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Panda Express woks the dry cleaning industry

Back in June 2010, I commented on the entry into the dry cleaning market of a new franchise concept pioneered by Procter & Gamble called Tide Dry Cleaners.

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In that post, I speculated on the flawed strategic thinking behind the concept, questioned why P&G would choose the franchising route instead of the direct ownership route, and listed some of the recent, well-funded operators who similarly believed that the dry cleaning industry was ripe for consolidation - and then failed in a spectacular flameout.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, the owners of Panda Express are betting that they can apply, to the dry cleaning industry, the same standardized operating principles they applied to Chinese fast food.

And what are these principles?

The ability to open multiple, cookie cutter locations and to deliver - in a quick fashion and at moderate cost - sugary, greasy, warmed up Chinese fast food, spooned out of large, cafeteria-style serving trays.

In the Los Angeles Times article, there are two quotes that I found quite fascinating....

First, the CEO of Panda Express is quoted as saying: "There isn't any consolidation in this industry. There is no McDonalds of dry cleaners. We see this as an opportunity."

Second, the CEO of Agile Pursuits (the P&G subsidiary that franchises Tide Dry Cleaners) is quoted as saying: "The standardized nationwide system will provide better service for customers. They've generally been dissatisfied with the poor physical environment, routine errors with garment care, and unremoved stains common at many dry cleaners."

Am I the only one who sees the inherent contradiction in the respective visions of these two "partners"?

Panda Express was built on physical environment, speed, price and quality of product - in that order. Clearly, the owners of Panda Express are betting that their potential dry cleaning clients will similarly focus on physical environment, speed, price and quality of product - in that order.

I'm not so sure. Anyhow, we'll know pretty soon as Panda Express plans to open their first Arizona location in Chandler on January 30.

Based on their PR hoopla, client expectations regarding speed, price and quality of product will be sky high. But I'm betting that the quality of the product they produce will probably be quite ordinary.

And why do I predict that the quality of their product will probably be quite ordinary? For three reasons....

First, their clearly expressed intent to become the "McDonalds of dry cleaning".

Second, the Los Angeles Times article indicated that Panda Express had acquired a small dry cleaner in Colorado in order to "provide trainers for the new venture."

Third, a job posting on Craig's List for a "dry cleaning presser" for their Chandler location stated that "we're looking for production staff, experienced or not. Paid training begins the week of January 23rd with store opening on January 30."

I, for one, couldn't care less if Tide Dry Cleaners opened one of their we're-going-to-change-the-dry-cleaning-industry-for-good-with-industry-leading-innovation-and breakthrough-technology facilities right across the street from RAVE FabriCARE.

Truth is, the more cleaners that open up around us, the more opportunities we have to showcase the quality of our product relative to the quality of their product. And this applies to all cleaners, irrespective of whether they call themselves a discount cleaner, a middle-of-the-road cleaner or a self-styled "couture" cleaner.

 

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