Ordinary dry cleaners agonize about setting prices. They wouldn't have to if they focused on delivering true quality cleaning.

Why do dry cleaning prices end in 1, 3, 7 and 9?

Google the price lists of ordinary dry cleaners and you'll see prices such as these:

Pants 6.41

Sweater 5.33

Suit 11.67

Tie 4.09

Can any ordinary dry cleaner explain why their prices end in 1, 3, 7 or 9?

Let's assume, hypothetically, that every ordinary cleaner has developed a sophisticated cost accounting system that apportions total production costs to specific garments (pants, sweaters, dresses, etc.) -- an extremely complicated undertaking that would challenge the most gifted cost accountant. Even if they applied a standard gross profit margin to the production costs for each type of garment, they couldn't possibly come up with prices that ended in 1, 3, 7 or 9.

All of which points to this: Even though their prices might be influenced by the prices charged by other cleaners in a 5 to 10 mile radius, their prices are, in reality, sucked out of thin air, modified to end in a 1, 3, 7 or 9 and confirmed by gut instinct.

Their prices are, in effect, the highest prices they think they can charge relative to the competition and relative to the "quality" of the product they deliver.

Big box stores that sell standardized products spend a considerable time experimenting with prices that end in a 1, 3, 7 or 9. When you're selling tens of thousands of units of a standardized product, those cents add up over time.

But that approach doesn't apply to dry cleaners. After all, dry cleaners are selling a customized product, not a standardized product.

Or are they?

True quality cleaning is a customized product

The critical question is this: Are you an ordinary cleaner selling a standardized product ("cleaning and pressing") or are you an extraordinary cleaner selling a customized product ("garment care")?

If you're an ordinary cleaner selling a standardized product ("cleaning and pressing"), you obviously don't care about quality of product. And please don't say you do. You're being disingenuous.

And your customers don't care either. They just looking for "cleaning and pressing" at the lowest possible price and the quickest turnaround time.

Truth is, the primary reason these customers patronize your dry cleaner is because of price -- not quality of product. What's more, you've worsened your situation by training your customers to wait for all sorts of discounts and coupons as a "reward" for using your service.

You can easily prove that assertion by asking yourself this question: If you (a) invested in the technical skills, equipment and facilities necessary to produce true quality cleaning and (b) told your customers that you've raised prices by an average of  50% to compensate for the "improved quality", what percentage of your active customer base would vanish within 1 to 3 months?

I'd bet that 75% of your active customers would disappear. And, in the process, so would your business.

Bottom line: If you're an ordinary cleaner selling "cleaning and pressing", you should continue to charge prices ending in 1, 3, 7 or 9. A few cents per garment will add to your bottom line over the course of a year.

On the other hand, if you're an extraordinary cleaner selling a customized product ("garment care"), your clients are, for the most part, not overly concerned about price.

They're far more concerned about true quality cleaning than price.

And they understand that true quality cleaning is a function of the team of technically skilled craftspeople you've assembled, the sophisticated equipment you've installed, the specialized facility you've built, the garment care processes you employ and the resultant look, feel, smell and extended life of their fine garments.

In other words, they're far more concerned about true quality cleaning than price.

Do clients who patronize an extraordinary dry cleaner really care if the new garment they've been eyeing has a price that ends in a 1, 3, 7 or 9?

No, they don't.

They're going to buy that garment because they've set their mind on that garment. For the most part, price while it's definitely a consideration, is less important.

Extraordinary dry cleaners are not distracted and paralyzed by the fact that ordinary dry cleaners offer prices that are considerably lower.

Extraordinary dry cleaners recognize that ordinary cleaners are not their competition because ordinary dry cleaners don't and cannot deliver the same quality of product.

Unlike ordinary dry cleaners, extraordinary dry cleaners never feel the pressure to match the "competition" or to lower prices in order to "look more reasonable".

The lesson for ordinary cleaners 

Clients who invest in quality garments, household textiles and accessories and who appreciate the hundreds of small details that collectively constitute true quality cleaning are, in my opinion, the only clients worth pursuing. Those are the clients who'll help you build a sustainable, competition-proof and recession-proof business.

By contrast, customers who focus solely on price are, in my opinion, not worth pursuing under any circumstances. They're the customers who are always demanding Mercedes quality at a Yugo price -- an impossible deliverable. They're the customers who'll defect to another dry cleaner in a heartbeat -- on the receipt of an enticing discount or coupon.

And all it takes to reduce your sales volume is a competitor offering lower prices, faster turnaround, longer hours, more convenience, and, let's not forget, a distinctive, professionally designed logo.

On the other hand, if you dramatically improved the quality of the product you offered, clients would drool over the quality of your work and you wouldn't have to agonize about pricing your product with prices that end in 1, 3, 7 or 9.

Luckily for extraordinary dry cleaners, it's extremely difficult, time consuming and financially risky to develop a business that delivers true quality cleaning on a consistent basis. It takes conquering fear, unwavering faith in one's abilities and an unflagging devotion to producing true quality work -- qualities that are completely foreign to the overwhelming majority of dry cleaners.

Which is why the chasm between extraordinary dry cleaners and ordinary cleaners is wider today than it's ever been. It's a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

What's not to love about that?