We’ve all been there… customer walks in to pick up an order. They get checked out and away they go. Systematically, simple. When they get home, they realize something’s missing. They call the store, they’re nice, there is a a genuine concern for the missing garment. Within moments and after a couple questions, you find out the missing garment is an irreplaceable item. Costs more than money can buy. A truly sentimental piece. His wife’s wedding gown, from over 60 years ago and she has since past.
We all try to do our best. We encourage our team, we put streamline processes in place, we do whatever it is we can to “to lose garments.” If Seinfeld has taught us nothing, it’s that the dry cleaners can’t lose garments. Our industry stereotype is the dry cleaners lost the garment, gave it to someone else, and now they’re walking around town with it on. Often, we can joke about this scenario happening, make up funny ideas of where the garment can be, and sometimes even with the customer. But in cases of sentimental value…what do you do?
I am not someone who easily tears up. I have the up most compassion for occurrences like this, and usually it doesn’t consist of tears. This time, I cried. The customer was so understanding (how, I still wonder) appreciative of our communication and most importantly, patient. Even when I called him and said “Mr. Berchou, I have to be honest, things are not looking good (this was after 4 weeks of detective work) I have thought outside the box, I have gone through every conveyor, called customers I thought might…possibly…have received this by mistake, and searched areas where garments should never end up.” his response… “ok young lady, I understand…my wife wouldn’t be upset. She would understand too.” This is where the tears start to flow (unbeknownst to the customer) “Mr. Berchou. Let’s give this another week. I will brainstorm, think of anything I can, retrace my steps, search every van, and I will call you soon.”
In the meantime, I recheck with all front counter team members. Reiterating the description, the date of drop off, the time frame while in house, any large or small details I share. I review the inventory reconciliations, re-do the inventory on every conveyor, touch base with the delivery team. Asking what probably seemed like silly questions, “Did you have any items with “long bags?” Or “Did you trip on any long-bagged items, that you can recall?” Nothing…
Finally, in a leadership meeting, discussing the current situation, we remembered a larger order (over 50 pieces or so) that included all these “unique” items…Old looking suits, baby doll outfits…and yes…old time, some might say vintage gowns. Lightbulb.
What if every exact mistake and error occurred for the possibility of this sentimental wedding gown to be miss-filed and put in with the wrong order. Again, every mistake, off the wall error, not possible…possible mistake had to happen for this to occur. We had to call and inquire. It was our last and only hope.
Throughout this phone call we come to find out this customer is a Halloween fan. Some would say the biggest Halloween fan they have ever seen. They are the ones in their neighborhood who go all out. Cars come from all around to roll past this house and see the scary décor, or the strobe lights past the old-time theme. It starts to make more sense to us internally why we would not have noticed this misplacement of the sentimental gown. How often do you have numerous unique pieces like this all at once? Brought in the same day, cleaned in the same loads?
At this point this haaaad to be the location of the sentimental dress. The production manager remembers assisting the cleaning crew with tough stains. The finisher remembers thinking “I wonder how old this dress is?” The assembler remembers filing a garment with a missing paper tag, to other orders with really “weird pieces.” This HAD to be it. (We prayed to whoever we could pray to, that this was “it”)
The phone call filled with sweating bullets. “Hello, Mrs. Frey? This is Jen with your Dry Cleaners…we gave you a dress that didn’t belong to you a few weeks back. We are so sorry (sounding confident this is where it is) could you please look… if you don’t mind. Are you in a position where you can look now?” More assertive than I typically am. But, I knew they were home because I called the house! “Sure, I can look now…Hmm…I don’t think so. It looks like everything here is ours.” I go directly to “honesty is the best policy here” Mrs. Frey, if you could please look again. The garment we are looking for is not your ordinary garment. It is a dress that belongs to a longtime customer, who is celebrating his would-be 60th wedding anniversary. His wife recently past, and we made one of the most unforgiving errors and miss filed this gown. Because of the uniqueness of your items we are very confident we included it with one of your orders.”
“Let me look again…” Those few seconds felt like an eternity.
“Wait…this doesn’t look like ours…”
The most beautiful words I’ve ever heard. In her hands, on the other side of the line, was Mrs. Berchous gown. Mystery solved…and away I rushed to go pick up that gown. The phone call to Me. Berchou was one of the happiest phone calls to ever be made.
We all put systems into place and train to those systems. Whether you are using paper tags or heat seal, securing with a safety pin or plastic, we carefully identify where the locations for the tag will go. Easily detectable, but discrete from the customer. We have systems for detailing, cleaning, filing, packaging, racking. However, no matter the system that is in place, we are all still human. We make mistakes. Sometimes small mistakes that don’t matter too much, in the long run. Other times, such extraordinary mistakes they become lifelong memories and the biggest learning lessons.
When you first got in the industry, did you ever think you would consider yourself a detective at times? When you can reverse engineer your processes, think outside the box, and sometimes off the wall…you can turn what may be the biggest problem into a success story. Next time you get the call…“I’m missing a piece” put your detective hat on and solve the mystery.
You Got This.