CHICAGO — When business owners can make their production flow more predictably, they can better plan for staffing, supplies and equipment use.
When customers can make their daily chore load easier, they can have more time to do what they need to do — or enjoy doing — without worrying about the drudgery of routine tasks.
For some dry cleaners and their clients, their wishes intersect through subscription programs.
Subscribe and Like
Lisa Brooks, who owns a Mulberrys Garment Care franchise in Minneapolis-St. Paul with her husband, Chris, says subscription services were already part of the business when they purchased the franchise in 2020. She believes in keeping the process simple both for the cleaner and for the consumer, electing to charge by the bag instead of the pound.
“We’ve tried to make it a very customer-friendly service,” she says. “People generally don’t know how many pounds of laundry they have. With bags, they can get a good idea of how much laundry they want to do. In most cases, the plans are four bags a month, which works out to roughly one a week, but they can use them in any cadence that they’d like.”
In addition to the Minnesota stores, the Mulberrys chain has franchise stores in San Francisco, where customers more quickly adopted a subscription plan.
“When we purchased the business, there weren’t many customers in Minneapolis using it, but the California branch had quite a big subscription service for wash and fold at the time,” Brooks says. “It’s really just now gaining traction in Minneapolis, and it’s grown pretty significantly since we took over the business.”
For Kermit Engh, owner of Fashion Cleaners in Omaha, Nebraska, the search for increased business during the pandemic marked the path that led to subscription services.
“Right after COVID started, we became pretty aggressive in offering a wash/dry/fold program for clients, and one of the decisions we had to make — which every cleaner who does this has to make — is how are we going to charge for this? Do we do it on a per-pound basis, or a per-bag basis? We elected to do it per bag because we didn’t have to worry about having certified scales that would have to be checked every year by the government.”
Benefits to the Customer
Subscriptions are popular with her customers, Brooks believes, because it gives them back the one thing they simply can’t produce more of — time.
“The subscription is great for people who really want more free time and looking to outsource their chores,” she says. “Laundry is a huge chore as far as time goes and requires you to be home. This service was really designed to make our customers’ lives easier and allow them to have the free time to do whatever they’d like to do.”
Brooks says this type of service also helps with household accounting: “Subscriptions are easier for budgeting from a customer perspective because if you’re on a subscription, you know what it is for the month. They’ve taken care of their laundry, and they have a consistent schedule.”
“In the early days of COVID, we also focused on selling the idea of safety and cleanliness,” Engh says. “We were able to provide laundry sanitization on a commercial level to homeowners. Today, though, we focus on time and convenience, because that’s really what we’re selling.”
Both Brooks and Engh find that those taking advantage of their subscription services cut a wide swath across demographics.
“We have dual working families and young families, but we also have a decent market of seniors,” Brooks says. “If seniors are staying in their homes, but their laundry is in the basement, or if it just gets heavy or hard for them to do it themselves, we definitely have a segment there. We also have some working singles — people who, again, would rather be doing other things with their time if they’re working long hours.”
“For us, it’s mostly working couples and upper income, but we have a lot of singles,” Engh says. “It’s anybody who values time over money — and that could be a lot of different people. Again, who likes doing laundry?”
Benefits to the Cleaner
With a properly designed and operated subscription service, dry cleaners can realize benefits of their own, as well.
“One of the advantages of having customers on a subscription plan is that they are ‘stickier’ customers,” Brooks says. “Once you’re in a subscription, you’ve really bought into that service. It also helps better predict demand and plan staffing, as well. When you know you’re going to have a certain number of pickups or bags coming in once a week or twice a week, you can staff better for that.”
There are also long-term benefits, Engh believes.
“Subscription services add great value to a business,” he says. “The more routine subscription money that is coming into your company, the more valuable it is. This is an area where dry cleaners can add value to their companies by providing a service that they already do, but treating it differently — as a subscription as opposed to a one-off service.
“Commercial linen people have known this for years. That’s why everything they do is under contract. This is a little different, but it is an automatically billed service, so it becomes a steady source of revenue for the operator and an asset to the company.”
Come back Thursday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll examine ways to set a subscription service up for success.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].