CHICAGO — Convenience has always been a cornerstone of excellent customer service in the drycleaning industry, and, as the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country, the importance of contactless options skyrocketed.
Couple these elements with the fact that many people are working on different schedules than they were pre-pandemic, and it’s easy to see why many cleaners are putting touchless technology into service at their stores.
The Touchless Options
Touchless tools can take many forms in a drycleaning business, ranging from always-available drop boxes and lockers to complex automated kiosk systems. Whatever form it takes, such a system has one primary purpose — to make the transaction easier for the customer. And, when a system is properly utilized, touchless technology can also benefit the cleaner’s bottom line.
“The biggest advantage to customers is that they can have access to their clothes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Steve Arnold, partner and general manager of Classic Cleaners, a 17-store chain in Indianapolis; an 18th location is opening in May.
Classic has offered locker service to customers since 2004, and it began using kiosks in four of its locations in 2018. The chain’s latest store, Arnold says, doesn’t include a counter; most items are processed through the kiosk or drop chute, even if a customer service representative is present.
“The other advantage to us is that we reduced our hours of being open and attended for the customers,” he says. “We used to be the traditional 7-to-7 dry cleaner Monday through Friday, and 8 to 6 on a Saturday. We’re now 9 to 5 on weekdays, and 9 to 2 on Saturday, so we’ve been able to reduce our staffing. We were able to save at least 200 to 300 hours a week.”
Carlyn Parker, director of operations of Dependable Cleaners in Boston, also has a mixture of touchless technology throughout her 12 stores. This includes drop-off drop boxes and racks where customers who indicate via the company’s mobile app that they are on their way can pick up their clothing.
“We also have a 24-hour kiosk in one of our stores,” Parker says. “That’s very popular with people. It’s a commuter store — a lot of people go to the commuter boat that docks close by. So, when they get off the boat at 6 or 7 o’clock, they can still get their clothes after we’ve closed for the day.”
With work-from-home, hybrid-work and other models having upended the typical 9-to-5 schedule, the flexibility of touchless systems can open up whole new groups of consumers, says Matt Kool, owner and president of Iowa Techniques, a manufacturer of drop-box systems located in Hutto, Texas.
“You’re actually keeping time with the customer, instead of the customers keeping time with you,” he says. “We’ve always looked at the through-the-window or through-the-wall drop unit as an extension of cleaners’ business hours. And then, freestanding units, which can be located off-site, are an extension of their business footprint.”
In addition to offering better convenience to customers, cleaners can also streamline their operations and get more efficient work from their employees, says Brett McLeod, president of Garment Management Systems, a kiosk and automation producer based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Our systems are primarily used in drop stores, and drop stores are incredibly labor-inefficient,” McLeod says. “You’re staffing it 10 hours a day, and that person may be legitimately busy one hour out of those 10. That’s horrible utilization. If you take it from being staffed 10 hours a day to four hours, that person is more productive — they have some work to do, but just not 10 hours.”
McLeod believes that stores built around touchless systems also provide owners with more flexibility when it comes to staffing: “Everyone is having labor issues right now. If my drop store has a kiosk, and the employee calls in sick, I don’t have to scramble around because I know the store can still function.”
The pandemic accelerated the process of adopting touchless technology, says Nathanial Dubasik, sales and support manager at Metalprogetti USA, a kiosk and automated system provider headquartered in Phoenix.
“COVID sped that up,” he says, “and I think you can see that in many different businesses. I was at CVS the other day, and they have a self-checkout. Costco has a self-checkout. It just used to be your grocery store, but now it’s at Home Depot, Lowe’s — it’s everywhere. People are getting used to it, so this technology is coming at the right time. The comfort level people have with touchless systems has been accelerated by the rest of the world coming to the same place.”
Come back Tuesday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll explore ways to overcome hesitancy your customers might have when it comes to using touchless systems.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].