National Clothesline
Where good ideas can come from
Over the years, the drycleaning industry has shifted somewhat towards branding and
specialization. Now, you no longer have to be the best at everything; you just have to
differentiate yourself enough to be the best at something so your customers keep coming back.
The truth is, there is room enough in most markets for several successful cleaners to exist,
which means the other plants in your area are not necessarily your sworn enemy. Some can
even prove to be an unlikely ally.
Smart cleaners realize they don’t have all the answers and are not afraid to seek them out by
their peers, whether that means industry consultants, publications or other cleaners in an
association or cost group, or even at the doors of those “dreaded” competitors.
This month’s
profile, Don Holecek,
 who owns Crown Cleaners in Knoxville, TN, has never been afraid to seek
out help from others in the industry, even those in a nearby zip code. That willingness to
simply ask for such help likely saved his business.
Not long after he switched professions from high school history teacher to neighborhood
small business owner, his newly-purchased Crown Cleaners business had difficulty making
payroll, even though the only change in the business was who was signing the checks. It wasn’t
until he spoke directly to other plant owners that he realized some of the problems. He learned
his business could not simply run itself; he had to monitor labor and make changes for
production to be more efficient.
Holecek doesn’t just ask his competition for help, either; he watches them and learns from
them. He jokes about being a “great copycat” because he is willing to incorporate good ideas
from others in new, unique ways that are more in line with how he runs his business.
When he read in a trade publication about how Milt & Edie’s Cleaners of California offered
every new customer a welcome kit full of gifts, his initial reaction was skepticism. Then, he
realized he could do the same thing, but on a smaller scale with items suited for his market.
One time, he spoke with industry consultant James “Route Pro” Peuster and discovered that
Peuster had once gotten permission from a homeowner’s association to host a neighborhood
lemonade stand and hand out drycleaning delivery brochures. That idea inspired him to buy his
own pop-up tent and become a rest stop for food and refreshments for bicyclists on their long
rides (which works largely because he loves to ride himself).
It wasn’t the exact same thing, but it was a similar way for him to give back to the
community and put his company’s name out there. It has even given him some new customers
and helped grow his business… all because he wasn’t afraid to look to the competition as a
valuable resource instead of an enemy to be feared or disdained.
A good time to work on your business
Business typically slows down for drycleaners during the summer months, and especially
August. A third of the world seems to be on vacation at any given time, it’s too hot to work, the
style of dress becomes even more casual and, hey, you could use a break, too.
Your future course can be changed for the better by using the break from “business as usual”
to spend time on things that business as usual doesn’t usually allow for. It’s a good time to
work on your business.
Are your books up to date? How about employee policies? How about employees themselves?
When was the last time you met with employees to talk about the business? If an employee
goes on vacation and productivity improves or the work environment becomes more pleasant,
is that telling you something?
How about talking to vendors about pricing and your business relationship in general? There
might be a better deal available if you ask. What about that five-year business plan you
developed a few years ago? How has that been working? Dust if off and look at what worked
and what didn’t and what should be changed.
What about your price structure? How do your prices today compare with a year ago, two
years ago, five years ago?
If you think it’s time for a change, now is the time to do it.