Get What You Need

D. J. Waldow, B-School Cleaners

"The only supplier we needed for our business was a reputable dry cleaner in the area who would reliably clean all of the clothes for us," says D. J. Waldow, 21, who runs a dry-cleaning service out of the University of Michigan Business School in Ann Arbor. Waldow is assisted in his efforts by business partner Matt Campbell, one of his fellow undergraduates.

Working out of a room in the school's student lounge, Waldow and Campbell enable people to drop off clothing and retrieve it a few days later. They don't do any of the actual dry cleaning themselves. Instead, they've subcontracted with a nearby dry cleaner who picks up, cleans and returns all of the items directly to them.

"First, we contacted about 20 dry cleaners in Ann Arbor to find out how much they charged to clean suits and shirts," says Waldow. "We learned that the average cost in our area for dry cleaning a suit was $8.05, and for dry cleaning a shirt was $1.50. Using that information, we decided that we didn't want to charge our customers more than $7.90 for cleaning suits or more than $1.50 for cleaning shirts."

Next, Waldow and Campbell generated a list of criteria their ultimate supplier would need to meet. It included the prices they wished to charge, the days and times of the week they desired service, and whether or not the dry cleaner would be willing to pick up and deliver everything at little or no charge. "We immediately ruled out all of the dry cleaners whose prices exceeded what we wanted to charge," Waldow explains. "Then we got on the phone again with the remaining ones to see if they were even interested in working with us. Some said they didn't want to work with such a small-scale operation. Others refused to pick up and deliver, or wanted to charge $1 or more per item to pick up and deliver, which was out of the question."

Having narrowed their list to three possible dry cleaners, Waldow and Campbell visited each of the establishments in person. It didn't take long to reach a decision. "The first thing we noticed about the dry cleaner we selected was the state-of-the-art system he had for tracking orders, which was impressive and efficient," says Waldow. "What was even more important to us, though, was that he was the only one of the three who actually seemed excited about the prospect of working with us. As a result, he offered us prices that were a dollar or two better than anywhere else we'd gone, plus free pickup and delivery. We both had a gut feeling that he was going to be a great person to work with, and it has certainly worked out that way."

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This article was originally published in the July 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get What You Need.

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