Survival strategies for the survivors

The COVID pandemic has put many businesses including ours through an unprecedented crisis. It not only changed consumer behaviors drastically, but also disrupted worldwide supply chain of raw materials and finished goods. Our industry has been going through contraction for many years when the pandemic hit and it’s estimated approximately 6,000 stores have disappeared in the last 4, 5 years. It’s time to consider survival strategy for those who survived this crisis.

Pandemic accelerated the fall out

The slowdown of the industry has been going on for many years. And those who have been running their business like they always have for the last 20, 30 years couldn’t beat the pandemic and either dropped out or retired. To put it harshly, the pandemic finished off those who were barely hanging on.

Online presence, social media marketing, pickup & delivery app, and new services like household items are part of ongoing changes for the industry. The pandemic has weeded out those who “stayed” in the past.

“The pandemic accelerated the fall out of those who would have gone out on their own in 4 to 5 years,” said one industry insider.

Less dry cleaners mean bigger share. Even thought the whole market is shrinking, surviving dry cleaners will have a larger slice of the pie. Dry cleaners outside the office areas are already reporting sales equal of greater than before. Supply shortage driven price increase is also contributing to the higher sales figure.

One dry cleaner who asked to be not named said “the pandemic has changed my idea of management. From now on, I will study more and start replacing my old, outdated equipment.”

We are in the service business

A lot of dry cleaners think they are in the cleaning business. We should stop thinking that way after the pandemic.

Dry cleaners are in the service business to satisfy customer’s needs. Cleaning and pressing are the means, not the goal. In other words, dry cleaners should not be content with handing over clean and well pressed clothes to customers. We should aim to give them the pleasure of wearing like new clothes. We are not here to merely satisfy the need for cleaning, but to offer “convenience.”

To do that, cleaning well is never enough. Your storefront and customer service area should be in pristine condition. The counter person should really be “happy” to see a customer walk in. Don’t just say “Thursday, OK?” but initiate a pleasant conversation like “What a beautiful blouse.”

When you make the customer experience pleasant, they might think of bringing in household chores like weekend laundry.

One allied trader said “so called industry veterans are more likely to be unaware of what they are doing. They are often working in the business, not on it.”

What does the future hold?

Not many people will deny that the pandemic has deeply changed the industry. But few agree what the future would look like. Some say large discount cleaners will prevail. Some argue mobile app will define the industry. Some even speculate the best is yet to come.

One thing is for sure. There will be dry cleaners no matter what. Even if all the future fashion is washable, there will still be dry cleaners because customers want “convenience” in one form or other.

The pandemic has sounded a giant alarm for the industry. Survivors will have more room to try new things thanks to less competition. If you still don’t have a web site or mobile app, now is the time. Sit down with your accountant and calculate the “true” cost of goods sold. If Tik Tok is popular, maybe you should to a series of short videos to show what goes on in your plant.

If you are one of those who insisted they don’t know the internet, then hire someone who does. One of the most important job of a administrator is job allocation. These things are surely easier said than done. But considering what we have been through since 2020, who’s to complain?