I have a busy professional life.  That must be obvious outwardly because I am very often asked; “When do you find time to write your columns?”  The answer is “On airplanes.”  I usually have 3 or 4 columns in the works at the same time and on occasion, an idea for a column comes to me and I defer the completion of the articles in progress and favor my latest brainstorm.  The works in progress are often general shirt related subjects like “how to press a better shirt” or “Why aren’t my shirts getting clean”.  The brainstorms usually come from a particular incident that has recently occurred at someone’s drycleaning plant.  There is a third type and they tend to be more philosophical.  They tend to be ideological webs that are far easier for me to think than to type.  There have been two on my computer for well over a year.  I am committed to completing them because I think that they are important. Today, I’ll carry on more about these philosophies that are more on the general side rather than specific to shirt laundering.  Still, they have value in your shirt department as well as your general day to day duties of running a drycleaning business.


A great deal of our day to day business lives has to do with customer retention.  Sure, we want to get new business and we may often say to ourselves that we do a “good job” so that this level of quality breeds new customers via the word-of-mouth advertising medium.  As true as that surely is, in fact the only reason to do a good job is so that our particular level of profitability continues into perpetuity.  Otherwise, business life would be more like “take the money and run.”  So, we work at doing a good job and adopt procedures and policies that are a means toward that end.  The list of these things is endless.  They range in scope from something as cosmetic as remodeling a store front and buying new counters to buying a video tape that will help your pressers do a better job of pressing shirts or pants or any other garment.  But there is a something that we often neglect.


We will spend thousands of dollars to visit the Clean Show – a very worthwhile investment – so that we can see the latest and the greatest that this industry has to offer.  Maybe the secret to our success is that one piece of equipment that we have long managed to get by without.  With that, we may hypothesize, we will finally be able to cut out overtime, trim back on the payroll and get out a bit earlier on Fridays.  What I think is missing doesn’t cost a red cent.  It is truly free.


We adopt company policies that theoretically enrich the bottom line.  You know the type; greet each customer by name to make them feel remembered, needed and important, for example.  We actually do lots of things like that to enhance our image.  You might have a policy that requires someone that answers the phone to say “Good Morning!  Thank you for calling Don’s Fine Cleaners.  How may I help you today?”  Hmm.  Before a customer gets a word in edgewise, you have greeted them (perhaps no one else has today), thanked them for their patronage and/or for recognizing you as the person to call, thrown in an adjective that describes Don’s Cleaners as a cut above and then you remove all doubt that you “can” help them by saying (in effect) “Of course I “can” help you, duh, but in all of the ways that I “can”, which of those ways works for you at this moment?”  You probably already do something like that now.  No, that isn’t what I think many managers forget about or fail to do altogether.  Sure, this isn’t going to cost you a penny either.


Professionalism is key, to be sure.  Anything that you can do to enhance the way that the public perceives you is important.  It is cosmic and intangible and maybe even too snooty for you, but the less you look like Don’s Cleaners and Live Bait and more towards Don’s Professional Dry Cleaners the better your public image will be.  Don’t you agree?  So you decree that all of your managers will wear business clothes and your customer service reps will wear clean crisp uniforms with a name tag and a “I’m thrilled to be here” smile.  You probably do something like that now, but it’s important to be reminded why.


And we do things to keep employees in line.  We must have rules so that the inmates don’t run the asylum.  Be on time.  Respect each other.  Maintain production standards. Ah!  There’s a good one.  Maintain production standards.  Hey, that’s pretty important.  Push the work out, but not to the “bang and hang” level.  So, as a means towards that end, we have a couple of other rules.  No ipods.  Or maybe we want them to have personal entertainment, but you must have headphones so that the hip-hop fan doesn’t drown out the soft rock fan.  These kinds of rules exist so that workers work.  That’s not so cosmic an idea.  In fact, we may prohibit cell phones in the plant.  That makes sense to me.


It’s important to have all of these rules.  Rules are what we adopt to live in a civilized society.  Otherwise, chaos would prevail.  With those thoughts in mind, how about prohibiting (here’s it comes…) something that so many of us do and I believe is not only counter-productive, but a waste of time, energy and sound waves.  Why don’t we prohibit (ready?) sarcasm. The use of sarcasm has no place in business.  I hope that as you read this you feel that this doesn’t apply to you.  The more I write for this publication, the more plants that I visit, the more drycleaning and laundry employees I meet, the more I marvel at the power of words.  When I approach a shirt presser and say, “Hey, Betty, great job on this shirt,” how often do you think that I get a quizzical look?  How often do you think that I get a “What’s wrong with it?” as a response.  I don’t understand this.  How do you pay a compliment?  How do you really say, “Hey, Betty, great job on this shirt”?  How do you encourage employees to continue to do a good job when your very words make them wonder if they’re doing a good one or a bad one?  I understand that sarcasm can be a form of humor, but my statement stands:  It has no place in business.  The answer to my rhetoric is simple:  How do you say; “Hey, Betty, great job on this shirt?”  Try English.  It works.  You will learn to marvel at the power of words.  You will learn, once you break the cyclical hell that is a “yes” when you mean “no” and “good” when you mean “bad”, that employees thrive on encourage and support.  You will get startling results.  You probably don’t think that your employees would respond like they will because they have never understood your words before.  Well, actually, maybe they have.  But I’m not convinced that you used the right ones.