How Local Storefront Businesses Can "Clean Up" On the Web

The Internet CAN be made to work for you, regardless of the nature of your business -- even if it's dry cleaning!

There is no business as apparently "far away" from The Internet as drycleaning. Customers have to show up live and in person at your counters with their cleaning. And, it's a drycleaning business I used to own and operate so this will serve my purpose well. Although I sold my company just prior to the laying of the pavement of the Information Super Highway, I would like to make a theoretical case study of how I would "marry" my drycleaning business and the Internet if I still owned MyCleaner (fictitious name of course) today.

These were the areas of advertising that worked best for me:

Newspaper (I ran a Dr. Drycleaner column once a week in our 200,000+ local newspaper plus seasonal institutional and promotional ads)

Television (1 general commercial and 1 wedding gown commercial, run seasonally on the only local station at the time)

Direct Mail Coupons (run seasonally, rotated in upscale neighborhoods)

Welcome Wagon Bridal Parties (we specialized in wedding gown restoration and preservation - 4 large bridal parties a year)

Local TV Guide (I ran weekly wedding gown service ads)

The reason I mention the above advertising mediums will become evident soon.

Knowing what I know today, this is how I would apply the Internet to MyCleaner.

GENERAL INTERNET APPLICATION Of course MyCleaner would have a website. I would hire the best webdesigner in my locale and work hands-on with this professional to design a website that I'd planned out very well in advance. The designer will of course bring a lot of great ideas to the party. I would create the following website sections:

The History of MyCleaner (old and recent photos of buildings, delivery trucks, staff, pricelists, memorabilia etc.);

All About Drycleaning (history, evolution to modern-day techniques);

We "Green" Clean (how we protect the environment - a large issue today);

Wedding Gown Restoration & Preservation (explaining the process, perhaps using video streaming);

Links to all the national and international trade organizations MyCleaner belongs to;

Links to our local Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce;

Our Testimonial Page (featuring letters of praise about our services);

Online Coupon Specials and a refer-a-friend program (you will see this soon);

Employee of the Month.

And I would include advice from good old Dr. Drycleaner. But this time, I would make the column into an interactive web board where customers could write in and ask, and we'd post answers to, particular questions about garment care.

FUNDING OF MY WEBMARKETING My intention here is NOT to increase my advertising and promotion costs one red cent. MrCleaner is simply going to transfer advertising media--and their budgets. In my case, I would reduce my newspaper advertising by 50% right away (after all, the newspaper is looking kind of frail) and apply these dollars to my Internet exposure. I would also reduce the coupon mailings (remember, I will be using online coupons now) and put the money saved into two billboards on high-traffic roads that promote the website and the online coupons. The billboards will appear "down the road," once the website is working perfectly (so the coupon budget becomes available instantly). These two items will fund the webdesign, domain registration (mycleaner.com) and server costs. I would also print a flyer announcing the MyCleaner website. All other advertising activities and budgets would remain in place. [Editor's Note: After developing all this great content, Rick could also fund the site by letting *non-competing* dry cleaners sign up to be on the website; there would be a directory page by geography, and Rick would charge a fee for a year's listing. These subscribers would also get his promotion plan, which would in turn multiply the traffic to the site--and thus make it easy to sell ads, as well as build traffic for his affiliate programs. In a sense, he'd be franchising. Voila, two new and one vastly increased revenue streams for almost no extra work!]

ADVERTISING ADJUSTMENTS/ADDITIONS Instead of producing expensive new television commercials, I would just add "chirons" (text images 'pasted' over existing video) to my television commercials promoting the new website. Dr. Drycleaner and the online coupons would stream across the screen during the existing spots. Probably cost me nothing in production costs as the TV station would gladly do it just to keep my business.

Also, as we re-order our printables, the new website and its features would soon appear on our letterhead, envelopes, invoices etc. As mentioned above, I would design and print good-looking flyers announcing the "Grand Opening of the MyCleaner Website", again highlighting all its features.

Ever seen I.D. IT! Plates? At 39.95 per set, these are a great marketing tool! I would invest in a set for each of my employees, delivery vehicles, family and friends so that their vehicles become "travelling billboards" for the MyCleaner website. Check these out later at: http://www.iditplates.com .

Because I'm flamboyant, I would purchase mid-line PCs (which I could write-off and later give away as gifts to my employees or customers) and install a monitor and mouse on each store's counter, proudly displaying the new MyCleaner website. Invite our customers to surf the site. They will receive a flyer anyway on their drycleaning order so the "connection" is strengthened and we of course, look more "leading edge." [Editor's Note: To save money, reduce crashes, and avoid straining your server, run the site from a local hard drive.]

Today, MyCleaner would be the only techno-cleaner in this market of over 300,000. The promotional exposure and image enhancement benefits would be immense.

GENERAL DEMOGRAPHICS Drycleaning is a luxury service. I had a customer base of 20,000 families. Figure 90% of my customers are middle to upper middle class. Further, assume a conservative 50% have computers at home or work and are online. That's 9,000 customers. Let's be frugal again and estimate 25% of these customers actually visit our website because of the high exposure we have given it. That's 2,250 at-home or at-work customer viewers. Now please hold that thought.

MORE PROMOTION The billboards I mentioned would be bright, bold and clean (and funded by the reduction of snail-mail coupons). They'd feature the www.mycleaner.com address, the online coupons, Dr. Drycleaner and I would implement a "refer-an-online-friend" program where the referring customer receives a lifetime 5% bonus discount for bringing in a new customer.

The MyCleaner website and its features are also appearing on television, newspaper, and TV Guide ads. My mainly computer-literate brides-to-be from Welcome Wagon would receive my flyer highlighting the online presentation of the entire wedding gown process. [Editor's Note: Of course, Rick would also promote his website through free media exposure: newspaper stories, appearing as a talkshow guest, etc.]

Also, I would set up a meeting with the large local online mall in this region. I'd offer the Dr. Drycleaner column as a service for their customers in trade for a main page link.

OK, let's say another 2,250 people visit because of all the above.

IS THAT NOT A REASON TO PUT OUT A NEWSLETTER? You bet it is! I now have 4500 visitors to my site. If 25% of them register to receive a periodic newsletter, my monthly newsletter circulation is then 1,125. This newsletter will feature upcoming specials, online coupons, the refer-an-online-friend program, the Dr. Dryclean column, and an online contest. Give away free drycleaning or pay for their Internet access for a year. Bear in mind that these newsletter recipients are dedicated, died-in-the-saddle cyber-customers. In other words, a captive audience.

MAKING THE MOST OF A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE I'm not naive. If I have consumers at arms-reach, I'm going to sell them everything within reason that they would normally have to go elsewhere to purchase (photo finishing was a great add-on to drycleaning for me). So, I would take advantage of my captive online audience and now offer them the best Internet shopping available. Yes, I'm talking about affiliate programs. I would include books, music CD's, videos, software and a mainstay shopping site. Promote to my customers using the "for your convenience" approach.

'NET' RESULTS What I have done is taken a non-Internet business and made the Web work for me and my customers. I have increased my visibility, added to my customer base, increased my sales and enhanced my profile in one fell swoop without increasing my advertising and promotion budget. I now have in my newsletter a "free" way to contact my customers and make them appreciate the information they receive and the notification of upcoming specials. I may have saved them even more money on their yearly drycleaning bill because they referred their next door neighbor to MyCleaner. Plus, I have an additional income stream coming from purchases through the affiliate programs. It's win-win all the way.

This has been a rather lengthy article but I'm confident that if you've stayed with me this long you will understand that the Internet CAN be made to work for you, regardless of the nature of your business. If you are aware of what's going on and still haven't made plans to expose yourself on the Internet, I hope you will consider doing so now.

There is a country music saying, "where there's a Willie, there's a Waylon". You CAN make the Internet work for you and your customers. It's simply a matter of some creative thinking and developing the right application. If I were still in the drycleaning business, I'd be cleaning up in town right now just using the basic approach I've outlined in this article.

Rick Beneteau is a partner in the Internet Marketing firm NetProfit 2020 Inc. Their newest product and affiliate program, I.D. IT! Plates (URL/EMAIL/NAME plates for your car and office), at http://www.iditplates.com is taking the Net by storm. Rick also publishes/edits his own newsletter, The Hallway Mirror (subscribe@thehallway.com). Rick is a for-hire freelance writer and you can contact him at rickbeneteau@netprofit2020.com.

Editor's Notes by marketing consultant Shel Horowitz, editor, Down to Business


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