National Clothesline
In my last few articles, I attempted to explain how you could save time by not reinventing the
old wheel over and over again, asking the same questions and making the same type of
We need this valuable time to move to a new level of invention and re-invention.
There is this second tier of
questions that constantly get asked of
your colleagues, your staff, your
professionals and your partners, but
rarely can be properly addressed in an
abbreviated answer.
Once we’ve put aside the
unnecessary questions, we can ask
and answer questions that need both
time and attention. The difficulty is
not only finding the time to ask the question, but asking the question properly so that the
answer may be as useful as possible.
How to improve PPOH?
Last quarter we talked about the fact that it didn’t matter how you calculated PPOH, only that
you were consistent with the calculation to accurately track changes. As new technology comes
along, it is useful to understand the potential improvement available to you in your PPOH, as
you consider significant capital investment.
Putting in an automated or semi-automated assembly system provides a clear example of this
decision-making process.
If you are currently using two full-time staff to inspect and assemble, by how much will you
improve your PPOH if you automate the assembly system?
We haven’t asked the question correctly yet. We run a processing system, not just an
assembly system.
On the surface, you will lose one full-time assembly person and one remains to put the
garments on the conveyor or rails and remove them from the system as completed orders, but
what happens to the inspection system?
Can one person now inspect, load, and unload the assembly? Do you need to redefine jobs
and see how these people would move and perform their functions with new technology?
Those who have asked the right questions, analyzed their data and understood the answers
have moved from 10 to 12 PPOH (clean, spot, press, inspect, assembly and bag) to 20+ PPOH.
New industry standards have been set by spending the time evaluating a position, analyzing it
and then moving forward with solid decision making and a real positive return on their capital
Do you tag in at the store or centrally?
Now and then this becomes a very useful question, but rarely can it casually be asked and
expect a useful answer. A quick answer can often result in more harm than good.
The question must again be looked at even broader than the new technology question we
considered above. This question must take into account issues like the store volume, the store
image, the amount of add-on charges, the quantity of difficult-to-price garments, and the
amount of space available.
Some plants still price at the counter in front of the customer.
This system makes it difficult to get the highest revenue per piece as the customer stands and
waits for the transaction.
We know it produces higher wait times for customers who are very much in a hurry today
when there are complicated price lists.
We know that it increases price sensitivity as customers receive priced invoices before they
leave, so what we’re really talking about is pricing at a mark-in station behind or near the front
Pricing at mark-in stations provides greater productivity of counter staff, but it also results in
a production orientation by staff rather than a customer service orientation. Customers now
become an interruption to their day as staff must mark in the work in time for the shuttle driver
or before they leave for the day.
The organizational decision becomes a trade-off of costs and benefits.
How do you want to use your counter staff? Are they primarily front retail sales staff available
to service customers, market to customers, and support customers? Or are they primarily
production staff with servicing as their secondary job?
There is no wrong answer, but there must be an answer to this question before attempting to
make any major changes.
Bigger questions
Individuals who are able to leapfrog over their competition and move past the status quo are
the same ones who spend the time asking the bigger questions and listening intently to all of
the feedback they receive.
The big questions challenging us today include how to appeal to our younger prospective
customers, how to introduce them to drycleaning, how to grow in a wash-only fashion world,
and how to expand, cost effectively, into related markets.
There are companies today who feel they have answered some of these questions and are
beginning to translate their plans into concrete actions.
There are other companies who are still examining how to fit in with this new world and they
will, most likely, find their way, because they have at least started to ask the questions.
There are others that have not yet started to ask these time-consuming questions and may be
left behind.
Finally, there are those who will never start to ask the questions and they may just disappear
as we’ve seen in recent history.
These questions consider not only all of the previous areas of cost trade-off, production or
sales orientation, but also consider your financial position, business and operational skills and
competences, and, not to forget, your personal energy and goals.
This is when the new wheel is truly invented.
How do you know when you’ve asked the right questions?
Often the key is when you get an unexpected answer. Then you know you’re looking at the
issues or opportunities from a different point of view than you previously had. The similarity of
the questions above involves looking at the issues from all dimensions — from the customer, the
pricing, the equipment, the space considerations, and the profitability.
Asking the right question is not always obvious but it is critical. Without it you may go down a
road you didn’t intend to go down with consequences you didn’t intend to have. Think carefully
when asking advice of those you respect. Make sure you’re asking the right question and
providing them useful information to keep you on your intended path.
Today it is even more important to spend time looking at your business, understanding its
strengths and weaknesses and your opportunities and threats. Reinventing yourself on a big or
little scale is critical to survival. The threats and opportunities are all around us and sometimes
pop up when you least expect it.
Don’t be afraid to move forward. Asking some hard questions is a first step.

Deborah Rechnitz has
been an independent
management consultant
to drycleaning industry
members since 1980. She
also held the position of
chief operating officer of
one of the largest USA
drycleaning operations in
2008. She holds a
Bachelor of Science
degree in Finance and
Personnel Administration;
a Bachelor of Arts degree
in Interpersonal Com-
munications; and an MBA
in Operations
Management from Case
Western Reserve
University. She can be
reached by e-mail at
drechnitz@gmail.com or
phone at (253) 405-7043.
How to start inventing a new wheel