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Help Your Customers: A Little Cleaning Knowledge Goes a Long Way

Howard Scott |

Your service helps customers clean their clothes. Why not give them tips on how to do a better job? Do you think this is a waste of time? Do you think everyone knows how to clean clothes? Well, you’re wrong. This issue was brought home to me when we visited our daughter in western Massachusetts, where she washes her clothes at a coin laundry. She put her white clothes in the washer and turned the dial to cold water, then started up the machine. My wife asked her why she used cold water. Our daughter said she didn’t think it made any difference. My wife corrected her, saying that hot water was better for white clothes because it made the material come out brighter and could help remove stains better, depending on the stain.As you probably know, my daughter is not alone. Many customers have misconceptions about cleaning. During a random trip to a laundry, I met a recently separated husband who had to wash his own clothes for the first time in his life. He was so palpably disturbed that I couldn’t take my eyes off of his nervous gestures. I went up to him and asked if he needed some help. He confessed that he had no idea how clothes should be separated and how many garments should be put in the machine at once, but he was too afraid to ask anyone for advice. He couldn’t stop thanking me for my assistance.TAKE CHARGENot everyone has a knowledgeable person to come with them to the store, so why not help your customers out? I suggest posting signs with cleaning instructions. The signs might read:• In general, divide clothes into whites and colors.• Check the labels when in doubt.• Wash white clothes in hot water.• Wash colored clothes in cold water.• If you have a tough stain, use a stain remover before washing.• Sometimes a stain washes out over time.Make this information convenient. Post the sign in several easy-to-see spots in your coin laundry. That way, customers don’t have to go back to the central sign (and interrupt the all-important store flow) to see if they are washing clothes correctly. And of course, such signage should be professionally made, not handwritten.Such signage will highlight your expertise. Customers respect expertise, even in such a basic chore as cleaning clothes. They will walk out of your store contented.Finally, you’ll be one of the few stores that is actually helpful. I’m afraid I’ve only found one or two laundries out of the hundreds I’ve visited that had “suggestions for cleaning” signs on the premises. The other stores just assumed that it didn’t make any difference how the cleaning was done. That’s not professional, and if there is one thing the coin laundry industry could use, it’s professionalism.If you want to do a bit more, you might hand out a sheet that lists several proven remedies for removing stains. For example, indicate that blood is removed by gentle rubbing in cold water. Or that grease is best removed by letting a garment sit in hot water immersed in liquid detergent. Or that wine stains can be removed by laying the garment out, stain-side up, and pouring boiling water over the area from a height of 15 inches.Have a stack of these stain-removal tips in the front area of your store for customers. Keep them in a box in front of a sign that says, “Stain Tips.” Such information would be helpful to your clientele, who will, most likely, not be spending extra money to have stains removed.Another suggestion is to review the different stain-removal products and evaluate which items work best for which stain. There are many items on the market, such as Gonzo (a detergent similar to that used in drycleaning), stain sticks and sprays. One stain stick may be a better stain remover than the others. Maybe the stain spray works best for grease and dirt removal and not very well for food stains. Maybe Gonzo discolors some white garments and shouldn’t be used. You could place any consumer recommendations on the back of the stain-removal tips.QUESTIONS PLEASEStill another thought is to have a sheet of commonly asked cleaning questions. For example:Q: Why should some clothes be drycleaned?A: Some material doesn’t do well with water treatment. These materials include wool, silk, rayon and velour. Repeated washings of these garments will make them lose their shape and body. That doesn’t mean you can’t use a little water on them to remove a smudge, but it’s always best to look at the manufacturer’s label for cleaning instructions and do what it says.Q: Does washing shrink garments?A: No. Shrinkage is generally caused by improper preshrinking from the manufacturer.I know a drycleaner who puts out a book called “Cleaning Hints,” in which he lists which clothes should be drycleaned and which should not. Now, you might think that this is counterproductive. Why tell customers that some clothes shouldn’t be drycleaned? Because once you’ve established yourself as the expert in all things drycleaning, when you ask the customer to bring in stained items and drapes and other specialty items, they listen. You make pitches for extra business that might not ordinarily come your way.Provide written guidance. It adds a professional touch and makes you a valued resource. 

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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