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Professional Development for Dry Cleaning Owners (Part 2)

Finding knowledge by knowing where to look

CHICAGO — The search for knowledge is never over. There’s always something more to learn, and sometimes new challenges require seeking out new information. Those dry cleaners who know they’ll never know everything have a better chance for success over those who have stopped trying to expand their horizons. 

In Part 1 of this series, we examined the risks of relying on the status quo when operating an drycleaning business, as well as signals to be on the lookout for that indicate stagnation is setting in. Today, we’ll turn our investigation around to see where cleaners looking for new information might go to find it.

Finding the Information

So, if a business owner recognizes the need to bolster his or her skills, where can they go?

Dawn Hargrove-Avery, digital marketing manager for the National Cleaners Association (NCA), believes that seeking out trade associations and other peer groups is vital, both for receiving educational opportunities and to learn from other professionals in the field. 

“I don’t think that people in the industry are taking full advantage of their trade associations,” she says. “Every year, I am amazed by the number of people who pay their dues who we have not spoken with. I understand you’re writing a check because you feel like you’re supporting the industry, but we have all these services, tools, and training available to you.” 

The NCA, as well as the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), America’s Best Cleaners (ABC) and other associations, have ongoing educational opportunities, many of which are free to their members, she points out.

“There are years of fiber and fabric information, and customer service information, and years and years of webinars,” she says. “There’s so much information out there available to them for free. And I think maybe they just don’t know how to access it. They’ve got this information available to them as a member of NCA, DLI, ABC or wherever they’re a member. Use it.”

Information that could allow owners to make positive change in their business is out there for the taking, says Kermit Engh, owner of Fashion Cleaners in Omaha, Nebraska, and the managing partner of Methods for Management, a consulting firm for the drycleaning industry.

“I would have them go on to the websites of all the different industry publications and read the articles that are archived,” he says. “If there are any upcoming conferences or conventions, certainly attend those. And then, there are a number of peer-to-peer organizations that would be a great benefit. This enables them to access a network of other owners who have most likely already gone through what they are going through or about to go through.”

And there are resources like business books: “There are a number of great books that I would certainly nudge somebody to read, such as ‘The Great Game of Business’ by Jack Stack. Another great book is ‘Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business’ by Gino Wickman. Traction is a heavy book, but it is — start to finish, nuts and bolts — how you run and build a business. It’s kind of the new version of ‘E-Myth’ that was written 30 years ago by Michael Gerber. It’s E-Myth on steroids.”

If specific skills are needed, Engh says, the dry cleaner always has options.

“If they’re in need of basic bookkeeping or administration, I would certainly have them look at community schools in their area,” he says. “I am a huge proponent of going back to school, which is why in our company, we actually have a tuition reimbursement program to encourage people to go back to school.”

Power in Numbers

It’s no surprise that, as a longtime member and leader of a peer-to-peer group, Engh advocates for such groups. In his experience, he says there has been no substitute for the support such a relationship brings, no matter where you find it. 

“I view a peer-to-peer organization as an unofficial board of directors,” he says, “and my experience has been that the members within a bureau or group become great friends. They can be a phenomenal resource. They become a sounding board for ideas. They share ideas, they share best practices, they work with each other to solve issues. I find all those things invaluable.”

Engh says the need for such a group hit him early in his career. 

“I was burnt out after my first four years of owning Fashion Cleaners,” he says. “We were growing at 40% per year, and I was running out of ideas. The proverbial flame was going out in the boiler. And then I got involved in a group. It provided resources, and it provided camaraderie. It’s hard to go down the street and talk to your competitor about a problem you’re having.”

Going it alone in today’s business climate, Engh believes, is not the best way forward.

“If owners are not using any peer-to-peer organization, they are really islands out there, and they’re doing things based on how they’ve always done it,” he says. “That is not a good recipe for long-term success.”

Come back Tuesday for the conclusion of this series, when we’ll explore some of the value of going outside the drycleaning industry to look for answers, as well as look at the mindset of successfully building new skills. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE.


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