Well, We Finally Did It…

Giving in to my belief that the overall dry cleaning business climate is improving, we finally bit the bullet. We replaced our old point-of-sale dry cleaning software which we had used since 2003 with a cloud based dry cleaning management system. This was not a decision made easily. Quite honestly, our old system had a few things going for it. For example, it was user friendly when it came to posting client transactions as it mimicked pen and ink ticket systems. It also provided adequate control over cash, credit card and house accounts. Furthermore, we were able to effectively monitor and control our inventories and route systems. Last, but not least, it was paid for.

But point-of-sale dry cleaning software this old also had considerable limitations. It was based on a platform that was no longer supported by current spreadsheet software which made it virtually impossible to download client data for e-mail marketing or sending text blasts. This point-of-sale dry cleaning software also was extremely limited in its client messaging abilities. I also felt the vendor’s client support was not adequate to overcome weaknesses in important system components to the point I eventually dropped the annual support subscription.

Still, even with the inherent weaknesses I have described with our former point-of-sale dry cleaning software, changing was a difficult decision for us. In fact, I was guilty of paralysis by analysis, taking way too much time to determine if we should move forward or continue to work with the tools we currently had at our disposal. Coming off Covid, dealing with staffing and budgeting limitations, and quite frankly, not knowing how much longer I would continue to be an owner / operator, were all factors I considered when deciding if the time was right to upgrade systems.

It was easy to get caught up with the bells and whistles new technology offers. The glitz of new equipment, being perceived as a leader in your market, impressing your staff and customers with your new toys… it all sounds so good! But could we really justify the effort, expense and operational impact making these upgrades would require? What would the real impact of going to a new dry cleaning platform be on our operations, our staff, and most importantly, our clients?

Before deciding to switch to a new system I began by looking at what a new system should be able to do for our customers and the impact on our ability to serve them. Here are some of the questions I believed to be important while making the decision to upgrade or not:
• Will a new system improve the client experience?
• How will making this change impact staffing needs and what are the skill levels required?
• What will be the overall effect on my budget?

While going through my preliminary analysis, I came to some conclusions which directly impacted my decision to proceed.

Most of the systems on the market today do a nice job of enhancing contacts with customers. Messaging options offer a plethora of tools to advise clients when orders are ready, address questions or concerns we come across while processing orders, notify them when orders are delivered and following up on declined credit cards, reminding clients of orders not picked up, and so on. We put a great deal of emphasis on client relationships and communications, so this was an important element in our evaluation of determining whether we should move forward.

This was followed by an effort to determine what impacts a change in systems would have on our staffing. Being a relatively small company, even a minor event can have a big impact on our staff and our ability to take care of our clients. My initial consideration was to determine the short-term effect on our staffing levels and the knowledge required to use a different platform. We have employees with many years of experience who learned dry cleaning using pen and paper systems down to those who are just beginning to learn our industry but have a better understanding of computerized systems. What would be the learning curve for our employees, and would additional staffing be required?

Once I had gotten a feel for the needed training and implementation processes, I could then assess the longer term impacts on our staffing levels and determine if the various options would, in fact, improve our operational efficiencies. I did determine, this was one of the strong points for upgrading our systems. With current labor shortages and the rising costs of staffing, I became convinced that longer term operational efficiencies did offset the impact of learning curves and were a major reason to consider making the move to a new dry cleaning computer system.

But, let’s face it, eventually it gets down to money. And even with the anticipated benefits connected to upgrading our computer technology, a change such as what we were considering was not going to be cheap. It wasn’t just the cost of the software, but the hardware costs also required a significant investment. There were other factors to consider as well. If we decided to use bar codes, we would need to add in the cost of heat seal equipment, scanners and the barcodes themselves. And lastly, there were training and implementation expenditures that required our consideration.

Gathering this data was time consuming, and I probably drove some of my dry cleaner acquaintances and vendors nuts with my questions. But I finally came to the conclusion it made sense to upgrade our systems. I tried to be as objective as I could by listing the major pros and cons on a spreadsheet. I also projected the estimated costs and potential revenue opportunities connected to a system upgrade. But quite frankly, the final decision to move forward was still somewhat subjective.

The question now became, “Which system should we go with?”

Based on my prior discussions with other dry cleaners and my earlier involvement in a dry cleaning mastermind group I was able to limit my selections down to a handful of vendors. From my earlier analysis, I had already decided to make the leap to begin barcoding garments. I also wanted to simplify data storage requirements and reduce paper handling which caused me to lean toward one of the cloud-based systems. In addition, the customer communication element was paramount as was ease of use.

While talking to the respective vendors I made it clear that I wanted their proposals to allow for flexibility and be as inclusive as possible with respect to available features. I also requested they provide me with the hardware requirements for their systems and of course, the associated cost of this equipment.
Analysis and discussions ensued with the software vendors. We asked them for various demonstrations, asked a whole bunch of questions about how their systems worked, reporting and communication tools, and very important to us, system support and training. Eventually we narrowed the choices down to two vendors.

I am not going to mention the software vendors by name in this article. I am attempting to let you know some of the decision making trials and tribulations we went through in the hope it may help if you are considering software for your company. I sincerely believe each of the vendors we considered are very reputable and it gets down to which product meets the specific needs and budget of your business.

At this point in the process my cheapskate tendencies kicked in – maybe to the detriment of a smooth system switch over. Instead of paying for new hardware through the software vendor, I opted for a different option. I decided to purchase the hardware through a company that sells refurbished computers and hardware online. Fortunately, they are based locally so they sent a representative to see what our specific hardware needs would be.

We saved about $3,000 by purchasing our hardware in this manner and overall, it has met all our needs with one glaring exception – the handheld scanners. For some reason (probably my lack of knowledge related to these items) we could not get the scanners programmed to work. Fortunately, the scanner we had used on our former system (which we had bought through Amazon for less than $50 years earlier) did work. So, we sent the fancy ones we had purchased back to the vendor and bought a couple more of the cheap scanners that worked just fine, thank you.

Purchasing your hardware in this manor may or may not be a viable option for you, but it did save us considerable money during the acquisition process. It wasn’t quite as seamless as it would have been by purchasing it through the software vendor, but we were able to convert without too much additional stress.

I hope this article helps if you are considering the purchase of new dry cleaning software system. Please keep in mind, this is a very important decision that will have a major influence on your company and how it operates. In a future article I’ll attempt to address the actual transition process from the stand-alone system we formerly used to the cloud-based system we transitioned to. If you would like to know more about the events leading up to our system changeover, just send me an email at info@sanddollarcleaners.com. I’ll be happy to share our experiences with you.

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