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Positioning Yourself for Luxury Item Care

SAN FRANCISCO — During visits to couture cleaners in large cities, it is always amazing to see the many garments and other textile items that are shipped from outlying regions for cleaning by these expert cleaners.

These shipments do not always contain haute couture, heirlooms or vintage collections. Often, the contents are simply nice quality and easy to process by any competent cleaner with attention to detail and professional skill.

More often than not, these expensive items are transported at the suggestion of the retail stores that sell them, because many retailers tend to distrust the ability of local cleaners to care for luxury fashions.

Many cleaners do not wish to incur the risk of cleaning pricey specialty garments and $1,500-plus bed linens, but you may wish to retain this work in your own market.

If you do want to target the “special” garments in your area, there are several steps you can take to become the cleaner of choice for the discriminating customer.


If both you and your prospective designer clientele have confidence in your professional ability, you can capture this “traveling” business.


  • Track the labels that you are processing. If you do not currently track by label in your point-of-sale “descriptor” tab, start now.
  • Another source of information is provided by your “best customer” psychographic profiles, which often include the high-end retailers frequented by your most valued (and most profitable) customers. These profiles are a wealth of information that provide you insight into what motivates your consumers' behavior.

Once you have identified the potential retail joint venture partners, you have multiple alternative strategies from which to choose, which I will address later in this article.


Make your customers and prospects aware of your ability to meticulously care for their household linens and clothing wardrobes.

You may want to introduce an upgraded service. Many companies designate these enhanced care services with “Select,” “Platinum,” “Silver,” “Executive,” “Designer” or a similar designation behind their logo, i.e. Smith Cleaners Platinum Care.

This service can be introduced by your sales staff, your route drivers, a message on your lobby flat-screen, hang tags, your website, broadcast media, e-mail and/or all of the media available to you.

One way to begin is to recommend the upgraded service for high-value garments that already come through your plant. The owners will appreciate that you recognize the value of their wardrobes and will happily pay you to protect their investment.

Remember, consistency in the message itself and consistency in the end product are equally important. For your high-end service, we suggest an additional, more stringent inspection of each item.


Not only does this help with your marketing, but well-designed packaging standards also provide better support for the finished garments during the delivery process, whether it be in your store shuttles, route vans or your customer's vehicle. Proper packaging ensures that the product arrives in the same condition as it was after inspection.


Let the retailers know you have the ability and willingness to care for the wardrobes of their clientele meticulously.

The single most productive “effort to investment ratio” toward this goal has been to cultivate business and referrals from key retailers that provide quality textiles to dry cleaning customers.

Your target stores may be clothing or home furnishings, but they must be the stores that are frequented by the customers you want to attract.

To begin your program, run a list of clothing labels you receive from your best customers and begin with the stores that sell those labels. Once you have won the confidence of the retailers with whom you share a core customer base, you can win your way up to their highest level designer and couture department referrals. In some cases, the best referrals have come from the relationship built with the store alterations departments.

Personal shoppers are a tremendous source of referrals since they are a trusted adviser that helps create and maintain the client's complete visual image.

The following is a list of successful approaches that have been utilized:

  • Create a list of target retailers
  • Call on the top five from your list (start with sales floor and/or alterations department to solve their problems). Remember that the garment must be salable for the sales people to collect a commission. You can become their best friend by salvaging garments from lipstick stains, smudges and torn hems.
  • Offer to pick up and deliver the garments/items for repair and/or cleaning.
  • Provide retailer-personalized “Complimentary 1st Cleaning” gift certificate cards as a gift from you and the store with the purchase of selected new garments.
  • Request promotional/fashion show tapes to play in your stores and at your events, such as “Fashion's Night Out” in early September.
  • If there is no in-store alterations department, offer to pick up and deliver alterations from the retailer, or to set appointments at your store for customer fittings.
  • Service the “store” route regularly, i.e. two times per week and “on call.”
  • Personally visit stores periodically to enhance the relationship.
  • Call the stores each season. Ask if you can come in and look at the new fashions for the upcoming season so you will know what challenges you will be dealing with in cleaning them. They are pleasantly surprised by this request from a dry cleaner, and they love that you take interest!
  • Maintain records and review them periodically so the service can be enhanced and your sales increased.
  • Invite retailers to send their professional display personnel to set up display merchandise from their inventory in your store lobby.
  • Deliver token memorable gifts periodically, i.e. cookies for the sales staff to stay top of mind.
  • Provide newsletters for their staff and/or customers.
  • Provide instructional training for their associates who often believe cleaning is detrimental to textiles.
  • Provide plenty of business cards with maps to your locations/routes printed on the back of the cards and a QR code linked to your website.
  • Overcome the reluctance and just ask for what you want! The biggest hurdle is your own reluctance.


Sponsoring and attending high-end charity events is an excellent way to become part of the trusted team of these target customers. The causes about which they are passionate open their minds and wallets. The direct nature of the marketing impact provides a high return on the investment.

Sponsorship of events for professional organizations whose members rely on their image for business success gives you direct access to people who are interested in your service. Examples include the Financial Women's Association, Rotary International, and the Bar Association in your city.

Since so many of your target consumers “live” with their computers and mobile devices, electronic media offers a direct way to inform and entice them with this service.

There is significant demand for high-end textile care in every market, and you can capture it if you are willing to make the necessary effort to develop this highly profitable segment.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].