Early this year, D.J. Waldow, 21, and his partner, Matt Campbell, opened a dry-cleaning service in the University of Michigan Business School. Starting on a shoestring budget, they did everything they could think of--that didn't cost much money--to generate customers.
"We did a lot of stuff in the beginning to promote the business, such as sending e-mail messages to every student in the business school and posting fliers around the building," Waldow says. "Each business-school student has a mail folder, so we inserted fliers into all of those. We hung a huge sign in the window of our location, announcing our grand-opening date. We placed an ad in the business school's weekly newspaper, and we convinced the staff of the paper to write an article about our business that ran on the front page. The rest of our early publicity was accomplished through word-of-mouth, by Matt and I getting the word out to everyone we knew and asking them to tell others."
During their first year of operation, Waldow and Campbell's goal has been to build their customer base almost exclusively within the business school. Their USP? The convenience of their location, coupled with dry-cleaning prices that are competitive with those being charged around the city. "Most of our customers so far have been MBA students, who constantly need clean shirts and suits for interviews. They can easily drop off their clothes on the way to class," Waldow explains. In the coming months, however, the partners intend to expand their promotional activities into nearby buildings on campus--including the law school and a few sororities--to recruit new customers.
Waldow and Campbell understand the importance of maintaining ongoing contact with customers. In addition to asking for each customer's name and telephone number, they always ask for an e-mail address, because all students on campus have free e-mail accounts. At the end of each week, Waldow sends a brief e-mail message to every customer who has ever visited the business. "Some weeks it's just to remind them of our hours and encourage them to stop by; other weeks it's to ask for feedback about our service. Doing this serves a dual purpose--it reminds them that we're open, and it gives them a chance to comment on anything they consider to be working well or in need of improvement," he says.
The quality service and continued contact doesn't stop there. "Another thing I strive to do after someone has been in a time or two is to remember their name. For example, there was one MBA student who came in every Monday and always brought in three or four shirts. As soon as I saw him coming in the door, I'd start writing his name and telephone number at the top of an invoice," Waldow says. "It definitely made an impression. I think personal touches like that help bring customers back. It feels good when others remember you."