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National Clothesline
Secrets shared in Cancun
by five-star brainstormers
More than 100 drycleaning professionals exchanged best practices at the Five-Star Brainstorming Conference sponsored by the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute and the National Cleaners Association in January at Secrets the Vine Resort in Cancun, Mexico.
There were no secrets at the conference as attendees shared with each other and, in daily, three-hour seminars, heard the inside story from experts in several fields.
One example was Jack Mitchell, whose family owns and operates a large, privately held, high-end clothing retail operation. He discussed his “Hug Your Customers” philosophy that helps his business thrive.
“His methods were fascinating,” said Brian Johnson, DLI’s director of education and analysis, explaining that “hugs” are unexpected gestures like placing a birthday card in a customer’s suit pocket.
10 take-away tips from Cancun Doing something unexpected for a
“He enters every bit of information he learns about a customer into a database — the names of their spouse, children and pets, anniversaries, favorite sport teams or where their kids go to school — then uses that information to build relationships, Johnson said. “Customers not only remember those hugs, but become loyal, and encourage their family and friends to do business with him.”
Three generations of the Mitchell family have built their business up on the “hominess” created by the founders, who began with three suits, a Christmas card list, a pot of coffee, and a determination to greet every customer as if welcoming them into their home.
Jamie Albano, president of Albano’s Cleaners in Norfolk, VA, said she took home a lesson on how to hug her customers. “I am working on how, with a central plant, to make sure all staff feels like they are hugging their customers even though they may never see the customer,” she said. “Teaching them to take pride in what they do will ultimately make a huge difference.”
Economist Ray Keating brought a ray of hope that the sun will rise sometime soon.
“According to what we heard, even bad economic times present opportunities to the creative and forward-thinking entrepreneurs,” said Ann Hargrove, director of special projects for the National Cleaners Association. “Ray’s message was to be creative, keep trying inventive ideas and to remember the ancient proverb, ‘This too shall pass’.”
Leisure time complemented the daily seminars and proved to be productive, too. The mix of seminar and leisure time was ideal, according to Nora Nealis, NCA’s Executive Director.
“Some great information came from the sharing done among the cleaners when they were poolside, dining together or just sitting around,” said Nora Nealis, NCA’s executive director.
The best part of any conference is the opportunity to meet and greet, she said, adding that “Renewing old friendships and forging new ones in such great surroundings is always a high spot for everyone attending.”
The Cancun conference was the second time around for NCA and DLI in sponsoring a joint winter conference.
“I think this year's event had about double the number of people as last year's event because it's the second year now and people were very positive about last year's event,” said Fred Schwarzmann, president of A.L. Wilson Chemical Co.
“The more people who come to these events the better because it facilitates a more robust cross-pollination of ideas,” Schwarzmann said.
DLI’s CEO Mary Scalco said the annual collaborative conference represents an opportunity for drycleaners to discover new practices, address common challenges, gain industry insights, and receive constructive feedback about specific operational issues and solutions.
DLI and NCA have started planning next January’s conference. In the meantime, each will sponsor separate opportunities for learning and networking, DLI as a co-sponsor of the Clean Show in New Orleans June 20-22 and NCA with it Texcare exhibit in Seacaucus, NJ, Oct. 19-20.

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