Dry cleaners: Competing on the basis of “better” and “cheaper” is a fool’s errand
By: Stu Bloom
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Customer focus or orientation means nothing
In marketing, “customer focus” is defined as a strategy where management and employees focus on the changing wants and needs of the customer.
It’s axiomatic that almost every dry cleaner will tell you that “customer focus” is the key to their success.
But, when you quiz dry cleaners, you’ll find little agreement as to what constitutes “focus on the changing wants and needs”.
What you’ll find, instead, is a focus on being “better” and “cheaper”. Where “better” means “better customer service” and “cheaper” means “cheaper prices.”
Not better quality of product at a price that reflects that quality. But better customer service at a cheaper price.
As proof, consider these quotes from 2 dry cleaning websites:
“Better” and “cheaper” is code for serving everyone
When dry cleaners tell you that they compete on the basis of “better customer service” and “cheaper prices”, this is code for targeting the largest segment of the market — the vast middle market between the discount cleaner and the extraordinary cleaner.
This is code for competing on the basis of “better customer service” (broad smiles, cheery hellos, name recognition, monogrammed polo shirts, bottled water, mints, dog biscuits, mobile apps, drive throughs, 24/7 drop off and pickups, rewards programs) and “cheaper prices” (competitive prices relative to the cleaner across the street or across town).
This is code for trying to be all things to all people and, ultimately, standing for nothing. In the dry cleaning business, you have to stand for something or you’re redundant.
“Better” and “cheaper” is code for ignoring quality of product
“Better” and “cheaper” also means never talking about quality of product — the quality of the work that they actually deliver.
Customer service, yes. Cheap prices, yes. Product quality, never.
Truth is, dry cleaners know that the vast middle market for dry cleaning services is not interested in true quality cleaning. They’re interested in price. Price is the number one issue — irrespective of customer denials to the contrary.
So focus on minimizing labor, supplies and other operating costs so that you can offer cheaper prices. Then — and only then — attempt to differentiate yourself from other dry cleaners by adding elements of “better customer service” — broad smiles, cheery hellos, name recognition, monogrammed polo shirts, bottled water, mints, dog biscuits, mobile apps, drive throughs, 24/7 drop off/pickups and rewards programs.
And how does their target market react?
With a big yawn. And an attitude that says “every dry cleaner tells me that they offer better customer service and cheaper prices, so why change?”
Dunkin Donuts competes on the basis of “better customer service” and “cheaper prices”. Starbucks doesn’t. Instead, Starbucks focuses on the high-end coffee market, charges a price consistent with the product they deliver and an offers an environment that enhances their high-end experience.
Burger King competes on the basis of “better customer service” and “cheaper prices”. Fuddruckers doesn’t. Instead, Fuddruckers focuses on the high-end burger market, charges a price consistent with the product they deliver and an offers an environment that enhances their high-end experience.[ctt template=”3″ link=”TXcau” via=”no” ]99.999% of all dry cleaners compete on better customer service and cheaper prices. Whatever happened to quality of product? @ravefabricare[/ctt]
The reason for “better” and “cheaper” instead of “different”
So why don’t dry cleaners compete on the basis of being different instead of better and cheaper?
Because being different means consistently delivering a high quality of product.
And that requires a long term investment in technically skilled artisans as well as expensive equipment and facilities. And it also requires offering wide range of services and conveniences. All with the understanding that you might never earn a return on that investment because the market won’t support — and pay for — the quality of product you deliver.
Anyone — literally anyone — who can qualify for a 10% down/90% bank loan or has some capital can open and operate a dry cleaning business that competes on the basis of “better customer service” and “cheaper prices”.
No technical skills are required. Training will take no more than 2 or 3 weeks. Tops.
Competing on the basis of being different — extraordinary — is just the opposite.
It requires clarity of and consistent adherence to a vision, capital, tolerance for risk, tolerance for losses in the early years, unwavering personal and professional commitment on the part of the owner/manager, knock down and get up perseverance, and consistent adherence to rigorous quality standards.
Luckily for the handful of true quality cleaners in the USA, very few of the 26,000 dry cleaners in the USA have the stomach to be different.
It’s so much easier to be ordinary.
It’s so much easier to focus on everything other than the quality of the work. To focus on getting ’em in and getting ’em out, ASAP. To focus on getting them in by 9, getting them ready by 5; picking up on day 1, delivering on day 3.
In other words, to focus on “better customer service” and “cheaper prices”.
It’s the reason why we always greet the news of the opening of another dry cleaner in the Phoenix metro area with a “who cares” attitude. Quite frankly, the more the merrier.
After all, without all those dry cleaners, our clients wouldn’t have a relative yardstick against which to grade the quality of our work. To make the comparison even more specific, we even provide new clients with an easy-to-use checklist to grade the quality of work delivered by their current dry cleaner.
On what basis does your cleaner compete? Better? Cheaper? Or different? What factors influence your choice of the dry cleaner you use?
Photo credit: unsplash.com/Arno Smit
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