Monday, December 4, 2006

Dry Cleaners: Marketing's Final Frontier

Dry Cleaners are without a doubt the final frontier of marketing.

Every dry cleaner that I've ever been to or can ever recall seeing is identical. It's a small storefront in a strip mall, with large windows filled with 1950's looking drawings of the various items of clothing they clean, and a faded sign announcing their hours of operation.

Inside, you walk in and the various sewing machines and other equipment are up front, leading up to a Formica counter, and ending with an endless rack of clean clothing in plastic and more machines toward the back that look slightly dangerous and angry.

This standard layout is the epitome of form follows function. Nothing ritzy, nothing cozy, nothing welcoming. Just a store with a whole lotta mess all over the place. It's an anomaly in this world of Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods Markets, or even post offices (which have stepped up their efforts to compete with the FedEx's of the world) where every minor detail is perfected to the T. But in a dry cleaner? It's the Wild, Wild West of the retail terrain.

That said, I'll let the dry cleaners slide on the areas of atmosphere and amenities . Most people will never spend more than a minute and a half in there, so the looks of the joint aren't that vital.

Here are some things I really don't get, however...

Pricing: This is just one big cloud of mystery. Nobody knows for sure how much anything will cost when dropping something off at the dry cleaner. It's just an ancient mathematical equation, passed down from generation to generation that is calculated in the shopkeeper's head and/or Casio calculator. Everywhere else in commercial world, prices are clearly posted and discounts are announced loudly. Not at the dry cleaner's. It's just a price du jour. Drop your clothes off and they'll come back clean and pressed. Just don't ask how much it will cost. Bizarre.

Process: What in the name of Ralph Lauren do the workers do to clean the clothes back there? I'd be willing to bet that 95% of all Americans have no clue as to how their clothes get clean at the dry cleaners. How long does it take to clean an item of clothing? What chemicals do they use? Is everything done on premises? Etc., etc., etc. If I were to market a dry cleaner, I'd have the processes detailed to show just how much better these processes are compared to what can be done at home, or what they do differently from their competitors. Show me the best way to pre-treat a stain to make sure it comes out when they clean. Something! Just work with me here!

Promotions: Would it kill these dry cleaners to have an Early Bird Special? Or a frequent cleaner card? Or a Trousers Tuesday special? Something? Please?

Ok, that's all; I'm done pressing this issue.

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