As our entire industry adjusts to what might be the new normal and our economies begin to re-start, now is the perfect time to take a good long look at your internal garment handling and pricing structure.
Much has changed.
Our customers are working from home, if they are working at all. If you thought casual Fridays wiped 20 percent of piece counts off the map for the dry cleaning industry, you have already likely experienced a drop of 50 to 100 percent demand in your market due to the new fashion craze ‘working from home in pajamas,’ if even that! One cleaner client of mine has been promoting clean-ing of the new work attire; PJ’s, washed, dried and folded over a hanger, $1.00! On the other end of the spectrum, cleaners who are making masks have reported $2,000 to $10,000 in sales. Masks are the hot fashion item!
Fashion has changed. Work wear fashion has changed. Check out this Instagram page I found where folks can share their work from home outfits, you might be surprised what passes as work from home wear. I’ve noticed that folks dress either for comfort (and I mean sloppy) or they go over the top all out (few and far between, but I certainly appreciate the effort, think dry cleaning pieces!) But, ultimately, the change appears to be mostly further away from dry cleaning……sigh……
My concern is the dropping piece counts and demands. Spot, the point of sale company, released amazing graphs showing how shutting down the economy impacted the dry cleaning industry de-spite drycleaners being classified as an essential service in many states. The graphs showed we are not as essential as we think we are as demand dropped 75 to 90 percent (depending on if you offer route service and over the counter only). Six weeks later, as some states are re-opening, sales have only recovered by 15 to 20 percent. I’m very afraid that we are in for a long road back because we are just about to go into the worse months for sales and piece counts (summer), and then we face the fall season where a lot of folks may have not been rehired, or continue to work from home.
One cleaner client of mine has made dramatic changes to how he handles incoming orders and clothing. His employees are older, in the high risk group, and as such to protect their health he has responded by instituting some precautions with respect to how incoming orders are received from customers and how bags are opened and handled. My client was not satisfied with hanging a plexi glass partition over the counter, he also had concerns over the virus aerosolizing into the air when bags of clothing were opened, or bundles of clothes being dropped on the counter, so he made ma-jor changes as to how customers drop off their orders at the counter. One change he made has result-ed in discontinuing one hour, same day and even next day service because his new receiving policy requires the customer to put their clothing into a bag along with a quick claim check with the cus-tomer contact details, and the bag sits for 24 hours before any employee touches the order.
Perhaps you might think this is crazy, but I think its genius for many reasons. First reason is, it’s hard enough to find staff these days, let alone good ones. Sick employees cannot (and now, should not) come to work, and dead employees cannot be motivated at all, so keeping your staff healthy and protected makes a lot of good sense. Listening to your staff’s concerns and addressing them is a fine policy and may make you even more attractive to other employees to come work for you. Cus-tomers have even acknowledged how much they appreciated the changes as it also protects them.
One cannot go too far in addressing spread of virus concerns. Just last week, I had a molar break requiring a root canal and crown. Thankfully my Dentist is one of the very few businesses allowed to reopen, and he put me at the front of the line to dental work. I was stunned at the level of protection he and his assistance put on as required by the Dental Association’s rules, pending further Covid re-search (great words there, pending further Covid research, I think our industry needs to adopt this). Full disposable body suit, mask, face shield, gloves, and the entire dental room where my procedure was taking place was tarped off, taped up, and completely isolated from every other room. I jokingly told my Dentist: ‘I’ve seen less plastic put down at murder scenes, how much blood are you expect-ing out of me?’
After my dental work was done, I was settling up the bill. At the bottom I noticed a new line item in additional to the usual taxes: Covid fee: $35.00. I asked about it and was informed that fee was added to cover all the additional personal protective equipment, janitorial fees, and some contribu-tion towards the cost of two hours the room could not be used due to letting potential virus settle out of the air. Interesting to say the least, but I paid the additional fee without question.
If we drycleaners need to slow down our service due to virus concerns, incur additional costs due to additional PPE, AND experience a massive reduction in piece counts, where are those dollars go-ing to come from? We certainly can’t lower our prices to attract customers and pieces from a com-petitor because they too are experiencing drops in demand too. It’s painfully obvious that the only logical choice is to raise prices.
Of course, I’m concerned that perhaps there is the risk of pricing oneself out of the market, but I’m equally convinced that being cheap is what got us into this mess in the first place. I find it rather interesting that before Covid few businesses were doing deep cleans of their store, wip-ing off counters between customers, supplying PPE, buying lots and lots of cleaners…. but now, post Covid, businesses have money for darn near everything to make a customer feel secure. I’ve seen several 900 million spent by Walmart alone on cleaning. These days, nobody can af-ford to be cheap, and neither should you. Now is the perfect time to stand your ground on your prices, and so should your competitors, or in fact, raise them! Now is the perfect time to cause the death of cheap, and, you can always blame Covid!