2020 continues to be a dumpster fire, but thankfully the end of the calendar year is approaching. Still, I don’t see an end in sight for the challenges the entire dry cleaning industry is facing. As I said, it’s been six months since pants, meaning much of the demand for dry cleaning services dropped as the pandemic shut down entertainment, social events, and masses began working from home.
It takes 21 days to make a habit, and conversely, it takes 21 days to break a habit. We are well past 21 days and I am extremely concerned that the pandemic has caused a fundamental change in dress codes and fashion that will be impacting the entire industry for years if not a couple decades. We have witnessed wash and wear polyester take away pieces in the 70’s. We had a small resurgence with the big shoulder and suits surge of the 80’s. Casual Friday’s kicked us a good one in the 90’s. We limped along through the 00’s. The teens were not kind either. And now, the major butt whopping we currently have with shut down and a very slow reopen.
To say all business is hard right now is an understatement. Most customers are isolating at home, and massive amounts of effort and money is being spent advising people to ‘stay home, stay safe.’ I know that this virus has killed over 200,000 people this year, and statistically speaking it’s less than what smoking and drunk drivers kill every year, but the mass mentality of fear has focused on staying home and staying safe. Frankly, I don’t see a point in trying to convince people to come out and resume a normal life right now because that message is being drowned out by fear, concern and the need to be safe. We don’t have the deep pockets and resources to invest into changing people’s minds, and I doubt we could at this time even if we had such resources.
The sad fact is, all of us are going to have to work twice as hard for half as much of what we were earning before the bottom dropped out of the world.
Hard work, but we must work even harder.
Now, I know dry cleaners work hard. It’s what draws me to this industry. The work ethic many of you have is amazing. The dedication and focus on the minutia, many of you display is beyond remarkable. I’m always amazed at how so many cleaners are extremely capable of picking fly poop out of pepper, 18 hours a day, six days a week. But that is maybe the problem we should address first.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with working hard, but we need to redirect some of our efforts away from the routine of cleaning, pressing, inspecting and bagging. Far too many cleaners are focused on the ‘busy’ work of doing dry cleaning with their heads stuck in the basket or cleaning machine when they should be standing in the middle of their plant and observing their operations as a whole coming up with managerial processes and procedures that bring leverage to their efforts. Simply put, we must be working smarter as well as harder.
Let me ask you a question: How many hours a week do you spend thinking about HOW you run your business?
By run your business, I don’t mean how many hours do you work IN your business marking in clothes, working the counter, spotting, running the cleaning machine, pressing, inspecting, bagging….that’s the busy work of owning and running a dry cleaning shop. I mean, how many hours a week do you spend thinking of a new procedure at the front counter, or a new sales script to sell pick-up and delivery, or a new marketing offer you plan on putting out into the market to attract a new customer? This is the THINKING part of your business where if you do come up with a new marketing program that brings in 5 to 10 new customers a week. These thoughts, turned into action, bring leverage to your work. I know that for many, thinking and managing are overhead, it’s what drove many of us to become our own boss because we got sick of working for someone that ‘does nothing’ to contribute to the work and workflow of a dry cleaning plant. BUT, as I’ve learned, thinking and creating new ideas IS work in and of itself, and it’s just as valuable, if not more so in contributing to the running and operations of a plant. Working smarter is just as valuable as working harder.
We all have the same tools with pretty much everybody having the same equipment in their plants. Despite having a level playing field, some of us in this business do very well, while a whole lot of us struggle to scrape out a bare existence. What makes one cleaner better than another? It’s not equipment, perhaps location, perhaps price. The real difference lies in how we use the assets we have at our disposal.
Its strikes me as odd how a cleaner will spend hours and hours working on one stubborn spot, yet the very same cleaner won’t invest any time on going out after more business.
Case in point: building your route sales. Right now, offering pick-up and delivery is a hot topic. Since customers won’t come to you, it just makes sense to go to the customer. So, how do you build your route sales? Well, to me the answer is simple, go knock on doors.
Yep, that’s it. Get out there and start making sales calls. Pick the neighborhood and start ringing doorbells. After about 5,000 sales calls, you will have picked up 250 to 300 customers.
We all have a finger to ring a doorbell, a mouth to make a sales presentation with and a potential market to go after, yet so few of us are willing to make those 5,000 sales calls to generate those customers. We stand in the middle of much potential, yet we won’t use the assets we have readily at hand (our finger, our mouth) to go after the markets that are just waiting for us to go out and capture.
Working smarter sometimes means just working in a different way. Given the trying times we face today, we had best start thinking outside the box and get out there and hustle.