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It seems to me that 95% of cleaners use only about 5% of their counter computer systems. I have no way of knowing if that’s actually true, but the point is that most cleaners have a good-to-great computer system and use it as an overpriced ticket-entry and pricing machine.
The full benefit of what cleaners already have is rarely used. Moreover, the power of the computer system is lost when the information it contains doesn’t get used to make money. The computer is a tool you can use to provide complete customer service, save money and save labor.
When I started out selling cleaners on the idea of putting in a computer to manage their businesses, I ran into a common objection: “I’m not going to buy a computer system until they build one that can’t be improved.” Now that computers offer tracking, assembly, inventory, e-mail, and relationship-management capabilities, they must still be waiting. The perfect system is far from being developed.
I wonder how many other opportunities those people lost. In technology and computers, you don’t want perfection. You want return on investment. Using technology properly is the easiest and least expensive way to improve profits. Every business has a technology at its heart — the technology may be pencil and paper, but it’s still a technology.
For this article’s purposes, we’re talking about new computers and software. In a cleaner, it starts at the front counter, goes through mark-in, reaches the production floor, tracks through assembly, racking and pickup. And new technology doesn’t stop there — it goes on to accounting, management, personnel, payroll and marketing.
What holds everything together is the front-counter computer system. Without it, each of your tasks and responsibilities are more time-consuming and difficult. For example, to get the maximum use out of an automated bagging machine, you need automated assembly; to get automated assembly, you need an automated order-entry system.
I’m not going to tell you that you need the absolute latest technology. You need to balance every aspect of your business to take the maximum advantage of a POS system and the additional technologies it can support. The buzzword is “rightsizing” — making sure that everything you do is best suited to an operation of your size and needs.
You should always be aware of your options, however, and be ready to evaluate your return. If you can add to your profits by changing some aspect of the technology you use, the change is worth it. If you can make more money by using a stone and chisel, do so. But new technology is usually the way to go.
New technology is developed to improve upon current conditions. Software developers, engineers and marketing professionals (like you) want to make more money. The way for them to do so is to develop newer, better and more cost-effective processes; the way for you to make more money is to use whatever becomes available.
Faster, easier and more lucrative are the reasons new technology is developed. If using a computer system doesn’t make running your company faster, easier or more lucrative (by saving or making more money), there’s no reason to invest in it.
In a competitive marketplace, many new technologies compete for attention. Some new technologies will ultimately fail, but most will grow and evolve into future technologies. Is it better to wait for the next best thing? No! Your competition can make you pay dearly for standing still.
If you don’t take advantage of the information inside your computer and use it to manage customers, your competition will get the jump in your market — perhaps to the point you can never catch up. And if you don’t take advantage of the available databases and customer-management systems, you’re missing out on building customer loyalty and spending, regardless of whether the competition does anything.
I know of several cleaners and other companies who didn’t keep up with the improvements made available since they originally purchased their systems. They are happy with their computers, and couldn’t run their businesses without them. Their businesses grew, in part, because of the computer; it took over many of the more mundane responsibilities and freed the owner up to take care of customers, employees and other issues. But that’s where it ended.
Today, these operators may be so stuck with their old systems that they have to find longtime specialists who remember the old programs, or hire a staffer just to keep the old system running. If only they had kept up on the technology, they wouldn’t be in this situation. They can’t go back to handwritten tickets, and they can’t go forward without incurring a major expense.
Many people say that the industry is behind the times when it comes to technology, and there are five simple words behind the problem: “What does it cost me?” The correct questions are “How much more can I make?” and “How much more can I save?” It’s simple — the higher the return on investment, the better the technology.
In even more highly competitive industries, technology and computers are constantly improved. The next time you visit a fast-food chain, notice the monitors at every workstation; they are tied into a back office and a central office. Equipment is set on timers to prepare specific foods at predetermined portions, automatically. Only when a worker adds onions to a no-onion special order do things go awry.
Less-competitive industries have the “luxury” of avoiding change. Perhaps the industry has historically been less competitive than we thought: Cleaners tended to find a market, took a piece of it, and that was that. If you made a profit, it was often a comfortable one. If you didn’t, you couponed until you found a comfortable niche.
In the last few years, things changed. Cleaners found themselves in very competitive situations, and they don’t know what to do. It isn’t so much that the competition has increased, but that the market has decreased. It causes the same effect: More (often the same) cleaners going after less business. If you can’t compete, you lose — and that means going out of business.
The answer is new technology. Like there’s nothing “old” about selling “old-fashioned” hamburgers today, there will soon be nothing “old” about being the last “old-fashioned” drycleaning business.
As recently as five years ago, most POS systems didn’t do much more than list customers by dollars spent. Today, many leading companies have added customer management modules to their software that do a decent job of tracking and monitoring past customer behavior. These basic tools can do a good job of sorting customers on a variety of parameters, which you — the owner of the business — can set.
The only problem is time. You may need a third party who knows customer databases to do some of the work. Instead of focusing on how your printer is hooked up, he or she will focus on customers and maximizing their value. If you are comfortable with the many tools today’s POS systems offer, more power to you. But a database-marketing company may bring you more effective customer care and more money.
Those who reminisce about the past and do nothing to change it are doomed to become a part of it. Those who seek out the opportunities that new technologies can offer will reap the rewards — and profits.

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