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National Clothesline
By Peter Blake
Last month I outlined some of my thoughts and ideas as we all plan the grand re-opening of
the country and our industry. Our first reaction to financial crisis and uncertainty is to cut back,
eliminate expenses, conserve capital, and put a hold on all those things we feel we can do
without.
I am sure you have all explored those thoughts, made some tough
decisions, and have already put together your emergency response
plan for navigating the new COVID-19 landscape.
Be forewarned, times of economic uncertainty are not the time to
cut back on your marketing and brand awareness. One of your first
instincts might be to cut back or eliminate your advertising budget
and wait until times get better before reinvesting, but trust me, that
is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
These are the times when you need to increase your marketing
efforts. This is the time when you need to explore new vehicles to
help drive your brand. The last thing you want to do is find yourself
behind the curve as business evolves and picks up again, and you are
fighting to play catch-up.
Now is the time to seize opportunity and solidify your company’s position in the community.
This global pandemic is affecting everyone and purchasing decisions will be influenced by how
your customers, and potential customers, view your business today and in the future. Keep in
mind, effective marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take some investment. If
not financial, then an investment of time and effort for sure.
As I wrote in a previous article, communication is everything. If you want to stay relevant you
need to connect with your customer base and let them know you are open and ready to help.
A recent marketing study done by the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that
43 percent of consumers find it reassuring to hear from companies they know and use, another
40 percent wanted to know how brands are responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and only 15
percent of consumers said they did not want to hear from brands at this time. That is an
overwhelming majority that want to hear from you. They want to know what you are offering
and what you are doing to help people feel safe and secure.
Your messaging needs to start with empathy. I have said it before, “We all may not be in the
same boat, but we are all in the same storm.” I know you are struggling, but so are your
customers. Marketing in these times requires sensitivity to what is going on in your customers’
lives and needs to be flexible to handle the changing landscape.
I would focus on ways you are changing and adapting to keep customers safe. Let them know
what safety measures you have taken, including both internally for your staff and for your
customers’ protection.
This would include physical changes to remove touch points like new “sneeze guards” installed
at the front counter; moving credit card terminals closer to the consumer; and new safety
requirements like requiring all employees to wear masks when interacting both at the counter
and on a route.
In addition, mandating employees to wear gloves when doing pick-ups and deliveries or
working the counter is a good practice.
I would include information about the safety of the process itself and how professional
cleaning is far better than home laundry in protecting against the spread of the virus and other
bacteria. The CDC recommends high heat as the best way to combat COVID viruses. We wash,
dryclean, and press at much higher temperatures than home laundry can achieve. I would take
advantage of this information and let customers know we can do it better and offer more
protection for them and their family.
You also need to educate your customers on your complete menu of services, including some
of your new services you have embraced since the pandemic started. If you didn’t offer Wash-
Dry-Fold before, but you do now, I would venture to guess your customers don’t even know it.
Offering pick-up and delivery? If it is a new service for you, you need to get the word out in
every way possible. I would also suggest highlighting some of the more profitable services that
are not used enough such as comforters, curtains, and other household items.
As we have already seen from reports from our members, blankets, comforters, and other
household items have created a small uptick in business.
These items are often neglected and cleaned too infrequently. To better protect their safety,
recommend that they clean these items at least one or two times per week. These items are
being breathed on, snored on, and coughed on all night long.
Look at the garments you are getting in now, they are a great indicator of what you can
highlight to other customers and potential customers.
What is the best way to get those messages out? Every way you possibly can. There is no
right or wrong answer, but in today’s world you need to be flexible, versatile, and innovative.
Leverage social media
I would use social media as much as possible, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and
other platforms. I would recommend you post anywhere from one to three times per week. I
would use video and images as much as possible. We are a visual society and images and video
are always more effective to get your messages across.
I strongly urge you to take advantage of some of the low-cost, highly effective advertising
opportunities these social media platforms can provide. You can tailor your messages and posts
to a very selective audience, and then market your promotions to that audience. I recently did a
webinar for association members that demonstrated how to do this, and the program is archived
at dlionline.org.
I invite anyone reading this article to email me for a free link to that presentation for more
detailed information. Just mention you saw it in National Clothesline.
Use your email addresses
This is an opportunity to tell your story, share your experiences and to solidify your connection
with your customers. Email customers at least once a month with information, and maybe twice
a month if you want to promote a special or service.
Email marketing remains an effective way to communicate with your current customers. I
recently helped a cleaner develop and send an email to her customer base for the first time. It
was sent to almost 4,500 email addresses and the results were better than expected with an
open rate of 34 percent. This just reinforces the effectiveness of reaching and communicating.
I would target my email as a reward for their loyalty: “Because you are one of our best
customers,” and “Special offer for our VIP Customers” are some taglines you can use.
Where we’ve been; where we’re going
Let’s be ready: plan for reopening
of your business
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Always include a thank you for their business and trust. Make it as personal as possible. One of
the most frequent questions I get is about content creation and there are some great resources
available to help you come up with content.
There are a number of companies that can do this for you, and DLI is building an impressive
library of graphics, posts, and brochures you can use to communicate with your customers. If
you don’t have the time to do it yourself, outsource it. But it is vital that you remain in contact
with your customers and community. If you need help with your email newsletters or program,
email me or call and I can help you develop your program.
Word of mouth marketing
Never underestimate the voice of your customers. We have all heard of referral programs and
many cleaners have used them with varying levels of success. One of the shifts in marketing and
brand messaging is the need to stress stories, safety, trust and your commitment to the
community.
As I end this column, I want to give you one tangible concept you can use in your business for
your best route customers or your best “over the counter” customers.
Look for a good, higher ticket item with a decent profit margin like a comforter. Print up a nice
gift certificate: “Pete’s Cleaners Recognizes Heath Care Providers! As a thank you for your
service, please redeem for One FREE Comforter Cleaning.”
Then send them home with your best customers or send/give to your route customers asking
them to
give them to someone they know in their neighborhood. Make it special, and make it
look like an honor and something they would want to gift someone. You can create a nice card
with the instruction telling them you want their help in identifying people they know who are
providing great care and service to others.
The customer is giving a friend or neighbor something of value. You are getting a subtle
referral and a potential new customer. You are also reminding your own customers to clean their
comforters and reinforcing the idea of sending them to you. It is a win-win-win situation.
Worst case scenario? You give a bunch of free comforter cleanings to people who are caring for
the sick and can use help. Besides, it is a great way to give all your PPP employees something to
do.

Peter Blake serves as executive director of the North East Fabricare Association, the
Southeastern Fabricare Association, the MidAtlantic Association of Cleaners and the
California Cleaners Association. He can be reached by email at
peteblke@aol.com or by
phone at (617) 791-0128