Charlie Tuzzi is the owner of Cameo by Copeland Cleaners and Winzer Cleaners.
In the realm of dry cleaners, my company works for an unusual clientele: the New York City theater district. The production teams of popular shows—there are usually around 40 big-name shows running at a time, if you include both On- and Off-Broadway shows—are our clients, and they require us to clean the costumes that bring these popular shows to life. On a given night, they might send us anywhere from 15 to 150 pieces, depending on the stage of the production (for instance, more costumes if it’s a bigger show or it’s closing). We often don’t know before we receive the order how many costumes it will even entail. Our job is to retrieve the costumes the minute they’re no longer being used (usually late at night), clean and press them, and return them to the theater, usually by early afternoon the next day.
On Mondays, Broadway is mostly dark, so we always have a huge inventory on Sunday. We work at all hours, including weekends and holidays—Labor Day, Christmas, New Years. Particularly if those holidays fall on a Sunday or Monday, we’ll be hard at work. You know what they say: The show must go on.
Working with these big-name shows on tight deadlines has taught me a great deal about the demands of running a specialty business. While costume dry cleaning is unique, there’s a lot to this business that can be applied to any enterprise serving high-profile clientele with very specific needs:
1. Always find a way.
You never know when the client is going to come in with some crazy order, like 200 particularly dirty costumes that have to be cleaned by 9:00 a.m. Our job as we see it is to never say no. No matter how crazy the turnaround, no matter how nitpicky the client’s request (some come with very specific cleaning or handling instructions) and no matter how many other things we have going on, we always find a way to get it done.
2. There are no off hours.
My phone often rings at midnight; this past Sunday night, for instance, I had two calls in the middle of the night. (I’ve gotten adept at just going back to sleep.) When you work with high-profile, time-sensitive clientele, you can’t say, “Oh, I’ll get to it tomorrow.” It has to be handled in the moment so the client feels comfortable that their problem has been resolved.
3. Take care of your people.
Because our work is so demanding and time-consuming and involves such an irregular schedule (which we recognize cuts into personal and family time), we take great care of our people. As a result, we are able to keep a very talented and hard-working production staff at the ready to handle all our clients’ needs.
4. Foster deep relationships.
The relationship that my cleaning company has with Broadway goes back 100 years, well before I took the helm. It’s a long-standing relationship because these shows know the quality we bring, know we stand behind our services and know we can meet the crazy deadlines. They’re not looking for “the next guy.” When you’re the cleaner of choice for an industry, you work hard to keep it that way.
5. Work it out.
Snafus can happen in any industry. In the rare event that something goes wrong on our end, we don’t just apologize for it—we resolve the problem to the client’s satisfaction. Sometimes the way forward may not be obvious, and I have to gather all the pertinent information and then tell the client I’ll call them back in five minutes so I can think it over. But particularly in a niche industry, it’s vital to offer the client whatever resolution is needed to make sure that they’re satisfied, relieved and feel comfortable with our work.
When you’re offering a premium product or service, you have to make it worth the client’s while. There should never come a point where they have to question the price or the value of your work. Rather, it should be intuitively obvious from the quality of that product or service that you are offering the best and only choice for their needs. Sometimes that involves making miracles, but more often it involves integrity, hard work, constantly fine-tuning and expanding your offerings and never saying no. That’s how, in whatever industry you’re operating, you remain the star of the show.