I temporarily moved back to the Midwest about a year ago to tend to my parents as they approached the later years in their life. While still tending to my book packaging business, I found myself spending several nights at their house, and was in and out of the Midway airport for some short and extended trips. I have many of my client visits dialed in to the point of knowing where to stay, where to eat and where to get my clothes dry cleaned in a pinch.
It wasn’t until just recently that I found Benny’s Cleaner’s just 2 blocks down and around the corner from my folks house. First time I came in I met with Sandy, a very congenial, down to earth, middle aged gentleman who took my pants and shirts, graciously explained that my order would be ready in 2 working days and there would be a 10% discount for payment in cash. I certainly took him up on that and brought cash in 2 days later. Sandy wasn’t there, but a different gentleman named Roland came out from behind the curtains, and fetched my order. Sure enough, he smiled as I pulled out the green. I continued to do business as needed a few more times, and always left with quality dry cleaned work and a happy customer experience. In the back of my head though, I had always wanted to know: “Who’s Benny?”
Just a couple weeks ago I was heading off to the gym for a morning workout at about 7:00 am and as I pulled around the corner past Benny’s Cleaners, there was an older gentleman putting a key in the front door. Aha- there’s Benny I concluded.
It was with great dismay that on my last visit only a few days later I was told that they could take my order but Roland told me I needed to pay for it and pick it up before the end of this month as they were closing for good.
I noticed a letter at the end of the counter that spoke of their closing and grabbed it on the way out. It was very sad for me to hear this as I love being supportive of local small businesses. Their letter thanked everyone for their business over the years, and spoke of the erosion of business and rising costs of tenancy and equipment. I shared the letter with my family at home and I think we were all very sad to hear of this (probably me most of all for some reason).
Later that night, I went down to the local grocery store to pick up a few items and walking down the aisle I saw “Benny”. I walked up to him and asked him: “Are you Benny of Benny’s Cleaners?”
He admitted he was and looked at the ground sheepishly. I introduced myself, mentioned I have my own small business and told him I had not been a customer for too long, but had certainly enjoyed the convenience and friendly service. I mentioned to him how I had also appreciated the cash discount.
His eyes bugged out. “Cash Discount?”, he exclaimed.
Well now I could quickly see what had happened – employee theft. I was now appalled that 2 employees could do this, of course what could Benny do now?
I mentioned to Benny I wish I could have done something to help him market his business.
“Like what? he asked.
“Well for one thing, I lived 2 blocks away for over a year before I noticed their building one day. You could have made some inexpensively produced flyers to distribute around the neighborhood and generate more traffic.”
“Well yes, we never tried that…”
“You could have also inexpensively produced some colorful signage and banners that would attract more attention from drivers by like myself”
‘Well we thought of that….”
“How about a website?” I asked.
“What about it?” asked Benny.
‘Well a properly designed website could have helped generate some more clients who may be new to the neighborhood and live close by, but travel in a different pattern. You could also build a following through Facebook and Twitter to offer special deals for regular customers.”
He shuffled and sheepishly looked down again.
“I just wasn’t always so good at the advertising I suppose…..”
I wanted to say: “Advertising and marketing are 2 different things”, but I realized it was a done deal, and didn’t say anything else. I wished him well and moved on. I felt real sorry for Benny. But the moral of the story is that despite the fact that times are tough, there are still people who need dry cleaning in this city, and I will bet dollars to doughnuts the companies who are doing well have management on hand to monitor their stores, guard against employee theft and have some semblance of a marketing plan in place to bring in a continual flow of new clients.
Final moral of the story: Some people just don’t really deserve to run their own business.
This story is true, but all the names have been changed to avoid any possible controversy.