How Do You Retain Customers? By: Kenney Slatten

Such an important issue is retention of customers. I must have seen fifty different ways plant owners have done this over my 40 years in this industry. With the advent of computers in recent years, it has become easier to track our customer’s habits. Unfortunately, not everyone utilizes this all so important data to see where their dollars went. There are, of course, many who don’t bother at all about lost customers and in fact never even think about it. Most of you know I am not the most progressive person in the world so it will come as no shock to you when I say there are many things about the “Mom & Pop” establishments of yesteryear that I miss. I enjoy the new technologies of today, but the most important thing we must remember is lost in this society – the care and nurturing of our customers.

Statistics by writer Valerie Sakolosky show that 95% of our customers who are unhappy will not complain to us directly. Much to our horror, these unhappy folks will tell 20 people about your company’s bad treatment of them. We all know that someone is always coming in and complaining about your competition while your completion is getting these same complaints about you! Some folks cannot be made happy and reason only visits those who welcome it! Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes diplomacy to win some of these disgruntled customers back.

“Drycleaning And Laundry Price Wars Make Me Madder Than A Pole Cat At A Picnic”

Could there ever be a more important time to be tracking and retaining customers? Everyone is scratching for more customer base in this lousy economy while there are far too many cleaners on the block. I am pretty sure we could do without about 35% of all the cleaners out there. Sometimes, all that competition breeds is price wars on clothes to be cleaned when we know well that none of us are charging enough as it is. When I look at the average prices across the country for drycleaning and laundry I usually find a huge percentage of the operators that are priced below average. No wonder we have so many unhappy customers. It’s difficult to spend the kind of money that you need to spend and maintain quality at low prices. It sort of gives a black eye to all of us.

I have friends who tell me they are in this “for the money.” Well, obviously money is a great factor or one needs to get into another industry. However, human behavior also suggests there is another reason for being in this business in my opinion. How about the fact that some may be attracted more by “the game” than the money. You know the old saying, “Do what you enjoy and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Follow a good business plan and you should be as happy as a preacher asleep. Plants fail because they start out undercapitalized, inadequately planned, far too much overhead debt service and mismanaged cash flow.

“If You Create Value, The Profits Will Come”

While making a profit is all so important and should be one of your goals, concentrate on value for your customers, your employees and your community. If you create value, the profits will come. Value has many meanings. Some customers view well done cleaning and laundry as value, regardless of how high your prices are. Some view value as how attentive the CSR’s are at the counter. Value can be delivering on time and cleaned and pressed better than any other place they tried. It is not hard to create value of your product and your customer. Simply do a decent job and charge a price that is commensurate with costs involved. Quality is value. Forget worrying about raising prices. You could put a sign out front “all garments cleaned today for 25 cents,” and someone would complain. Despite what my friend Sid Tuchman once told me, and we disagreed on, was that the customer sets the quality and the value. No sir, I don’t believe that. It’s up to YOU, the owner.

Please take the time to reinforce your value and relationship with current and lost customers. The dividends will be great and you will build a long term customer base.

I’m headin’ to the wagon; these hospital slippers are killin’ me!