Some Aspirations for the New Year!

As I am writing this article, the calendar is mercilessly moving toward another year. Another milestone to look back at how we did over the previous twelve months and look forward to another year of challenges and opportunities. I am convinced the next year will be one of uncertainty as questions on the economic, regulatory and political arenas will be major issues for all small businesses to navigate.

It seems most of us in the dry cleaning and laundry business have finally been able to put the impacts of Covid in our rear-view mirrors as customers have returned to more normal work situations and have money to spend on our products and services. As a result, piece counts and revenues have increased – that is good news for those of us in the dry cleaning business. The downside? Costs have increased significantly because of labor demands, higher interest rates, supplies and energy price pressures. And speaking of labor, finding help is a real challenge for many of us.

2023 was not a bad year for my little company as we continued to grow at a steady pace. We were able to increase revenues and our bottom line through price increases and higher volumes. But, like many in our industry, we are also doing our best to meet the challenges of rising costs and staffing shortages while trying to provide the best quality and service to our customers as possible.

So, in anticipation of the new year and the excitement that comes with it, I present to you my company aspirations for 2024!

1. Continue to increase revenues by doing the following:

a. Develop a marketing plan that provides for consistent contact with current clients and lead generation

b. Provides for regular touches with clients through various mediums, including e-mail, text messaging and print

c. Establish consistent networking opportunities

d. Encourage positive client reviews on Google, Yelp and other review platforms

e. Develop a more active social media presence, and

f. Make our website more intuitive and interactive.

By generating a master marketing plan, we are striving to improve our standing in the community, become more efficient and effective in our marketing messages and provide consistent and steady growth during the new year. Like many small firms, we believe in the need to market our services, but have struggled to be consistent and regular in our efforts. We know from experience our clients appreciate hearing from us and look forward to our messages. Unfortunately, because of staffing shortages and our daily focus on “getting the work out” we have fallen short in this area. We’ve been performing random acts of marketing – sending infrequent emails, texts and messages – and we have fallen way short of our target of sending a monthly print newsletter to our current and potential customers.

Experience has also taught us the two things that have generated the most bang for the marketing buck are our client onboarding process and the number of positive reviews posted by our customers on various sites such as Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc. As we welcome first-time clients to our services, they very often tell us they visited us because of our reviews. Because of the importance of these factors, we are going to spend a significant amount of effort on making them even better in 2024.

2. Standardize and publish policies and processes.

a. Formalize and publish our firm’s core values and principles so they are understood by all our team members. Even though we communicate our values to staff regularly, we have not reduced them to writing nor encouraged team members to commit to these values.

b. As we continue to grow, our operations are becoming more complicated. During 2024 we are committed to developing written standards and procedures for most of the major operations in our company. This will (hopefully) include such basics as new client onboarding, order and item check-in, telephone answering scripts and attendance guidelines. Furthermore, we will address more technical issues, such as maintenance schedules, productivity standards and specific departmental procedures.

3. Staffing

a. Develop a strategy for hiring, developing and retaining quality team members.

b. Create an employee incentive plan that encourages attendance, production, continuing education, organizational growth and company profitability.

One of the biggest obstacles our industry is facing is the availability of qualified employees. Almost every entrepreneur I speak to complains about the lack of employees to fill job openings. We are trying to deal with this situation as well. We are currently attempting to find out why this phenomenon is happening and what we may be able to do to overcome the problem. Although I am not sure it is the cause of the problem, I am in the process of reviewing our employees’ compensation to determine how our pay rates compare with other service businesses in our area.

Speaking of compensation, once we have established a baseline for pay that is competitive with others in similar industries, I am wanting to develop an employee incentive compensation program that will allow our staff to earn additional pay based upon predetermined personal and organizational goals. When I worked in the banking industry, one of the firms I worked for had such a plan that incentivized stretch goals for the staff member and the department. For such a program to be successful it must be communicated and understood, be measurable and offer sufficient incentives to the staff. If done properly, these programs more than pay for themselves through increased sales and efficiencies.

We are also reviewing our onboarding and training program, to determine if there are steps we can take to improve our staffing situation. We are also looking at benefits we can provide (or can afford to offer) that may help with staff acquisition and retention.

4. Community

a. Increase our visibility in our community.

b. Do more to become a good corporate citizen.

One of the biggest goals I have been discussing with our team is how we can be more visible in our community and more importantly, how we can do more to support charitable efforts in our town. We currently sponsor our minor league hockey team and do significant work with and for Jacksonville University, but we are discussing ways to enlarge our footprint in the city.

We are members of the Chamber of Commerce and have been involved in local neighborhood efforts, such as Celebrate Arlington – a weeklong series of events to promote our neighborhood. We’ve sponsored events such as a community blood drive and supported Bair Find (now known as the Missing Children Project) through a promotion with our clients. However, we are looking for a signature event that we can take ownership of. I must admit our team has come up with some pretty good ideas that I am hoping we can implement in the not-too-distant future.

This article lists just some of the issues and goals we are hoping to address in the coming year. Will we fulfill all the objectives listed here? No way. But I am confident in our commitment toward the eventual completion of these aspirations and in our ability to make progress toward each of them. As they said (whoever they are), “You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But it eventually did get built, one block at a time.

Now for my personal goals…

Steve Thompson is the owner and operator of Sand Dollar Cleaners in Jacksonville, Florida. He has been in the dry cleaning business for almost 30 years, starting with a dry cleaning pick up and delivery service and developing it into the full service dry cleaning operation it is today. He was previously in the banking industry, working with organizations in Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. While in the banking industry he earned designations as a Certified Public Accountant, Chartered Bank Auditor and a Certified Internal Auditor. Steve has previously written articles and developed training programs for accounting and internal audit organizations. He is a graduate of Indiana State University with a degree in accounting.

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