a great core set of team leaders and management. We think of ourselves as a training company, not as a drycleaning company or a logistics company. We onboard people, train them and get them excited about what we’re doing here. And then we hold them accountable to a standard.”
Having different types of positions open gives McCann much more flexibility when it comes to hiring and retaining employees.
“As everybody is struggling to find great team members,” he says, “we sometimes find that, for some of our delivery drivers on the logistics side, that type of activity is not the perfect fit for them. But they’re phenomenal people, and we have opportunities on the restoration team, or we have opportunities on the retail team. We’re able to give people across our team a different view of what their career could be — that there is movement and flexibility for them, depending on what’s important in their lives.”
Come back Thursday for Part 3 of this series, where we’ll look at one of the most important facets of successful pivots — the correct mindset. For Part 1, click HERE.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].