Jolly Belin of France opened the world’s first dry cleaning business in the 1840’s. He accidentally spilled some kerosene on his stained clothing and saw the spots vanish. The rest is history, as they say.
Today, there are more than 30,000 dry cleaning establishments in the US. 85% of this number are small mom-and-pop establishments employing approximately 5 people and generating about $200,000 in annual sales.
As in all other industries, dry cleaners are struggling with their own set of challenges limiting their steady growth. Ask yourself, how many of us still wear business attire to work every day? I know that I no longer do nor does anyone else in my office, including the CEO. This change has been underway for several years now. It seems that many of us are dropping off much less at the dry cleaners, these days, due to the casual dress trend in the workplace.
Another major challenge the average dry cleaner now faces is stricter environmental regulations designed to restrict the use of Perc, a carcinogenic substance in many dry cleaning solvents. This, in turn, has led to higher hazardous waste disposal costs, expensive changes of equipment to new cleaning methods, and even loss of leases by landlords concerned about having environmental problems at their commercial properties.
And finally, increases in minimum wages and intensified competition from dry cleaning chains have taken their toll on many smaller businesses. Lower profit margins just can’t justify hiring more people to do this kind of unskilled and semi-skilled work. So, what can a small mom and pop dry cleaning store do to attract more business? The answer is simple; invoke their creative powers and ramp up their traditional and social media marketing efforts to get more business in the door.
Andy Gaur, CEO of RiaEnjolie Inc. (http://www.riaenjolie.com/dry-cleaner-websites.html), a New Jersey Web Developer specializing in professional looking and affordable websites for general contractors and other tradespeople, is very well attuned to the world of traditional and social media marketing. “It is much better to be preparing a well conceived and comprehensive marketing plan and getting ready to use an appropriate mix of outreach strategies rather than just sticking with just one or two that haven’t been working so well lately for many Dry Cleaners,” says Gaur. “If you don’t jump on different things – like Social Media – that show promise, you may end up in a struggle to retain your current customers and fail to gain new ones that are unaware of your business and what you can offer them in friendly service and affordable pricing.”
Here are eight things dry cleaners can do to build a successful business:
1. Determine Your Niche. Determining a niche market is an important first step to take as it narrows the search for customers and makes marketing less overwhelming. Dry cleaning niches may include such strategies as: focusing on one type of merchandise such as leather clothing, wedding gowns, paintings, etc. Perhaps, you want to position yourself as an eco-friendly dry cleaner, concerned about the health of your customers and protecting the environment. Or, you might consider corporate dry clean as a niche, and serve clients, who work at business corporations. Some dry cleaners even specialize in couture dry clean and cater to celebrities. But, for this latter niche your business should probably be located in California or New York.
2. Advertise Your Business Effectively. You need a prominent sign at the retail store and a professional looking, content-rich website on the Internet. Cover both bases equally, effectively. Your business needs to reach out to customers wherever they may be –on land and in cyber-space. Have business cards and postcards made up for the “land-lubbers” with your services, operating hours and phone number. Encourage them to pass these on to their neighbors and friends. And, on the web, it is wise to regularly send out E-mail blasts, Facebook posts and Twitter Tweets to keep everyone informed of any special offers they might wish to avail themselves of.
3. Make Your Website a Memorable Place to Visit, Now and Again. Offer your customers, potential customers, and visitors to your website a free resource, such as a guide or “white paper” that is packed full of solid information related to your product or services in exchange for their name and email address. These items are delivered as E-mail, so there’s little or no cost, involved. Every few weeks follow up with a little more useful content, not a selling pitch, but do include your business contact info at the very bottom. Internet 101 tells us all to build credibility, establish trust, and remind potential customers of our product or services in a non-obnoxious or “in your face” way. When they’re ready to buy you will be the first company they will probably contact.
4. List Your Business Where the Locals Will Find it. Make sure your dry cleaning business is located on as many local business directory websites, as possible. Local people go online to search for local businesses, first. They stop at the online yellow pages, Cityslick, Yelp and the local business pages for Google and Yahoo! These are all free to use and easy to find. Make sure your business is listed. Take time to upload pictures, rate cards, or something relevant for your service or product. Make your business stand out.
5. Create repeat business incentives. Provide your shoppers with punch cards they can redeem for free dry cleaning after a certain number of punches. Why not also set up a frequent purchaser reward program where your customers can earn gift cards, donations to their favorite charity group or present them with certificates to favorite local restaurants. Announce all offers and incentives on your website and throughout social media. Get the word of mouth going and growing.
6. Reward Your Customers for Their Referrals. Have cards printed with a space for the person’s name, who referred them to your business. Set up a similar customer referral program on your Website and also offer the same through other social media platforms on which you have a regular presence. Offer special saving and promotional gifts with your business name proudly displayed (e.g. laundry bags, tee shirts, fancy clothes hangers, etc.) to those who have submitted referrals to you by card or on the web.
7. Create an Interesting and Funny Blog. Show your customers you are a real cleaning expert by sharing tips on protecting fabrics and how to remove different types of stain from their garments. Come up with some funny stories to entertain them, too. Include photos and videos when you can to further illustrate your humor. How about a blog article with pictures of some of the funny things you and your staff have found inside customer’s pockets. Give it a catchy title like -10 Things You Would Never Believe a Dry Cleaner Found In Pants Pockets.”
8. Do Good Things that Attract Attention. Brett Vago, owner of two ZIPS dry cleaning franchises near Washington DC is offering free dry cleaning, up to 3 garments a week, for those that are unemployed and want to look their best at job interviews. He bases it strictly on the honor system. What a great way to let customers see that you are a kind and caring businessperson. It is also a wise way attract media attention. And, in social media it is the kind of story success is made of – especially when your story goes viral. True, there are costs associated with any such charity program, but the value of the good will created can be priceless. Oh…and by the way, you have the absolute right to brag about something like this, because you are doing an admirable thing that others may not be.
Challenging Times Create Opportunities in Which to Shine
Being a successful small businessperson in 2010 takes a greater effort than ever before. Not only are we in economically challenging times, but also our society is going through some major cultural shifts that dry cleaners, especially, need to respond to in new ways. Our business wardrobe is changing; the environment is at risk; and the age of social media is upon us. Dry cleaners must learn to adapt to these changes and, where possible, leverage them.
Marc LeVine is the Director of Social Media for RiaEnjolie, Inc, a NJ-based web development company specializing in professional looking and affordable websites for small businesses.
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