Friday, May 27, 2005
Appearance Plus hopes programs keep it looking better than competitors.
By: Karen Bells
Cincinnati Business Courier, May 27, 2005
When it comes to keeping Tri-Stater’s clothes looking good, Appearance Plus Cleaners is thinking outside the basket.
The dry cleaning company, founded in 1984, has stepped up efforts in the past years to come up with creative programs and policies that help it stand out in a crowded industry. There are more than 30,000 dry cleaning businesses in the United States, according to the International Fabricare Institute.
The new efforts are an outgrowth of a focus for the past three years on deciding “exactly who we wanted to be,” said CEO Jon Lindy.
“This industry has been going in two directions: low-end, with customers looking for price only, and high-end focus on quality,” said Lindy, who’s been with Appearance Plus for 18 years.
Lindy – whose company has its cleaning plant, headquarters and a retail store in Anderson Township, as well as retail sites downtown and in Hyde Park— decided that competing in price alone wasn’t a smart strategy. Instead, he prefers to pursue customers whose priorities are quality, service and convenience.
That doesn’t mean Appearance Plus goes after only high-income people, he said, or only certain neighborhoods. Instead, it focuses on building relationships with customers and potential customers.
And its roster of programs is helping, said Angie Miller, marketing coordinator. For example, Appearance Plus is running the second year of its Dapper Diploma program. Graduating high school and college students can bring in a copy of their diploma or other proof of graduation and have their interview suit dry-cleaned free.
As with all of the cleaner’s programs, this one is designed to expose the company to new people who could become lifelong customers, said Miller. For the company’s Big Interview program, any person who is job hunting can bring in an ad or Web site posting for a job opening and have their interview suit cleaned at no charge.
While the programs cost Appearance Plus in labor, they more than pay for themselves by securing new customers, Lindy said. The Cincinnati Night on the Town program offers free cleaning of a suit or special occasion dress for people who buy tickets for any event at the Aronoff Center for the Performing Arts or Music Hall.
The Big Night on the Town program started last fall after Appearance Plus’ public relations agency, Justice & Young, approached the Cincinnati Arts Association about doing some sort of co-marketing, said Van Ackerman, director of marketing and public relations for the CAA, which manages the Aronoff and Music Hall.
“We put a coupon insert into the envelope for every ticket we do, whether by phone, walk-up, Internet sale, or will-call window, “ said Ackerman. “Anything we do through our box office for our venues gets the coupon.”
The coupon is good for cleaning of the special occasion outfit up to $12. Ackerman didn’t know how many his staff had given out since the program began, but he said they go through at a least a quarter-million event tickets per year.
This is the first time the CAA has done any type of co-promotion discount such as this, he said, and he considers it a hit – not just for the added value it gives his ticket buyers, but also because it reinforces the notion that coming to an event at Aronoff or Music Hall is a special occasion that is great to dress up for.
“Coming downtown is very special still to a lot of people,” he said. “One of the things they played off of is that.”
For Susan McDonald, division leader-healthcare/retail at Justice & Young, one of the reasons the agency enjoys working with Appearance Plus is its openness to trying new programs.
“We have a lot of opportunities to do creative things that hadn’t been done—grass roots type of programs and good community relations,” McDonald said.
Some of the community relations programs have included collecting, cleaning and distributing hundreds of blankets to homeless people and winter coats to low-income children; cleaning American flags at no cost at any time of the year; and offering discounts to military personnel.
Justice & Young, which took on public relations duties for Appearance Plus about a year ago, also just finished rolling out a revamped Web site for its client (www.appearanceplus.com) that features helpful articles on job-hunting, how to dress for an interview, and other related topics, as well as coupons and special offers. Customers can sign up for a monthly e-mail push that includes the same information, she said.
In addition to the new programs, Appearance Plus has policies in place to keep customers loyal, said Miller. With “100 percent buttons,” for example, the cleaner repairs or replaces for free all loose or missing buttons on every garment that comes in. It might seem like a small thing, she said, but customers notice the extra effort.
The dry cleaner is stepping up its focus on its pickup-delivery routes, said CEO Lindy. While it has had routes— which give doorstep service for dry cleaning and home-laundry loads—for about 10 years, it recently added two routes in West Chester. The new routes are “going gangbusters,” said Miller, running full-time all day, five days per week.
The service, she said, is offered by some large chain cleaners but sets Appearance Plus apart in the mom-and-pop and locally owned market. Even with the home routes, the cleaners tries to be a little different. Regular customers of the company get three months of the home service free when they’re on maternity leave. And on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, the route drivers in West Chester handed out flowers to the mothers they visited.
And the company recently started offering carpet cleaning services, because clients were asking for it. And it will keep on changing and growing, Miller said, to keep its customers loyal.
“We base a lot of our decisions on what customers want and we encourage feedback constantly,” she said.
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