PEMBROKE, Mass. — For years, dry cleaners wanting to expand would open drop stores. But these days, more and more are turning to another strategy: route sales.
Why open a drop store if you can send a truck and driver who will win neighborhood business by offering to pick up and deliver?
This strategy has the advantage of less up-front capital investment. The idea of a route salesperson is especially popular these days. There is a preponderance of upper- to middle-class neighborhoods that consist of families who have money but not time.
Enter Ron Herrmann, route sales consultant for 22 years. Herrmann says he has worked with 100 dry cleaners and trained 250 route salespeople in the last six years alone.
Typically, he spends four days with a trainee. A recent aspect of his work is to train counterpeople to convert customers to route sales.
To understand route sales, I asked Herrmann about his approach.
Q: Should route salespeople go up and down the street, knocking on doors? Or should they go into a neighborhood and insert flyers underneath doors?
Herrmann: Neither. The key to succeeding at route sales is to recognize the right homes to approach. Generally, older families who’ve been in the neighborhood for years make poor prospects. It’s the young families who have busy lifestyles that make good prospects.
Look for telltale signs — basketball nets; a swing set in the backyard; a pink Barbie wagon by the garage; car seats in the vehicles; flags with the local junior high on them; a car sticker saying “Baby on board.” These are your prime prospects.
Q: What do you do when no one is home?
Herrmann: No matter how good a salesperson you are, if no one comes to the door, you can’t sell them. So you must reach this good prospect. Go next door and ask about the family. Come on Saturday or even at night, and knock, explaining that you had a late delivery. Eventually, you’ll reach them.
Q: What is your presentation like?
Herrmann: It’s not high-powered. It is simply explaining to the prospect how convenient the service will be.
First, make the point that they are busy people, and home drycleaning delivery takes one problem off their list. Secondly, point out that we (route drivers) are knowledgeable and you can ask us questions.
Convenience and service are what you’re selling. I believe that there is very little drycleaner loyalty. A great sales presentation at the door will switch the majority over to your cleaner.
Q: What about price?
Herrmann: That’s the last thing you mention and least important. Pickup and delivery might be 30 cents more an outfit, but the convenience trumps out.
You must remember that these people think nothing of going into Starbucks and spending $5.95 for a cup of coffee, so price is not an obstacle. Possibly, for older folks, it is a bigger issue.
Frankly, I feel that convenience and service are more important than price.
Q: What do you do when you get a “maybe”? She says, “I have to speak to my husband.”
Herrmann: You’ll get a lot of those. In fact, people are a little more suspicious of someone knocking at the front door. With the Internet, the prospect has the ability to check out a company by doing due diligence.
Make a time when you can stop by and get a definitive answer. Say, “I’m going to be dropping off orders next Tuesday. How about if I drop by at 11:30 a.m. and see what you’ve decided?” And be there at 11:30 a.m.
Q: What happens if you receive a no?
Herrmann: You will get a “no.” It’s all part of the selling game. Say: “You were nice enough to listen to my presentation and to consider the offer. How about agreeing that if you have trouble with your dry cleaner down the line that you’ll give me a try? Will you promise that?” Quite often, when they do have a problem, they will give you a try.
Also, always ask for a referral. Referred customers are the best candidates. One mistake many cleaners make is offering a $25 bounty for a referral. If your route team feels confident about your service, your driver should be able to ask for a referral without offering anything. Of course, a follow-up “thank you” card for a new customer with a $25 credit on their account would be great.
Q: How do you handle communities with “No Soliciting” signs?
Herrmann: Sometimes, you can go to the police station and buy a permit for $20. Sometimes, the gatekeeper can be helpful. Get one home as a customer in a gated community, and you can deliver.
When delivering, knock on the next-door-neighbor’s door and say, “I just delivered to the Martins next door. I know I’m not supposed to solicit, but could I talk to you for five minutes about our service?” That’s a way in, and keep burrowing in, making more and more inroads.
Q: How do you handle collections?
Herrmann: With the first order, ask for their credit card number. If they are reluctant to give it, you work with them until they trust you. If necessary, get the order first, and worry about payment later.
Q: How do you get route salespeople to be organized?
Herrmann: Get them a day planner. It might be paper or it might be electronic. That way, when they make a date to call again, the route salesperson can put it in the planner. This little tool is incredibly important.
Q: Is route delivery increasing?
Herrmann: I would say most definitely yes. When I started this consulting business in Buffalo, N.Y., 22 years ago, there were three dry cleaners providing home delivery. Now, there are 11 companies in Buffalo offering home delivery. I think it’s that way all over the country.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion.