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Don’t Get Hung Up

Lessons learned from a successul dry-cleaner.

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

An online video I saw some time ago on MSNBC’s “Business on Main” about a guy who reinvented the dry-cleaning business convinced me that there were some lessons body shop owners could learn from his story. After all, we would do well to reinvent our businesses, too, and get rid of the “old” way of doing things.

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What comes to mind when you think of the dry-cleaning business? Dirty, hot, hazardous chemicals. It was all those reasons, plus the fact that the girl behind the counter of the local dry-cleaner was consistently rude to him, that this guy quit his job as a corporate executive to start a company called Hangers and find a better way to clean clothes.

First, he set out to define a powerful competitive advantage. When he was a customer, he remembered being scared of the chemicals his dry-cleaner used, so he became the first eco-friendly dry-cleaner in Kansas City by using liquid CO2. This brings to mind collision repair facilities that have converted to waterborne/low-VOC paint and marketed that effectively to customers.

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Second, he focused on customer convenience and decided to offer pick-up and delivery of clothes from businesses and homes. That, he says, by far has become the No. 1 reason why people use his service. Do you make things as convenient as possible for your customer?

In addition, each sack of clothing is barcoded, so with a quick scan, he can tell his customers’ preferences: light starch, heavy starch, folded, on a hanger, etc. Also, it eliminates the need to put those “annoying little paper tags” on the clothes. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to scan an estimate and know if Mrs. Smith is extra picky about her car so that you can relay that to the detail crew?

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The third thing he has done is make things easy for the customer. When a longtime customer calls, the receptionist identifies them through caller ID and, based on their past history, already knows what they want. The customer appreciates that they don’t have to give their name, account number, phone number, etc., for the umpteenth time. This might be harder to do in collision, but we do have repeat customers who are habitually bad drivers, and there probably are ways we can save them time by knowing their personal information, preferences, insurance company, etc.

The fourth step he took to reinvent dry-cleaning is to let his brand reflect his personality. He’s a fun guy, and he wanted his business to be fun, too. His employees wear shirts that read “Sniff Me” on the back. The paper coverings on the hangers they use offer funny messages like, “Doubles as a car key,” and, “This is the 23rd time I’ve seen you naked.” And customers appreciate their attempt at humor. You might say, “Well, collision is serious business. Our customers find it no laughing matter.” All the more reason to make them laugh and try to turn around their day!

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Hangers has also tapped into Facebook to reflect their corporate culture. They don’t inundate their friends with coupons but rather post things that show their personality and humor. For instance, a recent post from the owner reads, “Remember this weekend the old Chinese proverb: Man who go to bed with itchy butt wake up with stinky finger.”

Am I pleading with you to close your shop and get into cleaning clothes? No. What I’m asking is that you think of ways you can reinvent collision repair. One of the ways to do that is to step back from your business and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What would honk you off about a body shop if you were the customer? What would make you a customer for life? How can you make your shop stand out from your competitors? (For Pete’s sake, don’t say quality repairs!)

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Today’s business climate and customer profile requires that you not do things the way you’ve always done. Once you get this, your bottom line will hug you.

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