QUESTION 5: Have operators improved the public perception of drycleaning in the last decade, and what can they do to improve that image going forward? Is being “green” part of it?
DAVE SILLIMAN: The public’s perception of our industry is at an all-time low. Not only are we the targets of politicians, regulators and environmentalists, we are a divided industry. Operators publicly criticize other operators, and flood the market with inaccurate and misleading advertising such as “We’re green!” “We’re organic!” and “We’re environmentally friendly!” The result is that all of us look unprofessional, and the public doesn’t know whom to believe.
Membership in trade associations is only at 15% to 20% of operators, even though the associations fight regulatory and media battles for every drycleaner. If we don’t make a united front, don’t stop pointing fingers at each other and don’t improve the support of the trade associations, we will face a very bleak future.
JOHN TIPPS: Many operators have done well at improving their images and the image of our industry; the ones who haven’t don’t exist anymore or are in serious trouble. The meaning of “green” is all over the place. I have seen “green” advertised because they own a washing machine.
BARRY GERSHENSON: We are small businesses that need to perform like large companies such as Nordstrom; customers’ needs are the same no matter where they do business. As Issy Sharpe, CEO of the Four Seasons hotel chain, says, “We teach the ‘Golden Rule’ to our employees: ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated.’”
Progressive operators always improve the public’s perception by having a clean, professionally decorated customer-service area and uniformed customer-service representatives. First impressions last.
BILL FISHER: Consumers are intuitively aware that many stores are not exactly the cleanest places; this tends not to be true among members, but nonmembers are impacting the industry’s image. I’m a strong advocate of licensing where there are minimum standards—where the truly schlock operations don’t exist.
Next: How should drycleaners market themselves in a rapidly-changing media landscape?
The panelists: David Cotter, executive director of the Textile Care Allied Trades Association (TCATA); Bill Fisher, CEO of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI); Barry Gershenson, executive director of Leading Cleaners Internationale (LCI); “Dryclean” Dave Silliman, operator of Uptowne Cleaners in Phoenix, Ariz.; and John Tipps, independent consultant and former operator of Clean Concepts Inc.