CONCORD, N.C. — I had just finished a presentation on making the most of your current equipment when a young man came and stood at my side, waiting patiently. The question he asked caught me completely off guard. It was, to the effect, “Why am I not successful in this business?” He had borrowed money from his father-in-law to buy a plant at the end of a strip shopping center. The plant was only 7 years old when he bought it. It all gave me time to pause and reflect, then to try and help this sincere young man.
I met him in the hotel restaurant 30 minutes later. He told me that he had been focused on marketing and piece count for the past 14 months. Whatever it took, even “eight for the price of six,” for the past six months. When I asked about his knowledge of drycleaning technology, he looked stunned, much like my teenage son did coming in an hour after curfew. All he knew for sure was that he was using an “environmentally friendly, organic solvent.”
My heart went out to him, so I began to explain that cleaning had gone through some major changes over the last 20 years. The object remains the same, but the tools have changed drastically. His plight may well help you navigate the current marketplace of the cleaning industry. What follows is a summary of my conversation that night.
From the curb, a majority of cleaners look very much alike. It is the location that can differentiate itself that gets the traffic. It can be in the color scheme, the signage, the packaging, or in the service and expertise. It is not one thing, but a host of little things.
In this industry, bright colors are being used outside and in the call office. There are large electronic/flashing signs. In this industry, printed poly, comforter bags, sweater bags and dust covers are just a few of the unique packaging ideas. What is rare is the plant that has adjusted its business model to balance both pieces per hour and profit per piece.
While other cleaners are settling for running, steaming and bagging with a “Sorry” tag, operators with an eye on longevity are embracing supplemental stain removal to set their plants apart. When you remove the mustard stain the guy down the street left in, you gain a customer, even at a few (profitable) cents more.
Have you noticed that many owners have applied manufacturing criteria to this service industry? Efficient operation is measured by more than pieces per operator hour. The job we have been assigned is to restore textiles, not just handle them. We are to improve the garment by removing stains and restoring the texture and hand.
A lack of working knowledge is a sign of a lack of interest. A lack of interest is a sure road to failure.
When you fail to have the proper mechanical and chemical tools, you are reducing your chances of success at cleaning clothes. When you insist on hiring only employees trained by your competitor, or who have no training at all, you reduce your chance at turning a profit. No one would trust their BMW to a “mechanic” whose only tool is a Swiss army knife.
It is rare that a POG will remove week-old coffee. It is rare that an over-the-counter detergent will completely remove ink. It is dangerous to attempt to remove nail polish with a removal agent that contains acetone. Specific pre-mixed chemical tools for plant stains, animal stains and paint/ink are reasonably safe for garment application and should be purchased from an industry distributor. A professional job requires professional tools. It requires professional knowledge of fibers, fabrics, dyes, trim, construction and stain characteristics.
Nearly all the manufacturers of chemical tools for garment care have some type of a stain removal guide/chart. Local and regional trade associations offer seminars on every facet of business operation, both technical and managerial. Removing the stain from a customer’s garment may well be the difference in keeping or losing that customer.
The young man commented that the drycleaning business is more complicated than he had imagined. It is only complicated to those who choose not to be a student of their profession. If you never pick up a spotting brush, you still need to be knowledgeable as to what can and what cannot be removed safely. There is a vast difference between technically impossible and a lack of effort.
Over the years, this magazine has offered detailed instructions related to removing virtually every stain that could potentially come into your plant. Take the time to invest in your business by investing in your employees. Having the tools for supplemental stain removal and the expertise to use those tools will reduce your need for “Sorry” tags and increase your faithful customer base.