CCA show has something
Over 1,200 attendees registered for the California Cleaners Association Fabricare 2012 show in mid-July and the overall consensus view was a positive one.
Drycleaners who made the trek to the Long Beach Convention Center had full agendas and seemed particularly focussed on making every moment count during the busy weekend.
There was something useful for everyone. The exhibit hall bustled with (literally) tons of top-of-the-line industry machinery in full working display while other booths offered all the peripheral products a plant needs to produce more profits.
Those seeking working knowledge of all things drycleaning could watch demonstrations, ask vendors direct questions or pop off into one of the floor’s two designated seminar areas to learn about machines and solvent alternatives, maintaining and converting machinery and the best and most cost-efficient ways to handle environmental cleanups.
In addition to those programs, CCA offered many in-depth educational sessions on both days in the nearby convention center conference rooms.
DLI CEO Mary Scalco and NCA Executive Director Nora Nealis, who have recently been traveling the speaker circuit together, were on hand to show how cleaners can still thrive in tough times.
The new normal
One way is to make sure you keep the customers you already have.
“The number one reason consumers pick a drycleaner is convenience. The number one reason they stick with a cleaner is customer service because you are appealing to that customer,” Scalco said. “Isn’t it easier to do business with somebody you enjoy or somebody you like working with than somebody you don’t know?”
She also noted that the “new normal” of the industry means changing the way you look at things. DLI and NCA have long been competitors, but it is only in recent years that they’ve opted to work together in new ways, offering joint educational conferences that greatly benefit members of both associations.
Nealis pointed out that some of the best public relations can be produced for little or no investment costs. As an example, she cited how too many drycleaning stores don’t do themselves any favors by not projecting a clean image.
“What are the best marketing dollars you can spend?” she asked. “Windex. Elbow grease. Vacuum. We’re cleaners. If you’re looking for new customers, you’ve got to pay attention to what you look like.”
She also pointed out that print media’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. It’s still available and affordable and it can offer a nice personal touch.
“According to researchers, you make a more emotional permanent connection with people if they see something in print as opposed to the more ephemeral connection of online in cyberspace.”
Nealis also emphasized that there is more than one solution out there: educating customers about all of your services, pricing up with “couture cleaning” services, expanding hours and days for customers and renegotiating the costs of things like leases, health insurance, credit card processing and mortgages can all contribute to more success.
Doing things right
Mike Nesbitt, president of MW Cleaners, echoed her sentiments during his seminar. He warned cleaners that it is never just one thing.
“We come to these things and we look for the magic bullet. There is no magic bullet. The magic bullet is doing things right,” he said.
With big names like Tide Dry Cleaners entering the marketplace, it’s better to be prepared than scared, he noted. The way to do that is to make sure you keep your quality and customer service high. In order to do that, it will cost some money.
“Everybody in our organization is on a bonus,” he said. “Production’s is based on quality and efficiency. Customer service’s is based on customer service. Let me tell you what it does… it creates a discipline that we don’t typically have.”
He also encouraged cleaners to allocate some marketing funds to invest in better real estate. Pay for a location that supports your business model, he advised. If you want to convey high quality, the location with the cheapest rent will not cut it. Also, finding a location that is convenient for customers is priceless.
“At MW Cleaners, we have 37 locations, and out of those we have 28 drive-thrus,” he said. “I am making the business more convenient.”
Whether you opt to utilize marketing dollars for real estate or not, other speakers offered solutions for cleaners who want to become more active with social media. Many believe it represents the best of both worlds in marketing: it’s low on cost but high on results.
Brian Wallace, CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, pointed out that cleaners who claim they don’t need social media to market their business because they have word-of-mouth are unaware of the changing times.
“What happened to word-of-mouth? It moved,” he said. “This is the new word-of-mouth… social media. It has been amplified 900 million times over.”
Wallace recommended that cleaners sign up for services such as Google Places, Foursquare, Yelp and GPS sites such as Tele Atlas and NAVTEQ.
In many cases, it’s free. With sites like Yelp, it’s important to realize that your business might already be out there with a negative review since most of the site’s content stems from customers.
When this happens, the best thing to do is answer complaints immediately, Wallace explained. Apologize publicly, no matter what, and offer to fix the problem.
“Social media can be your best friend or your worst media,” he noted. “It’s already out there, with or without you. You’re better off grabbing the wheel and controlling your destiny.”
John Zimmerman from eRocketFuel offered up a simple reason as to why social media is so overwhelmingly popular these days during his session.
“People crave a connection,” he said. “So, it’s not just that you are trying to get them to talk to you. You need to reach out and talk to them. People love it when you start talking to them.”
He outlined many tips and tricks cleaners can use to make their business’s Facebook page more popular.
The process takes time but businesses should post three times a week, every week. Also, he recommended posting images and videos as often as possible because Facebook has a built-in preference for those types of postings. They will show up more on followers’ newsfeeds.
He also emphasized that posts should sound personal and not something produced by a faceless corporation.
“You want to use the words that other people are using,” he said.
A good rule-of-thumb is to pay attention to what kind of posts work and which ones fall flat. Also, never forget one important thing when communicating: “Treat your customers exactly like they’re the most important people in the world.”
Trudy Adams, director of customers service and sales for Cleaner’s Supply, wholeheartedly agreed, adding that customer service can make or break your business.
During her presentation, she indicated that, when it comes to hiring customer service personnel, personality should be the biggest determining factor.
While the best CSRs are full of passion, the best companies are full of training and proper operating procedures.
“Every success story, every person in business who is successful has non-negotiable customers service systems in place. Every one of them,” she said.
Little details like greeting customers and expressing appreciation are a must, as is upselling and cross-selling during transactions. It is also imperative to create a memorable first-time customer for newcomers so the experience will be more than a one-time visit.
Perhaps the most important factor, however, is handling complaints.
“You will be judged, not by what you do correctly, but by how you handle the problems,” she said.
It may not even be your fault, but you can fix a problem. What you cannot fix, she added, is having a customer walk away permanently.
That is undoubtedly a lesson that the best cleaners in the industry have learned well, which also brings to mind the trio of award winners who were honored on Saturday night at CCA’s evening reception. It is safe to say they’ve had few customers walk away from them.
This year’s Dry Cleaner of the Year award for the association was Jim Douglas from Prestige Cleaners.
A graduate of Northern Arizona University, he began his drycleaning career with Swanson’s Cleaners over 40 years ago. More recently, his Prestige plant served as both an alpha and beta test site for the GreenEarth Cleaning process shortly after he became the owner in 1998.
He has been certified by the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute as a Certified Professional Drycleaner, a Certified Professional Wetcleaner and a Certified Environmental Drycleaner. He was also the recipient of DLI’s Meritorious Award for Green Fields in 2005.
Taking home the Allied Trades of the Year award was Dan Pollock from R.R. Street and Co., who has cultivated a strong relationship with his clients by being willing to pick up his phone on Sunday.
Helping him to stand out has been a willingness to help those who haven’t even bought products through him, a fact that Adams touted during her presentation, using him as an example of unforgettable customer service.
CCA reserved the biggest spotlight of the evening for Doris Easley, who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Even though she recently celebrated her 90th birthday, Easley shows no sign of slowing down and it was that energy that made her stand out as an industry expert on garment restoration and customer service. In fact, she still offers her services as a consultant and adviser to the industry.