Getting Taken To The Cleaners

Sometimes it is the little revelations that can be most useful, even something as routine as picking up dry cleaning. After a long string of disappointing dry cleaners, Dry Cleaner A seemed to be doing fine until it came time to pay for an order that consisted of a single shirt and I handed the owner my debit card.

credit card“Cash only for orders less than $5.00,” he said in a passionless tone. I was genuinely stunned and since it wasn’t 1988, I wasn’t carrying any cash and the thought of driving out to find a cash machine, paying the ATM fee, and once again fighting to find a parking space in order to retrieve my shirt was not making me happy.

My silence must have created an uncomfortable moment because the owner attempted to fill the void by explaining that the processing fees meant he’d lose money on transactions under $5.00.

“I understand,” I said. “Just add the transaction fee to my bill.” The point here is I really did understand as I face the same issues in my consulting business and my practice is to add the transaction fees onto an invoice if a client wishes to pay via credit, debit, or PayPal. If they pay with company check, there’s no transaction fee (FYI, no one pays in cash). It’s simple, allows the client to decide which option is best, and I have yet to have anyone even bat an eye at the policy.

Consequently, I was stunned yet again by the owner’s curt reply, “No! Cash only for orders less than $5.00.”

Once again, the unintentional silence provoked more details. “This is the way we’ve done business for 20 years,” the owner said. “There’s no need to change.”

All I could think to say was “but of course.”

So I schlepped out to get the cash in order to retrieve my shirt. The next time dry cleaning needed to be dropped off, I logged into Yelp to see what else I could find. Fortunately, I located another dry cleaner not far away and decided to give them a try.

After telling the clerk at Dry Cleaner B this was my first time at the shop, she brightened up and said “Oh, then you should know we give a discount if you pay with cash and the full prices on the board above only apply if you pay with debit or credit.”

I did some quick mental calculations and the prices on the board seemed to be just the right percentage over and above the cash discount to accommodate a standard credit/debit transaction fee plus a smidge more for good measure. It’s an old trick, but a good one and perhaps more importantly, I didn’t have a problem with it.

A couple of things struck me from all of this:

  • Phrasing matters. Yes = 🙂 & No = 🙁 That might be self evident but it’s worth reviewing every now and then.
  • Delivery matters. The Dry Cleaner B clerk was clearly well versed in her delivery of the payment options and whoever was responsible for setting prices made sure that whichever option a customer selected, they won and looked like a good guy on top of it.
  • Calculations matter. Both dry cleaners had the same problem vis-a-vis transaction fees and profit margins. But Dry Cleaner B, who has been in business almost as long as Dry Cleaner A, learned to adapt and determined that customers value convenience.

In the end, Dry Cleaner B discovered it is entirely possible to create a scenario where whichever option a customer chooses, they win and the customer is happy.

I don’t want to draw any specific parallels here with our field as I’m willing to bet there’s enough here for each reader will take away something that is applicable to his/her unique environment. To that end, I’m also willing to bet that there are some thoughtful observations going on out there worth sharing so take a moment to leave a comment.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “Getting Taken To The Cleaners”

  1. I always thought that the minimum charge was illegal. Turns out, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act changed this in 2010. Now retailers can opt to set a minimum of $10 for credit card transactions.

    Of course, just like Cleaner B, it was always legal, and smarter, to offer an incentive for cash instead of punishing for credit card.

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