On the very first day of teaching me the craft and trade of dry cleaning, my mentor leaned over to me and gave me the best advice I’ve ever been given…
…never stop learning.
Those three words have seen me through some very difficult times, intense competition, and have kept me moving forward, moving ahead, pretty much my entire life. Frankly, it’s my secret to an unfair competitive advantage. How so? Well, there will always be competition, and there will always be those competitors who cannot innovate themselves so they copy or imitate. Copying and imitating is always done from a following position, never from a position of leadership. Leadership requires risk, effort and failure, each of which have unique challenges, and are not for the faint of heart.
Keeping an open mind is extremely difficult. It’s far too easy to allow one to fall into a routine, going through the motions day to day, week after week, and ultimately year after year. There is a certain comfort in doing things the same way, day after day, until someone comes along, with a better idea, or thinks out of the box and kicks your butt.
A case in point is the taxi business. For decades taxi drivers and taxi owners enjoyed the protection of regulated competition, government policies and monopolies that allowed only medallion owners to operate and charge fares. Along comes Uber with a new system of enabling virtually anyone with a decent vehicle to become a taxi owner/operator. Download an app, pass a security requirement, get your car inspected and work when you want to. Suddenly, the entire taxi industry is threatened, if not made obsolete, all because while taxis enjoyed protection, someone else was working on developing a better way.
I see a lot of dry cleaners following in the taxi industry’s footsteps. So many owners have their heads in their dry cleaning machines, or stuck in their laundry carts, rarely venturing outside of their shops. Many of these owners do not have membership in the national organizations like DLI or NCA because the few dollars membership costs are a few dollars these owners think they are saving. The monthly newsletters these associations send alone are worth the annual fee each charges. One claim saved or averted because of a problem or poorly manufactured garments reported can be worth the entire year’s membership fee.
Not joining your state association is another misinformed mistake as these organizations are hard at work meeting with government departments on your behalf to reduce, eliminate and keep taxes low, not to mention keep rules that may end up governing your business at a reasonable level. Denying your state association your membership dues is starving them of resources they need to fight on your behalf.
I know what it’s like today, cash is tight and every expense needs to be justified. Odds are, you’ve already cut your staff so much you are working the counter, the presses, the cleaning machine, the spotting table and maybe even driving the route truck too. You simply cannot shrink your way to greatness. Cutting and cutting is much like a Russian doll, it’s a gradual lowering of one’s expectations.
If it seems like other dry cleaners have it so much better than you, maybe it’s not their location or their pricing, maybe it’s how they do their cleaning, their staff, their management, their production standards, sometimes it’s even the equipment they use.
I am hoping that you can take some time away from your business and get out to a convention. If you can’t get away, well, that is a huge red flag. If you can’t get away for at least two days, you have some serious problems that need to be addressed.
I do sincerely hope to see you at the The Clean Show in New Orleans. There is a lot of equipment up and running on the show floor. It’s literally one stop shopping if you are in the market to upgrade equipment. Plus, you can step right up and try it out because, yes, it’s up and running!
As always, I expect the show floor to be full of new systems and ideas. You literally can pick up a bag full of new ideas, from point-of-sale systems, apps, route services, and even marketing ideas.
The aisles will be full of dry cleaners like yourself. I’ve always found there is ample opportunity to meet people from across America, across North America and even international people. The name badges given to everyone make it very easy to see who is standing next to you, and where they are from. Just strike up a conversation, don’t be shy!
There are lots of before Clean Show meetings and events. There are pre-show information sessions brought to you by national associations that are filled with great ideas. And then there are evening get-togethers put on by solvent and equipment companies where once again you can meet and mingle. Plus, there are after parties, where if you know the right folks, you can meet in private suites and continue making new friends and exchanging ideas and conversation.
Some of the management and cost groups have private breakfast meetings where members meet, have a short information session, and then head out on to the show floor. I love these management groups and cost groups because they teach you methods to manage your business and improve your operation making it more profitable. Some of these groups have strict requirements and mandatory attendance at their events around North America, which of course means if you have issues getting out of running your plant for a few days, it’s a sure sign you need to join one of these groups.
While the Clean Show is held every two years, there are all sorts of learning opportunities out there that are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There are online learning classes you or your staff can take over the internet, at your own pace, at times that work with your personal and business life. Even I offer a learning service via my membership based web site (only for clients, and only one cleaner per market area).
If you feel you need to learn some more (and hopefully this article has fueled your appetite for more knowledge) but don’t know where to start, I strongly encourage you to reach out to me via e-mail, telephone or messenger. I’m happy to connect you with resources, experts, consultants and reputable equipment dealers. I must warn you though, after 30 some years of being heavily involved in this business, the amount of information I can send your way could be like taking a drink from a fire hose.