“Some Random Thoughts of an Old Dry Cleaner”

Sometimes it’s difficult to write this article. The ideas just don’t seem to flow into my brain like I hope they would. I usually like to share something we have recently experienced in our business that can benefit those who read my article. But this has been one of those months when the ideas just weren’t coming to me.

So, instead of giving a full article on a specific topic as I usually would, I thought I’d share some random thoughts with you that have been on my mind lately.

Last year was probably one of the more challenging years we have had in our 25+ years in business, but in ways that were unique to us. Although sales increased substantially last year, everything on the expense side of the ledger went up substantially as well. We continue to work our way through the ongoing challenges this dichotomy continues to present as we go into the new year.

And why is it, just about the time you land that big job that will give you a nice cash push, the piece of equipment you are relying on decides to break down or the employee you need fails to show up for work? You find yourself needing to spend big bucks on repairs, or you’re required to outsource much of the work, or hire temporary help to get ‘er done? Money comes in – money goes out. Oh, well.

Obviously, we can’t function without our employees, but sometimes I ask myself if I am working for them or are, they working for me? How many times have we given rides to staff members who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get to work or get home after their shift was over? We also find ourselves much more tolerant about staff missing work. Oh, the joys of a tight labor market.

One of my recent decisions was to raise prices – again. We raised prices on three different occasions last year and each time I agonized over the impact each increase would have on incoming piece counts and the resulting revenues. These increases each were between 3-5% across the board with some additional increases to items I felt we had priced too low. (We were already one of the higher priced dry cleaners in our area.) The results? Each time our prices were bumped up, our piece counts and resulting sales went up as well. Talk about wasted anxiety…

We are not a big operation. We’re basically a small mom and pop business with a handful of employees. That gives our business a real family feel that both our employees and our customers share. So, when a young, effervescent member of our team goes into the hospital, falls into a coma and then dies a few days later, you can imagine the devastating impact it had on all of us. Maybe it was because of her age, or her bubbly personality – but I can’t recall a single event in our history that impacted all of us on our team – and many of our customers – so much.

We are constantly reminded of her because our customers continue to ask where she is. And of course, it generally falls on me to let them know what happened. The real tragedy of her passing is this – she had lived a difficult life, much of it created by prior life choices. But over the year and half prior to her passing she was doing what was necessary to straighten herself out. Knowing how much she had worked to improve her situation made her death so much more difficult to experience for all of us.

I know many of us who are owner operators have heard something like this. “You’re so lucky. You own your own business. You get to work whenever you please, you’re your own boss and you make so much money.” After grumbling under my breath, I would like to respond with something like this, “You know, I am lucky to own my business, but I work 60-80 hours per week, I’ve got hundreds of bosses and I’ve never been so broke in my life!” I don’t know if many of you feel this way, but I do know the service we provide is not easy work and it does take a whole lot of commitment to make it happen.

Oh, and let’s not forget those customers who pull into our drive-thru in their brand-new luxury car costing thousands upon thousands of dollars only to demand a discount or whining about getting charged $4 for a professionally cleaned, pressed and packaged business shirt. We do appreciate the sale, but did they demand the same discounts when they bought the car? Or did they pay more than list, which happens often in today’s market? Did they ask the store clerk for a discount when they bought the garments, they expect us to clean and press for them? Just something to ponder.

I’m tired. I sometimes wonder if I am getting a little too old to keep doing this kind of work. We make huge sacrifices to do what we do. Not only do we pay a price to do what we do but look at the impact our work has on our families, too. Yes, our businesses do hopefully provide an income for us, but at what cost? I know my bride has paid dearly for me to pursue my entrepreneurial ambition. Even at this juncture, it is difficult to schedule family outings and events – something I am desperately going to focus on this year.

How many of us also deal with the problem of our employees not really understanding who our customers really are? So many times I have heard my staff suggest we target certain customer demographics that are really not the market we are striving to serve. They are well-meaning but don’t understand we shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. And by the same token some staff members don’t understand how things like packaging, timely service and something as simple as a smile can make a huge impact on the client experience. We continue to teach every chance we get, but sometimes it takes a whole lot of effort to get the point across.

Wow, this article comes across like a “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey,” segment on Saturday Night Live years ago. Did you know, contrary to popular belief, Jack Handey is a real person, who was an Emmy Award winning writer on the SNL staff? How is that for a true random thought?

Ok, I admit this month’s article has been a collection of rambling observations, experiences and personal thoughts. I hope you can at least identify with some of the comments in this article and maybe allow you to see some happenings in your business that may bring you a smile or a frown. I am sure my next feature will once again focus on a single issue, but I thank you for allowing me to ramble these random thoughts a bit this month as we get set to tackle the adventures, we are sure to face in the coming year.
Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2023. Cheers!

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