What’s your competition’s hook?

Fishhook I really hate strongly dislike my dry cleaners.  I’ve written about them before, but in a nutshell…

  • They don’t acknowledge that they have any idea who I am, despite having seen me at least weekly for a couple years
  • When I walk in, rather than asking if they can help me, they act as though I am interrupting them
  • They have lost 4 of my shirts and never apologized (they’re sure they are in my closet)
  • They break a button on one of my shirts about every 3 weeks

So by now, you are saying "Geez Drew. I have a solution for you.  Go to a different dry cleaners."

Ahhh, there’s the rub and the marketing discussion.  You see, I have said the same thing to myself many times.  But I don’t.  Why not?

This dry cleaners is 3 minutes from my house.  It is in my traffic pattern.  They even have a drive thru window.  The commodity I value most is time.  So, I endure them.

So here’s the marketing question in all of this — do you understand what hooks your competitors have set into your prospects?  By all impressions — I should be an easy win for another dry cleaners. 

  • I am very dissatisfied with my current provider
  • What they sell is a commodity
  • There is a low cost of entry — doesn’t cost me a lot to switch

Yet, I (so far) am staying put.  A coupon or sale isn’t going to lure me away.  Telling me about the latest and greatest equipment — no such luck. 

This is one of the sticky wickets we don’t talk about very much in marketing.  You can do all the right things, aimed at the right people…and still not win their business.  Unless you understand the hooks.

What are the common hooks in your industry?  If you know — what are you doing to remove those hooks?  If you don’t know — how could you find out? 

24 comments on “What’s your competition’s hook?

  1. John Rosen says:


    I agree entirely that the driving factor here is the value we put on our TIME. For the record, I have exactly the opposite relationship with my dry cleaners: they always greet me by name, wish me a good day, have never (so far as I can recall) lost anything of mine, and frequently repair broken buttons, untacked cuffs on pants, etc., that I haven’t noticed, all without charge.

    Here’s the rub: Unlike you, I DO go out of my way to patronize them and have done so for twelve years. This dry cleaning establishment in near neither my office nor my home and there are several, presumably competent, dry cleaners within walking distance of each. I go to my preferred cleaner generally on the weekend, when I have time to go a few miles out of my way. I, too, cannot be swayed by coupons, special offers, or even the frequent questions from my wife about why I waste time on the weekend when there is a dry cleaner literally across the street from my office.

    So, my point is that, when it comes to dry cleaning, you and I place different values on TIME. In the context of my book, Stopwatch Marketing, we would say that, with regard to dry cleaning services, Drew McLellan is an Impatient Consumer and John Rosen is Painstaking. Demographic targeting would not have worked here: you and I are each middle-aged, male, marketing consultants, with children, who grew up in the Midwest.

    In your book, 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing, you make a similar point from a different point of view when you point out (on the “What exactly do you sell?” page) that “…people buy solutions or benefits, not features.” For you and the dry cleaners, “quick and on my way” is the benefit that trumps “superior service and recognition.”


  2. Sonia Simone says:

    I have often thought about what a dry cleaner can do to be “remarkable.” (Yes, it’s legitimate to argue that I need to get a life.) A dry cleaner could make really good espresso drinks–that would work for me. I could swing by before work and take care of two things together. They could also offer early and late hours (and close down in the middle of the day, for all I care), so I could just swing by *after* work. Either of those would make any dry cleaner in my neighborhood stand out by a mile.

    As it happens, my dry cleaner stands out just by being remarkably nice, which works too. We have a service that comes to the office, but I wouldn’t consider using them because I like my current cleaner so well.

  3. Thought-provoking post, Drew, and it got me to thinking what does it take to get a customer/client to make a change.

    Ultimately, I think, it comes down to the pain-pleasure ratio. Obviously, you haven’t quite reached the height of your pain threshold with your current dry cleaner, even for the pleasure of a business who would treat you like a king.

    Few of us like change, even when it hurts and we know that it will stop hurting if we make that change. Nope, we still don’t like it.

    So, how many shirts do they have to ruin BEFORE, as Popeye used to say, “you can’t takes it anymore?”

  4. Scott says:

    Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, we run across prospects who we can not convert bacause the customer can not stand the pain of changing, for whatever reason. For me, it’s too much fun to do business with remarkable businesses. Life it too short to put up with shysters that would take my business for granted.

  5. Bill Zahren says:

    I read many expert say and I believe that businesses want customer feedback. But the last few times I’ve sent mail or email offering feedback — positive and negative — I’ve gotten zero reply. Two emails to national brands have gone unanswered and one paper mail to a local company … silence. It’s disappointing, because almost any response, even a “sorry, but that’s our policy,” would have improved the company’s standing with me. Asking for feedback and then not reacting to it in any way is probably worse than not asking for it in the first place.

  6. Shama Hyder says:


    I’d like to know what WOULD make you change cleaners? Would it have to be another one 2 minutes from your home?

  7. Arlin Pauler says:

    Being as philosophical as I am, my response is from a philosophical perspective; that being “let’s help each other succeed”. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t relate directly in some way to the question you posed. We’ll just have to give it some thought.
    That being said, this looks like an opportunity to make a real difference. The kind of difference Steve Harper over at “The Ripple Effect” advocates. His thing is all about making a difference by making people to people connections. That is always positive difference in and of its self independent of the final results.
    I often discuss with my clients the importance of helping customers be good customers. In this case the opportunity is to help the service provider be a good service provider. While the folks at your cleaners may think they’re providing only a commodity, missing the service part gets them these kinds of results. I‘m thinking these results are not the results they really want to get.
    Now you well have already given you best shot at this and my comments may not apply. However, I wonder what would happen if you were to break the “ICE” that incases these people and makes them so cold to their customers. (I’m assuming you’re not getting special treatment.) Maybe compassionately expressing how you feel about their service. (Ya I know they don’t have much. That’s the point.) This may require taking out your magnifying glass to find some piece of truth about service they do provide and then “praise them highly”. Maybe, just maybe, they will feel the warmth of your desire to help them succeed. Who knows what might happen if you were able to make this kind of connection.
    Just a thought I thought would be worth pondering.
    As to what hell this has to do with your question, I need to leave that riddle for discussion with the rest of your readers. I am sure it relates I just don’t get it yet.
    What do the rest of you think?

    Have a fun and rewarding day.
    Arlin Pauler
    High Point Consulting
    Be mindful of the difference you really want to make.

  8. Chris Kieff says:

    I see the issue as slightly different. It’s not so much time as it is work. People will spend lots of money on labor saving devices of all sorts.

    I see the task of finding a new supplier as more work, and then executing with that new supplier until it becomes routine as additional work. When I’m doing new work, I’m not able to multi-task or if I try it’s done very poorly. So it’s the work, and loss in efficiency this causes, that keeps me from making changes.

    I talk about it here http://www.1goodreason.com/blog/2008/01/25/how-much-work-does-it-take/

    Thanks for another thought provoking idea, Drew!


  9. RB says:

    “What are the common hooks in your industry? If you know — what are you doing to remove those hooks? If you don’t know — how could you find out?”

    Finding the answers is certainly quite the undertaking! But finding the answers is also the Golden Ticket.

  10. Cam,

    Ah, I thought that too. It’s an old real estate cliche, isn’t it?

    I have to think in the retail world — that’s a very true reality. You would have to be extraordinary to have someone drive by three like stores to get to yours.


  11. John,

    As I commented on your blog — you pick up the dry cleaning and I’ll buy dinner!

    I’m not sure if my work days are any less/more busy than my weekend days. But in all cases, it seems like I value the time factor more.

    I’m curious — how did you find this remote dry cleaners in the first place? How did they get you to make the trip the first time?


  12. Lewis,

    Hmm, I’m not sure I have ever heard that maxim before. It sounds about right though.

    The key is…knowing that ideal customer well enough that when you aim at the target, you’re shooting with the right ammo. Otherwise, your 33% ROI quickly becomes a whole lot less.

    I’ve got to write that one down….I will dub it Lewis’ thirds!


  13. Becky,

    Very interesting– thanks for jumping in. Tell us more about this learning relationship. How would a company create the opportunity for their customers to teach them more about their likes, dislikes, etc.?


  14. Sonia,

    You don’t need a life — you’re just plagued by that marketing mind. We can’t watch TV or engage with any company without looking at it through our marketer’s eye.

    It’s a curse that has no cure, I suspect.

    Would you have to wait for the expresso? If so…that leaves me out! 🙂 As you know, time is of the essence apparently for me!


  15. Roberta,

    Yes…which makes we wonder what the heck my pain level really is. When I read the description (from my own hand) I think….the guy is a moron for staying with this company. And yet, the moron (again…me) does.

    A good reminder that buyers are not rational beings and we need to keep that in mind as we reach out to them.


  16. Scott,

    You and I are alike in that we enjoy doing business with remarkable companies. It’s one of the reasons I am so loyal to Apple. Whether its in their store or on the phone — I have always, over the past 20 years, had an enjoyable, talk-worthy experience with them.

    I’d gladly change if there was a dry cleaners along the same route or nearby. I am not afraid of changing. After all, this is not really a considered purchase.

    But, if I have to go 5-10 minutes out of my way — I won’t go.


  17. Bill,

    I completely agree with you. When a customer takes the time and risk to share feedback, especially if it is not positive — you have to respond. Even with a simple thanks for sharing your opinion.

    I’m not sure there is anything worse than being ignored. No one wants to be invisible.


  18. Shama,

    I think it would need to be a dry cleaners that took no more or even less time to deal with. It’s a necessary evil for me. I’m not excited about dropping off/picking up my dry cleaning.

    It’s something I have to do…so it needs to be painless. And for me, the greatest pain is something that eats up my time.


  19. Arlin,

    I’m all for helping others be better. (And I love Steve’s blog, by the way!)

    I have tried to talk to them about both the losing the shirts and the button breaking issues. I get a lukewarm “we’re sorry” when I press for it.

    Add to that…most of their help is surly teenagers. I’ve tried engaging them in conversation but its to little avail.

    Bottom line — they don’t really care.


  20. Chris,

    I see your point and in many cases, you’re right on the money. Easier is better. Familiar is better. When it comes to the dry cleaners for me, it’s about minutes.

    It’s on a route I take anyway…so it is fastest just to turn into their driveway. I pass a dry cleaners that is embedded in the grocery store. I don’t go there because parking is more of a hassle, there are always lines at the counter and it is, in that case, more work!


  21. RB,

    The golden ticket indeed. I think one of the interesting points of the discussion here is that not everyone wants/needs to same ticket.


  22. John Rosen says:


    Good question! It was originally owned by a good friend of mine. And, the location at the time was less inconvenient, close to my office. My friend sold it six years ago to another entrepreneur, a first-generation American.

    The new owner expanded the business, moved into the much larger (and more remote) facility a few years ago, and has his two teenage sons working there when they are not in school.

    The rest of the story you know…the service level and courtesy are very high and I’ve remained a loyal customer.

    By the way, good job answering all these comments.


  23. Arlin Pauler says:

    The best we can can ever do is our best. As I thought might be the case, you have already given it your best shot.
    I know my comments were not related to the theme of this discussion. Thank you for replying to them anyway. I’m still getting the hang of relevant participation in bogging.

  24. Arlin,

    Your comment was perfectly valid. I’m sure others were thinking it as well. You’ve yet to comment here and not add something to the discussion.

    I think you get the hang of it just fine.


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