New players are always promising to revolutionize the dry cleaning industry

Everything's different and better

Every new entrant into the dry cleaning market place will enthusiastically tell you all about their plans to "revolutionize" the industry.

They're always full of "new" ideas that, they believe, will turn the dry cleaning business on it's proverbial head and generate wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

More specifically, they'll tell you that they've developed a "new concept" -- a better mouse trap. And that everything will be "different" and "better" once they fully implement their "new concept".

Dig a little deeper and you'll soon recognize that most of these "new" ideas have been around for quite a while and that there's nothing new to be found.

More importantly, you'll discover that, contrary to their claim of "different" and "better", the quality of the product they plan to deliver is no different and no better than the quality of the product already delivered by most ordinary (middle market) dry cleaners.

Fact is, the only thing "new" about their concept is the glitzy marketing package that surrounds the very ordinary product they deliver.

In other words, they:

  • reproduced the poor to mediocre quality of product delivered by most ordinary dry cleaners,
  • wrapped that poor to mediocre quality of product in an array of conveniences (same day service, drive through service, 3 day home/office pick up/delivery, 24/7 in-store drop off/pickup, a good-looking app, a frequent user rewards programs, etc.),
  • created a logo, a slogan and attractive display graphics to accompany that poor to mediocre quality of product, and  
  • showcased that poor to mediocre quality of product in a clean, bright and architecturally-pleasing interior.

Then they wrap up these standard conveniences in a orange box with a blue and yellow ribbon and call the resultant concept "revolutionary".

One thing is clear: These new market entrants believe that glitz and marketing will draw customers away from other ordinary cleaners in sufficient numbers to sustain their new business.

In other words, they're banking on the customer who

  • doesn't have a significant investment in their garments, household textiles and accessories,
  • is relatively uneducated about the product -- garment care -- they're purchasing,
  • doesn't care about the quality of the product being delivered, and
  • values glitz and marketing over substance.

The non-revolution revolution

Tide Dry Cleaners, whose initial slogan was "we're changing dry cleaning for good", perfectly illustrates this non-revolution revolution.

For the past few years, Procter & Gamble (P&G) -- the folks who brought you the ineffective, "at home dry cleaning product" called Dryel  -- have been rolling out a franchised dry cleaning store concept called Tide Dry Cleaners.

Tide Dry Cleaners features the orange and blue Tide logo and uses Tide products wherever possible. For an investment that exceeds $500,000, franchisees get access to store design, equipment selection, computer systems, training, marketing materials, corporate advertising and other support.

And what do you -- the customer -- get in terms of quality of product?

Well, nothing.

Nothing that you couldn't get from most ordinary (middle market), mom and pop dry cleaners.

Here's why...

Tide Dry Cleaners competes with every other ordinary dry cleaner who typically charges $10.00 to $15.00 for a 2 piece suit and $2.50 to $3.00 for a laundered dress shirt. In other words, their prices reflect the highly competitive dry cleaning market for ordinary "clean and press" cleaning.

Because their prices reflect the highly competitive dry cleaning market, each location has to push high number of pieces through their "production system" just to cover normal operating costs such as labor, supplies, utilities, etc.

And that's before the sales royalty, before the advertising fund contribution and before a return on the investment in building/leasehold improvements and equipment.

In the dry cleaning business, it's axiomatic that high piece volume translates into poor quality of product.

As the physical volume of garments grows, the pressure to "get the work into a bag and ready for pickup" rises and the quality of the product slides into mediocrity.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

P&G's hope, of course, is that, unlike Dryel, this concept might actually work.

The thinking behind the non-revolution revolution

I can just imagine P&G's thinking..

  • We know professional dry cleaning because consumers use Dryel, our "at home dry cleaning product".
  • We know the franchise/service industry because consumers use our Mr. Clean car washes.
  • Consumers trust Tide detergents for their home laundry so they'll trust Tide Dry Cleaners for their dry cleaning.
  • Consumers use Tide detergents for their home laundry so we can teach ordinary dry cleaners to use Tide detergents for anything that requires "washing".
  • P&G engineers are skilled in the construction of production lines so we can teach ordinary dry cleaners to construct a garment cleaning and pressing production line.
  • Tide relies on coupons to spur purchases so we can teach ordinary dry cleaners to market their services with coupons.
  • We can easily compete against other ordinary dry cleaners because our marketing package is superior.

Clearly, P&G believes that

  • they're going to "revolutionize" the industry (they're not),  
  • their business model is very different and better (it's not), and
  • they can quickly achieve economies of scale with multiple, cookie-cutter stores in a specific geographic area (it's been done before).

In other words, P&G believes that they know better than every other new market entrant who preceded them into the dry cleaning market.

P&G, say hello to US Dry Cleaning, National Dry Cleaners, Purple Tie (the smart guys from and Zoots (the even smarter guys from Staples).

Much to their chagrin these new market entrants found out that the simple business of dry cleaning is actually quite complex. Fact is, some Tide Cleaner locations have already shuttered. Consider, for example, Columbus, Ohio, where 4 locations all closed on the same day.

In my mind, Tide Cleaners are like fitness clubs. Tide Cleaners is not in the "garment care business"; Tide Cleaners is in the franchise selling business. That's obvious given the average quality of the product they deliver and the fact that a substantial part of their website/effort is focussed on franchising. Fitness clubs are not in the "fitness business"; fitness clubs are in the membership selling business. That's obvious given the average quality of the product they deliver and the fact that their business model relies on a drop off in the usage of their facilities after the membership has been sold.

In the meantime, I'm still waiting for the revolution. 

Full disclosure: In this post, Tide Dry Cleaners is used merely to illustrate a point. RAVE FabriCARE does not compete with Tide Dry Cleaners. Never have and never will.