Ordinary dry cleaning means average care for average consumers by average people

All you need is quality

Almost every new entrant into the dry cleaning industry talks about delivering "quality" to their customers.

These new entrants believe that the "right" location, the "right" cleaning and pressing equipment, the "right" eco-friendly dry cleaning solvent, the "right" computer system, the "right" app and the "right" amount of effort will miraculously produce "quality" and, as a consequence, financial success.

This belief is stunning given that 99.99% of these individuals have, in all probability, never operated or worked in a dry cleaning plant that produced true quality cleaning and, as a direct consequence, have no idea what true quality in the dry cleaning business actually means.

This focus on "quality" -- without being able to define true quality cleaning -- is music to the ears of every commercial real estate broker, dry cleaning equipment salesperson, dry cleaning solvent manufacturer, dry cleaning supplies distributor and dry cleaning store franchisor.

I can just picture them salivating at the prospect of separating another neophyte from their limited financial resources and/or pushing them deep into debt that they personally guarantee.

(Aside: I know what I'm talking about. 35 years ago I was right there! Luckily, I recognized the problem, found an experienced and willing mentor at the top of the field and took remedial action to learn everything there was to know about true quality cleaning at that time.)

Genesis for the "all you need is quality" belief

The genesis for the belief that "quality" is the route to success can typically be traced to an individual's dissatisfaction with some local cleaner who once damaged some garment or failed to remove some stain.

This small event often leads them to a life-changing conclusion: that they can outperform any local dry cleaner (and achieve financial success) because of their focus on "quality" and their drive to "try harder."

It's analogous to the restauranteur who watched a show on the Food Network and who then concludes that he/she can succeed in the restaurant business by serving "quality" food and "trying harder".

So, after cashing in their life savings and going deeply into debt, they open their new "Tip Top Professional Quality Cleaners" with great fanfare and wait for the customers (and the cash) to roll in.

However, despite their best intentions and an avalanche of Grand Opening coupons, they soon realize that:

  • very few consumers understand the technical specifications that collectively constitutes "true quality cleaning"
  • very few consumers are actually interested in "quality of product" as defined by true quality cleaners
  • even fewer consumers are interested in "quality of product" as defined by the management of the new dry cleaner
  • the difference between "quality of product" as defined by true quality cleaners and "quality of product" as defined by the management of the new dry cleaner is vast
  • educating consumers about the technical specifications that collectively constitutes "true quality cleaning" is a multi-decade process
  • producing a true quality product on a consistent basis -- as defined by a true quality cleaner -- is time consuming, stressful and far more complicated than they ever imagined
  • the time horizon necessary develop a sustainable business based on delivering true quality cleaning -- as defined by a true quality cleaner -- is far longer than they ever imagined.

Bottom line: They soon realize that the overwhelming majority of their customers just want their garments "cleaned and pressed" for the lowest possible price and in the fastest time -- the two major impediments to delivering true quality cleaning.

So they quickly shift their goal from "quality of product" to "growth in piece count" as a way to generate the cash necessary to keep the doors open and pay themselves a meager wage.

And the most common reasons for the shift?

They finally realize that:

  • they had no idea how what true quality cleaning actually means
  • the demand for true quality cleaning is relatively small
  • orchestrating all the daily operational tasks necessary to consistently deliver true quality cleaning -- as defined by true quality cleaners -- is exceeding difficult
  • the time horizon required to build a reputation for true quality cleaning -- as defined by true quality cleaners -- is decades, not months
  • the stress associated with operating a dry cleaner based on true quality cleaning -- as defined by true quality cleaners -- is taking a toll on them as well as their family
  • the financial resources required to fund years of losses as they attempt to build a sustainable dry cleaning business based on true quality cleaning is far greater than they ever anticipated
  • it's far easier to grow revenues by growing the number of pieces (garments) "processed" than it is to grow revenues by consistently raising the quality bar on the work you produce

In other words, it's far easier to deliver average care to average consumers by average employees than it is to deliver true quality cleaning to a discriminating clientele by technically skilled craftspeople.  

In summary, they realize building a sustainable business delivering true quality cleaning comes from overwhelming a relatively small audience with a product that so delights that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it -- an exceedingly difficult, time consuming and financially draining undertaking.

Lowering the bar on quality 

Delivering true quality cleaning requires a significant investment in technically skilled craftspeople, equipment, facilities and processes over a long period of time.

It also requires an understanding that, despite that significant investment, there is no guarantee that the financial rewards will be worth the investment of money and time.

True quality cleaning is achieved by systematically and diligently executing hundreds of small tasks every day over a relatively short period of time.

And then raising the the bar on quality once again. And again. And again. And again. Year after year.

In other words, delivering true quality cleaning is complicated, time consuming and stressful.

So it's easy to see why the overwhelming majority of cleaners abandon their quest for "quality" and end up operating discount or ordinary cleaners that deliver average care to average consumers by average people.

The challenge

To all those new entrants who believe that they'll achieve success in the dry cleaning business delivering true quality cleaning, just know this: The 20 or so true quality cleaners in the USA (out of a total of approximately 20,000 dry cleaners) welcome your competition and wish you luck.

Here's some unsolicited advice from someone who's been there and done that: Before you embark on that journey, say goodbye to the next 20 plus years of your life.