The Fine Art Of Customer Retention By: Allan J. Katz

The dry cleaning customer landscape is changing. Usage today is more determined by a customer’s occupation than his grooming preferences. The profile of the ideal dry cleaning consumer may be drifting away from your store’s center of influence and slowly leaving your market. Do you move, start a pick-up service or meet the customer’s needs where they are today?

Recently, I received a call from a dry cleaner that was doing well and wanted to do better. He realized he had only so much reach within his market area and was faced with this dilemma of expanding or adapting to his present customer’s preferences, or both. Households fitting his ideal profile of a certain age, income and profession still used dry cleaning in varying degrees. Some were heavy users and some were light users. So could he determine his ideal customer profile for making an intelligent decision?

From past research there are three major factors which determine which customers are more likely to drop off their clothes in your store and which would use your pick-up and delivery service.

One: People are hesitant to use pick up and delivery services when they are unsure of “who is picking up the clothes.” Is this person licensed and bonded?
Two: Is there a person who is going to solve my problems, if I have one? If a potential customer works all day and no one is home, who is this person that is going to help her if she has a problem; the driver, the owner or someone else?
Three: What can I expect in terms of quality? Is the dry cleaning I’m leaving in a bag at my doorstep going to a well known plant with storefronts or to a wholesaler I’ve never met?

Identifying your perfect customer is the first step in the “loyalty ladder” process of acquiring new customers and keeping them loyal. In a changing market you can experiment with different offers to attract a new type of customer who prefers using a dry cleaner for more casual clothing, specialty items, or wants to take advantage of your tailoring services.
The second step is the shopper. Someone who has called, visited your website answered a direct mail solicitation or inquired about your services. This is your opportunity to sell yourself, your staff and what sets you apart from your competitors.

Many upscale cleaners are hesitant to discount at this point. It is true that constant discounting will “teach” your customers only to do business with you when you give them a coupon. That’s not what I’m advocating here. Unfortunately, in today’s highly competitive environment, it takes a greater incentive to convince people to switch dry cleaners. Therefore, couch your offer in a way that does not sound like you’re discounting, but giving them a “gift” for trying you out. Clients who offer a “new customer welcome kit” educate, introduce and motivate new customers to buy again, repeatedly with this type of strategy.

The third step is the customer. The first time a customer buys from you they’re just a customer. New customers are generally very skeptical, even after they’ve made that first critical purchase. How did the front counter person treat me? Did she make me feel I was sincerely part of her new “family,” or was she talking to her boyfriend while she was checking me out? The trick to retaining new customers is to offer her something that makes her feel good about her recent purchase. Compliment her on her choice and tell her why you’re different and provide her with excellent service, a smile and clothes that feel good and smell fresh.

The fourth step is the client. Clients are people who have bought more than once and continue to purchase all of their dry cleaning from you and any other service you might provide, like shoe shining, alterations, drapery cleaning, formal wear, bedding, tablecloths and linens. This group makes up the 20% of your customers that provide 80% of your sales. They deserve special treatment and rewards.

The fifth step is the advocate. An advocate is a client who tells everyone about your service, quality and prices. Advocates need to feel special, like they’re part of the family. You greet advocates by name, ask them about their families and reward them handsomely for their continued patronage and referrals.

Getting clients to climb the loyalty ladder is not difficult. It takes a systematic approach with planning and strategies to keep in constant contact with customers on a regular basis, whether by mail, phone or e-mail.