Covid and Culling of the Heard

Quarantined! Forced to self-isolate for fourteen days and watch the world go into mass panic and all I can do is sit and watch. I’m not stuck in my house by choice. Oh no! My wife and I had booked a vacation with friends over a year ago to Las Vegas. We arrived just in time to watch the world slide into pandemonium hour by hour. Finally, when our Hotel manager called to say we had two hours to pack and get out, the hotel was closing turning everyone out on the streets, we had to go. Our choice was going to Walmart and buy a tent and camp out in the desert or book tickets on one of the last flights out of Vegas before our governments sealed the borders. So, we had little choice but to come home, and then rules changed while we’re in the air forcing quarantine in our own homes upon our return.

For the days leading up to our leaving, my phone began to ring more and more. FB messenger was binging as more and more messages from cleaners and clients were coming in. Text messages and email came flooding in:

• Business is dropping, what should I do?

• Customers are not coming in, what should I do?

• Somebody said drycleaners are deemed an essential service, what should I do?

• My staff need their paychecks, their jobs, their hours, but I don’t have enough work for them, what should I do? 

• I don’t know what to do, what should I do?

And the calls, texts, emails and messages keep on coming!

Many of you (my audience), like, follow and read what I write because I’m frank, probably too frank with my thoughts, opinions and advice. Some people don’t like it, but more people do.  I am what I am, and crisis or not, I’m not about to change.

As this crisis builds, and government react (and react, and react, and people begin to react and overreact), here is what you could be doing.

You could be taking advantage of this incredible downturn in customers, piece counts and demand and do some long overdue equipment repairs and maintenance. I know many of you plant owners have been running like crazy just to keep up. Now that there is a break of indeterminate time, fix, fix, fix, and repair, repair, repair. Get that equipment back in shape like you have wanted to for some time.

Since customers are not coming in (by choice or by social distancing order), why not put a fresh coat of paint on the walls, retile the floor, heck maybe do a complete face lift? You have staff simply standing around, keep them working by making your store front look awesome again.

Why stop in the lobby? How about a massive cleaning bee? Sweep, clean, and clear out a few years’ worth of dust bunnies in the rafters? I’ve been to many dry cleaners’ plants, and well, they are dusty and dirty. I can still count on one hand the nice places I’ve been too where I’d feel comfortable recommended someone else go to. Wrap pipes with new insulation, fix steam leaks. Staff would likely enjoy working in a place that took a little pride in itself by looking presentable front office and production room. 

Maybe invest in a little training for yourself. As a plant owner you are pulled in a thousand directions each day while trying to earn a buck. At the end of a ten- or twelve-hour workday in the plant, who wants to spend any more time learning something new? Well, I bet you might have a few hours extra today while the nation is in lockdown, why not invest that time in learning about SEO, work on your web site, write a few social media posts, write a few email marketing letters. Go over the books. Write a business plan, write a marketing plan, and organize. Read a book about management techniques. Maybe even read an owner’s manual for your equipment. 

Many of your staff have been as overworked as you have, toiling way over mountains of clothes with absolutely no time to improve their skills and learning. Suddenly you find your staff standing in an empty plant with nothing to do (except buff polish and clean until that work runs out), so why not crack open the laptop and buy a few online classes for your counter staff on the topic of customer service. Buy some DLI and NCA online classes about pressing for your pressers. Maybe even buy some classes about spotting (stain removal) for your spotter/cleaner. Heck, why not CROSS TRAIN all your staff so you have redundancy in positions so if something happens, you can move staff between positions.

Now is the time to clean up your customer database. You could have your staff calling customers and collecting (and updating missing information) in your point-of-sale system. Reach out via telephone, email and text and ask customers how they are doing. Remind them that cleaning clothes reduces spread of disease. Maybe even convert customers to CONTACTLESS pick-up and delivery service (a route customer tends to spend twice to ten times what an over the counter customer spends). Every customer you can collect and record mailing, emailing and texting contact details for is worth an additional $65 a year in sales, so this is time and money well spent.

Reach out to consultants. I know there are many folks who have wanted to pick up a phone, send an email message, send a FB message, send a text, or write a good old letter to a consultant they know, read, and follow in trade magazines. Sometimes when the industry slows, it slows for people like us too. If you can’t do any of what I’m writing about in this article, you could take some time and finally reach out. Just do it!

I know many of you are under serious financial strain as there is no work coming in, and you still have bills to pay, payroll to cover, trying to make it through this wild time and have your business survive. Some, or many of you are tempted to lay off staff to lighten the load and ensure your business survives. Staff are the lifeblood of your business, they are the leverage of you, your efforts, and your dreams. You can’t do it alone (even if you think you can). You need staff.

So, just close up shop! Many of you may not even be allowed to close. Drycleaning IS an essential service. Check with your local health authority, I suspect many of you will be surprised to find out that we cleaners are part of the public health system and you may not be allowed to close. If you are not sure about your status, call your local health authority and ask. Being an essential service might even mean you qualify for special government support programs, and if you are not compensated, well, take comfort knowing you are providing an essential service for your fellow man. A little mission work and public service is good for the soul.

I know it’s tough. I know it’s a risk taking on more debt or losses just to keep your staff while you wait for the world to regain its sanity. I personally have forgone many paychecks so that my staff could have one. Not that I’m an altruistic saint, I figured it’s MY JOB to take risks, and sometimes those risks don’t pay off. There is no need for others and their families to suffer because my risk and gamble did not pay off. I know staff (and others beyond your staff, such as actual and prospective customers), judge their employer and place of business by how the employer and business treats them in time of trouble. Suck it up as much as you can, do what you can, where you can, for as long as you can. Nobody said leadership and ownership was easy and accept that you have obligations to others greater than you have to yourself. If your attitude is ‘After me, you come first’, well, I think it’s time you take a good long look in the mirror.

But I’m not done preaching. Oh, hell no!

Times of trouble Culls The Herd

I grew up visiting my Dad’s brothers and sisters’ farms. I was exposed to farming, raising pigs, chickens, sheep and cattle. Some of you might be disgusted to know that if I wanted chicken for supper, I had to pick one, catch it, and have that head off by noon so I could eat supper. My uncles taught me that not every calf makes it through the winter, and some lambs don’t make it through the night they are born. While the Shepard and the Cowboy do what they can to prevent death and reduce risk, nature will always cull the herd.

That’s going on right now. Many cleaners have been running so lean and mean on razor thin profit margins that they can’t even pay a claim for a $50 dress shirt, let alone survive a two-week mandatory shut down of society.

I now it’s brutal out there. But at the same time, who is really to blame? You all know the risks, and you all know that rewards are not assured when you go into business. Everybody goes into this business with high hopes, but if you do not invest in yourself by learning how to read a balance sheet, learn how to manage and price for profit, learn how to fix broken equipment, learn how to inspire, train and lead staff. If you are sucking every dime out of your business for a larger house, a second house, resort properties and toys, leaving nothing in the business bank account in event that sh!t hits the fan, well, I’m so sorry……Nature has selected you for culling.

Each and every one of us owners has the obligation to our staff, our families, and ourselves to build a business that is well run and built to provide a decent income for our staff, and a decent return on investment for ourselves. It does not happen by accident. It takes effort, it takes work, it takes change, it takes ideas, and it takes YOU actively participating in building your business. Diligence, saving and being prepared for times of crisis are proving to be a commodity scarcer than masks, tinned food and toilet paper.

Times of trouble are not just time of suffering, it’s also a time for stretching; and it’s also time of growing. I hope you are able to take this time and think long and hard about what you are going to do once we reach the other side of this crisis.

I wish each and every one of you the best of luck, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing some of you on the other side of this.

About Darcy Moen

Darcy Moen opened his first drycleaning shop at the age nineteen. Over the next sixteen years, he built his first 600 square foot plant into a chain of 5 stores, creating and testing his own marketing programs along the way. Darcy is a multi-media marketer, working in digital signage, video, print, direct mail, web, email and is a social media expert certified by Facebook for Pages, Insights, and Ad systems. Please visit

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