By: John Paul Roggenkamp
Just as drycleaners were starting to adapt to laundry lockers, mobile apps, social media marketing, and the like – bam! – the entire global economy shuts down because of a virus. Talk about disruption! DLI reached out to four leading minds in the drycleaning industry to ask how they’re adapting to the many changes coming everyone’s way.
Some of their responses follow:
Q: How has the drycleaning industry changed as a result of disruptions like Covid-19?
“Our biggest change has been the decrease in sales, and trying to adjust to whatever the new normal will be,” said Jeff Schwegmann II, CGCP, of Sunshine Cleaners in Cold Spring, Kentucky. “Now there’s one team of our people handling the dirty clothes and another team handling the clean clothes. There’s no going back and forth anymore between handling dirty and clean clothes – one team cleans, the other team finishes.” “The drycleaners that are seizing those opportunities to provide alternative distribution methods and products are already seeing a reduced impact on their business compared to those that have shown unable or unwilling to make the required adjustments,” said Nick Chapleau, CEO/owner of the Starchup app service (a DLI partner). “If you thought casual Friday reduced the market potential by 20 percent, you can expect working from home in PJ’s to erode pieces and piece counts by a further 80 to 95 percent,” said Darcy Moen, marketing expert. “Another change that will affect the industry is the #WFH (work from home) movement,” said Kyle Nesbit of MW Cleaners in Spring, Texas. “I personally think #WFH is the single biggest threat the industry has ever seen.”
Q: Are you doing more of anything than before Covid-19?
“Communicating and communication: you need to be reaching out to your customers with email and text messaging, and way more than just once in a while,” said Moen. “Customers need to hear from you regularly. Order ready for pick up? Message them. Driver coming to do a pick up? Message them. Guarantee shirt buttons? Message them. Happy birthday? Message them.” “Starchup has taken steps to expand and improve our laundry offerings, our delivery platform, and our customer-facing apps,” said Chapleau. “Starchup has also added and improved features on our delivery system, including the ability for the customer to add tips for the staff or driver, added flexibility to the scheduled routes, improvements to wash & fold subscriptions, and bolstered reporting and marketing features.” “Tide’s Loads of Hope Program allowed the entire retail drycleaning industry to cross a major milestone – on April 17th, 2020 the first ever national commercial promoting a retail drycleaning brand aired on NBC during Blacklist,” celebrated Nesbit.
Q: Are you doing less of something than before?
“Wasting time,” said Moen. “There is so much more work to do chasing down every order, every piece. I’m working 12 times harder than ever before. I had to quit being dumb and get very smart very fast.” “Sadly the only thing that we are doing less of is laundry & drycleaning pieces,” said Nesbit. “We are going 100 mph, gas-pedal to the floor, in every aspect of the business. This includes strategy, marketing, finance, human resources, technology and equipment, and day-to-day operations. Currently, we are working on an extensive text messaging opt in/opt out program that will assist with converting counter customers to contactless pick up & delivery.”
Q: What innovations have you adopted, or want to adopt?
“Most of the revenue is coming from our websites. With geofencing, we don’t advertise our leather-cleaning services in the areas of our client-drycleaners, and a lot of our customers send us their items by mail,” said Schwegmann. “We advertise so we don’t compete against our customers, using geofencing to reach people beyond the areas our customer-drycleaners service. “Pick up and delivery is crucial because if customers won’t come to you, you simply MUST go to them,” said Moen. “Automation at the customer service counter, and in the plant, is now needed more than ever.”
Q: What lessons will remain from this pandemic?
“The drycleaner who is going out and hunting down business is the one coming back,” said Schwegmann. “Anyone sitting in his store and waiting for business to come to him is probably not going to do well, long-term – especially during a lockdown when everyone’s trapped inside basically.” “The main lesson is that we cannot take any part of our business model for granted,” said Chapleau. “The businesses that will survive the winter will use diversified distribution methods and products: delivery, kiosk, lockers, curbside, self-checkout, wash and fold, and other innovations that some of the thousands of small business owners will dream up.” “A company can have all the revenue in the world, but without the ability to generate cash, it can easily be forced into bankruptcy,” said Nesbit. “The second lesson that will remain is that drycleaners need to be out working as hard as possible to garner new revenue – they either “diversify or die.” “The only constant is change,” said Chapleau, “and the only true protection from risk is diversification.” “The DLI regional phone calls have been really helpful. You’ve got drycleaners discussing what works and what doesn’t work, and the barrier to entry has been lowered since someone else has already done the trial and error on new tech,” said Schwegmann. “The more we can pool drycleaners and help each other find solutions to the common problems we face, the better we’ll be able to survive as an industry.”
Fostering a strong spirit of cooperation and information-sharing amongst drycleaners is shaping up to be a crucial factor in adjusting to disruption. In addition, it looks like anyone wanting to stay afloat will have to adopt contactless innovations such as laundry lockers, pick up and delivery services, a heavy presence on social media, and remote payment applications. Adapt, stay calm, and be well!