“Light Starch, Please”      

Issue 16

By:  Ron Brounes  

  August 1998


Word apparently spread quickly about my misfortunes with my nonpaying client (as reported in last month’s issue).  People seemed to be coming out of the woodwork, just to “kick a man while he’s down.”  The latest culprit was my dry cleaners, whose store I’ve patronized for the past few years.  I must confess; I used this cleaners for one reason and one reason only: they’re cheap (in more ways than one).  Throughout our relationship, they’ve faded several shirts, broken countless buttons off of others, and even shrunk a couple of pairs of slacks.  (Certainly I’m not gaining weight.)  Despite this service, however, I’ve remained very loyal.  They are, after all, the cheapest game in town.


A few months back, I dropped off a suit to be dry cleaned and picked it up several days later (or so I thought).  Since my company offers a very liberal policy related to casual days, I am rarely required to wear a suit to the office.  A few weeks passed, and a meeting arose which warranted more traditional business attire.  I reached for the newly cleaned suit, only to find that the pants were missing.  Apparently, the cleaners returned the coat without the pants.  After I registered my complaint, the employee, a pleasant enough fellow, looked up the record and confirmed that I had brought in a complete suit.  He appeared sympathetic while informing me that he would check his warehouse for the lost pants. A few days passed before I was informed that they could not be located and I should get an estimate to replace them.  The “boss man” was out of town, and was set to return in a couple of days.  Two weeks later, he had yet to return my call.  Obviously, he was in cahoots with my nonpaying client.


At my next visit, that previously pleasant employee explained (rather rudely) that their policy prohibited replacing the suit, since I should have checked my cleaning before leaving the store.  (I actually thought he may have been wearing my lost pants at the time.)   I finally got in touch with the owner who confirmed this policy and stated that there was nothing he could do about it.  The lost pants were not his responsibility; in the future, I should be more careful.  Several calls to my lawyer, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and even the National Association of Reputable Cleaners (NARC) followed, but to no avail.  It was my word against his, and the delay in time before I reported the incident would only hurt my case.




Once upon a time, businesses adhered to an entirely different standard of customer service.  The old saying, “The customer is always right” has apparently gone the way of the rotary phone and the eight-track tape.  Instead, the old Latin adage, “Caveat Emptor” (let the buyer beware) seems to universally apply.  We live in a “me, me, me” society, where few people and/or businesses take responsibility for their own actions or services any more.  Instead, we all seem to insist on making excuses, placing blame, and disclaiming any wrong doings.  This newly accepted business etiquette is truly short-sighted. In business situations, always attempt to analyze the longer-term consequences of all decisions.  This philosophy should hold true regardless of who’s at fault. While the cleaners may have successfully avoided spending a few extra dollars to replace my suit, they undoubtedly lost the business of a good customer, not to mention, other family members and sympathetic friends.  (Actually, that remains to be seen; cheap cleaning may prove more important than helping me make a point.)  


An ancient but applicable quote reads, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”  Even today, this saying represents effective words to live by.  A highly successful exec at a Dallas based trucking company was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “Our number 1 rule has always been that the customers are always right.  Our number 2 rule is, anytime a customer may appear to be wrong, remember rule number 1.”  Unfortunately too few companies still maintain this attitude.  Management is often too focused on profits today at the expense of customer service and, thus, more business tomorrow. 




Likewise, from a consumer standpoint, price should never be the sole factor in deciding who to transact business with.  Certainly, I would prefer to pay less for my laundered shirts, but the inconvenience of replacing the buttons, not to mention, the expense of buying a new suit, may very well supercede the cost factor.  Often the expression, “you get what you paid for” rings true. When you’re searching for “inexpensive,” you may actually wind up with just plain “cheap.”  Conversely, as a small company, we must understand that offering the lowest price does not necessarily guarantee winning a piece of business.  At times, the prospective clients may very well disregard the lowest bid on a contract, particularly if they have never dealt with that entity in the past.  While that low ball price may be appealing, it could also represent a sign of inexperience and, perhaps, lower quality work.  Unfortunately, pricing decisions are very difficult considerations for all small businesspeople.




A few days ago, I grabbed a pair of khakis out of my closet, when I noticed a pair of unidentified gray slacks.  Taking a closer look, I realized that these very pants matched the suit coat that I had picked up from the cleaners that infamous day.  All along, they had been in my closet though on a separate hanger.  They had never been lost at all.  My first impulse was to keep this bit of information to myself, especially since I had already caused a major scene.  Then I remembered my lesson about taking responsibility for my actions.  That afternoon, I went back to that cleaners to apologize.  I admitted my error, begged forgiveness, and dropped off a new load of laundry.  I knew I would suffer embarrassment but it was the right thing to do.  After all, they are “the cheapest cleaners in town.”


Please remember Brounes & Associates for:


q       Speeches

q       Newsletters

q       Brochures

q       Annual Reports

q       Business Plans/Presentations

q       Presentation Training

q       Marketing pieces

q       Op/ed. articles

q       Position Papers

q       Policy Manuals

q       Financial Analysis


FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. FWIW is intended to provide its readers with practical advice on complex business issues. The company stands behind such generic insight and offers refunds to any dissatisfied subscribers.  After all, “you get what you paid for.”