Learning how and why to brand your dry cleaning business is an important part of gaining marketshare. This month Richard Fitzpatrick of Kreussler Inc. interviewed Jeff Davidson of Holly Cleaners in Boston, Massachusetts.
Richard: First, I’d like to say thank you, Jeff Davidson, for joining us. Why don’t you give us a little bit of a history of Holly Cleaners. When did it start? Who started it?
Jeff Davidson: Sure. So, Holly Cleaners was started by my father and my uncle back in 1956. Holly was first established as a local cleaner dedicated to providing the local community with a high-end dry cleaning business. Very shortly thereafter they established delivery routes. They were trying to make it as convenient as possible and within a year, they went to a two-tier system, which I believe was the first in the industry, where we offered a service called HollyCraft to appeal to a high-end clientele and offer an extra level of service to our customers. For the last 65-odd years, we’ve grown both the HollyCraft and our regular business, but the HollyCraft has always been our core business. We offer a level of service that we think is unparalleled in the industry, and it is built on our deluxe HollyCraft service.
Richard: Just for clarification, the actual name Holly, how did they pick that? Holly was a family member?
Jeff Davidson: Between the two brothers, my father and my uncle, Holly was the first-born. So, unfortunately, Jeffrey was third in line, so it didn’t become Jeffrey’s fine dry cleaning, but … Holly, although she never got into the business, was the first child. And thus the name. And that has stuck ever since.
Richard: Well, it’s unfortunate that Holly didn’t jump in, but you did. What is your background, you graduated from University of Massachusetts?
Jeff Davidson: Correct. I graduated from UMass back in the early ’80s. I had always worked in the business in high school. I was very familiar with the business. Pretty much everybody in my family grew up in the business, whether as babies being pushed around in baskets, learning to tag, learning to press. We were all around the business all the time. I went off to college, got a marketing degree at University of Massachusetts and ended up immediately leaving college and going to work for a computer marketing company for a little while. I then decided to come into the family business, which at the time, was with my father and one of my brothers.
Richard: Now it’s you and your wife that run the company?
Jeff Davidson: Correct. My wife, Susan has a very active role as my partner in the business. We share all the ownership responsibilities, Susan handles the financials, we share the marketing and I deal with the production and the labor. It’s a pretty good working partnership. We play good cop, bad cop, one of us lives in the gray, and the other one lives in the black and white. So, it’s a really good mesh, and we’ve had a really successful not only personal relationship, but we’ve had a really successful business relationship together.
Richard: Do you think there’ll be another generation of Davidson’s coming up behind you?
Jeff Davidson: We hope so. Our children are out of college at the moment. My daughter is, hopefully, just about to pass the bar exam and become and attorney. She would be a huge asset to the corporation. My son is currently making his path in cyber risk management, but there’s always the conversations about the family business and where the next generation might take that. So, I am hopeful. The business has been very good to my family, I am hopeful that the next generation gets to carry on the Holly legacy that we’ve built.
Richard: Well, good luck to your daughter with the Bar exam. The main topic of this edition is brands, building a brand, identifying a brand. Full disclosure, you’re a client, and you’re a friend, but if I was to ask a roomful of dry cleaners to name 20 recognized and respected brands in the industry, I guarantee the name Holly would come up every single time.
Jeff Davidson: Well, that’s very nice to say. Thank you.
Jeff Davidson: Branding’s very important to us. Everybody in my company understands that we do have a specific high-end brand. We cater to a high-end clientele, and everybody, from the person who puts the bags on the clothes to my general manager, understands that there is a sense of pride in what we do here.
Jeff Davidson: When my father and my uncle started the business, they wanted to create a unique brand in the industry, and one of the first things they did was to chose a bright pink color that was very recognizable. They wanted the color of our logo to be as synonymous with Holly as we are with the quality of our work and everything we offer. Pink is now a big part of our brand recognition, all our vans are pink, a lot of our packaging has pink tones in it. So, that’s really important to us.
Jeff Davidson: Additionally on the branding, I had mentioned earlier about our HollyCraft deluxe service. We sought to create a difference in what we do compared to the rest of the industry in having a two-tier service and offering a higher level of service was really important to us. We spend a lot of time on our brand, on our image. And that just trickles down through everybody in our company.
Richard: Brands can be just a recognized name that is familiar with people. It could bring out feelings of nostalgia or certain memories, Brands are can also be a manifestation of a company’s well-established mission. It sounds to me like your father and your uncle started with this concept, this idea, to create a company that was different from what was already available and servicing the community. In doing so the brand Holly became synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. I would imagine the effort to fulfill those implied promises to the client are probably just as important as the name and the colors and what goes into the visual recognition of the brand?
Jeff Davidson: One of our taglines is “Experience the Holly difference.” It’s important to us to offer a high level of service, to take care of our customers. I’ll give you an example. At 9:00 last night, my operations manager was personally at a customer’s house in Cambridge delivering an order. The customer realized she had an emergency and had to fly out of town the next morning. He read his emails. He understood the problem, and he took the time to get to that customer and take care of that customer off hours, completely unsolicited, because he understands what we are and what makes us different. That is what makes us different, delivering a level of service and a level of quality that is, kinda, lost in today’s generation. I could be wrong, but there’s just not a lot of retailers or industries left where the most important thing is service and quality. And we’ve always built ourselves on that reputation, and we constantly strive to achieve that.
Richard: Does that pose challenges in managing or growing the company, to keep yourself within that mindset that this is who we are, this is what we do really well, and we’re not going to do wholesale or discounting or coupons? Is that a guiding principle for you and Susan when managing?
Jeff Davidson: It is, although we have found that there is an opportunity at every level to be better, to offer more. For example went into the fluff and fold service, and we do it differently and because of that we’ve grown a successful high end fluff and fold business. We went into linens and flatwork and created our own laundry, and it’s a big part of our business now, because we do it differently. We give those little touches that you might not see and we found that there’s an opportunity to improve quality at every turn. It might be a little bit more challenging, might be a little more cost-prohibitive to do, but people still appreciate a job well done and that’s something that’s very important to us.
Richard: We can talk about this because they’re out of business, a company that you’re fairly familiar with, is the Zoots organization. They came into the marketplace, I think it’s now 14, 15 years ago. They had a good name. They had a good logo. They had a good color scheme. They had a good catch phrase. But they just never seemed to be able to get out of their own way, and it kind of looked like, to me, they put the cart before the horse in terms of trying to create a brand that people would say, “This is different. This is unique. This is better,” but they weren’t actually delivering on the promises that they made. Do you find that’s kind of typical in the industry?
Jeff Davidson: I do, and I think that the underlying principle in everything we do is to do a good job, is to do a better job, to get the stains out, to press the garment correctly, to take the time to do it. Everything else we do stems from that and if you don’t stem from that fact that you’re a good-quality dry cleaner, then everything else you do, although it might gain some traction initially, is ultimately going to fail. Customers if they have a stain, their most important thing to them is that the stain is removed. If they have an unusual piece, whether it’s a heirloom item, a vintage item, something that they’ve gone way out of their comfort zone and purchased or it’s for a special event, if you don’t take care of it properly, it doesn’t matter how shiny the bag is, how nice the person who gives it to you is or how many times you email them. At the end of the day, it all starts with the quality of your product, which is what you can build on. And if you start with that, then everything else gets, actually, pretty easy.If you don't stem from that fact that you're a good-quality dry cleaner, then everything else you do, although it might gain some traction initially, is ultimately going to fail. Click To Tweet
Richard: Do you see in the industry today companies repeating the same mistakes that Zoots and some of its predecessors made?
Jeff Davidson: Well, I think so. And I know there are some major corporations that are entering the dry cleaning business yet again. They have pretty signage, and their stores smell nice, and everybody looks good. The customer is only going to be happy if their garment is pressed right, if their stains are taken care of and I don’t know that their underlying principle is that. I think their underlying principle is to offer a pretty package to the customer. I have friends in the industry that understand what I’m talking about, and they are very successful in their markets, and I think they always will be successful in their markets, because at their core, they’re a very good dry cleaner and that’s what they’ve built their business on.
Richard: A lot of discussion is going on right now about growing with the younger demographic. Our generation is starting to age out, and obviously our parents, have aged out of being clients to dry cleaners, and so, we have this younger generation coming in play. Do you think that brand recognition is as important to the millennials as it was to their parents?
Jeff Davidson: That’s an excellent question and one that we discuss quite frequently here. I think the answer to that is probably yes, with a caveat that not only do they want quality, but they want immediacy. They are actually looking for both. I think our generation and the generations before us, even the generation right behind us, they were willing to wait for quality. They understood that to do something right, can’t always be done right away. But I think the challenge for us is: How do we maintain that level quality and still offer it in an expedited manner? I don’t think quality’s gone away, I just think there’s an expectation level that it is “now”, it’s quality plus the immediacy of getting things done, the ease of getting things done. It’s all become equally as important.
Richard: If you had someone come to you and was going to open up a dry cleaning facility, obviously not in your town, but let’s say another state, what piece of advice would you give them to get themselves on a path to create a recognizable brand?
Jeff Davidson: Start by doing what you do well. Start by building your brand by first creating a good-quality product, and build on that product. If you’re doing shirts, do them as best you can. Let people see the quality of your work, and then push that out into the marketplace that you do the best shirt, you’re the best shirt laundry. We always build everything we do here starting with quality, not giveaways, not coupons, not gimmicks. We have grown our business by offering that quality product and building everything we do around that quality product.
Richard: Jeff Davidson, I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time. Holly Cleaners is one of the preeminent garment care companies I’ve had the opportunity to work it, and it’s really been a pleasure. So, thank you.
Jeff Davidson: Rich, I really appreciate it. Thank you very much, and thank you for taking the time. I appreciate talking to you.
Photos courtesy of Holly Cleaners and may not be used without permission.