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Membership Shows its Real Value


More operators are taking advantage of DLI’s revised fee schedule, which simplifies access to membership benefits.

By Ian P. Murphy


Early in 2014, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) made a radical shift in the way it collects fees for member services. Changing from a complicated system that charged dues based on an operation’s number of employees to one based on the DLI professional services desired, the new program has streamlined membership participation and made it easy to take advantage of DLI’s valuable services.


“The old system no longer made sense in today’s economy,” said DLI CEO Mary Scalco. “Member response to the new program has been great. People like being able to choose the best program for their business. Our goal was to give members the opportunity to select a plan that suits their needs.”


The former system, introduced in the 1970s, based membership dues on the number of employees an operation claimed as well as other factors such as the number and type of locations. Over time the system became confusing and cumbersome. Under the old fee structure, for example, there were 26 different levels of membership that cost up to $1,600 per year.  


Allan P. Johnson III supported the change. “ ‘Dues’ has a negative connotation that was appropriate for the old system, since the fees were imposed on the basis of a head tax—the more employees, the higher your dues—instead of paying for the value received,” he said. “That’s what governments do, not service organizations. Consequently, the bigger dues payers subsidized those who paid considerably less, but both received the same services and benefits.” Johnson III serves as current DLI Chairman and operator of Peerless Cleaners in Corpus Christi, Texas. “


“DLI wants to be a service to our members—not a taxing entity,” he said. “The emphasis in DLI’s new program is aimed at encouraging members to value the benefits they receive for the investment they make in DLI membership. Once the concept takes hold, we’ll be successful in changing the perception from dues to membership value.”


Freedom of Choice

The new system offers just four levels of service. Members can now easily choose the level that suits their needs best from a streamlined menu of offerings. Each membership level offers a specific package of DLI benefits, from the entry-level Budget package to the all-inclusive Premier membership.


The Budget package offers drycleaners full membership and representation nationwide, and for just $45 per month, helps DLI cover the overhead associated with its ongoing industry advocacy. “We want every drycleaner to adopt a philosophy that they are a contributing participant in improving the image of our industry,” said Jon Meijer, DLI’s director of membership.


Budget members vote for regional representatives on the association’s Board, receive Fabricare magazine and Hot Press e-mails, and take advantage of negotiated discounts on credit card processing and other business services. In case of a processing problem, Budget members also have access to DLI’s technical staff. Additional services such as garment analysis, access to the online Drycleaning Encyclopedia, and education and certification programs are available on a pay-per-use basis.


The next level up is DLI’s most popular membership level so far, the $79-per-month Silver package. This membership adds the Drycleaning Encyclopedia and Heads Up! newsletter, two free garment analyses per year, free drycleaning system performance evaluations and secret-shopper services, website development, a professional certification test or renewal, and reduced fees on admission the Clean Show and education.


The Silver level is where operators can really start to realize the benefit of everything DLI membership has to offer. “No cleaner should be without the DLI Drycleaning Encyclopedia,” Johnson said, referring to the Institute’s crown jewel, a knowledge base covering everything drycleaning. “Next comes education, in the form of certification of key personnel, resident courses at DLI, [and] in-depth information, printed and available online. Then comes DLI’s Garment Analysis and regular use of cleaning and laundry performance tests.”


Gold membership is designed for active members who send employees to DLI headquarters for certification and training regularly, participate in local, state or regional industry associations, and represent drycleaner interests on a local level. They are often seen as potential nominees to the DLI Board, and pay $145 a month for a package that adds one free registration for the biennial Clean Show, free self-study courses and online training, and onsite secret shopping, as well as substantial discounts on all DLI resident classes and other offerings.


Premier members receive access to all DLI services with no additional charges for $254 per month. The top-level membership includes free registration to the annual Five Star Brainstorming Conference cosponsored annually with the National Cleaners Association (NCA), two free Clean Show registrations, and multiple classes and certifications free of charge every year. The Premier plan includes the Executive Hotline for instant access to DLI leadership, and many members at this level hold Awards of Excellence and become officers or Board members themselves. For a complete listing of membership benefits by level, visit dlionline.org/membership-information.


“At the top level, you never have to pay anything except your dues, but we also wanted to make sure you could come in at the Budget level and still purchase everything we have,” Scalco said. “The member has to think that they are getting more than the cost of their dues, and we wanted to give them a choice—it’s that simple.


“The biggest roadblock to membership used to be the question, ‘How many employees do you have?’ The more employees, the more you paid; you didn’t receive anything more. Now, we say, ‘Here’s a list of all our services, and you can choose. It’s better for the member, and that’s a big thing.”


Easy Entry

Response from new and renewing members has been good so far. During the first six months under the new rate structure, DLI’s membership numbers have stabilized, and the association expects revenues to increase as more operators realize what they’re getting for their membership dollars. “It is so much easier to bring a member in the door,” Scalco said. “New members are coming in, and that’s great.” International membership is also growing, she adds, with members in Australia, Canada, Nigeria, and other countries worldwide attracted to DLI’s unmatched array of online resources and tools.


Whether they join online or in person, the simplicity of the new system helps. “We just filled out the paperwork, and that was it,” said Mike DiStefano, president of Gentle Care Cleaners in Charlotte, North Carolina, a new Gold-level member. “I figured it would give us the most for the dues we’re paying. It just seemed like it would be better if I needed anything and to be more informed.”


Gentle Care now has access to a complete range of professional benefits, including access to DLI’s Drycleaning Encyclopedia, Monday Morning Marketing e-mails, certification renewals, free self-study courses, and more. “I haven’t had to take advantage of the benefits yet, but they are there if I need them,” DiStefano said. “That’s the best part—it’s there if I need it. It’s like an insurance policy, and customers like to see a sticker on your window that said you’re a member.”


The program has also streamlined payment with monthly automatic withdrawals in exchange for a membership commitment. “It was easier to provide a monthly service plan,” Scalco said. “We always had a monthly option, but it used to be our last choice. Now, it is our first choice. The members like it.”


Linda Young, co-owner of Impressive Dry Cleaners in Pensacola, Florida., joined at the “very affordable” Budget level this year to access DLI’s online resources Technical Hotline. “We can call and ask someone when we come across a problem we’ve never had to face before,” she said. “We work with two suppliers, and they said the best thing you can do is join, because DLI has knowledgeable people at the other end.”


With reduced-cost or complimentary training sessions offered at every level of membership, DLI’s classrooms are filling up fast. By concentrating on the real value of membership, the association is helping speed the education of a whole new generation of career-professional operators and staff. “Our classes are booked,” Scalco said. “More people are getting the training they need to succeed and we are pleased the change in our membership structure has enabled this to happen.”


The new program also offers incentives to discover DLI services and move up among membership levels at any time. “The members didn’t want to be told what to pay,” Meijer said. “Now they look at the services they want, and want to go to a higher level. We have people who start in the Silver and want to go to Gold.”


As more operators discover the benefits DLI offers under the new fee schedule, the association will grow and build financial security alongside members. “The strength of our industry depends on the strength of the association,” said DLI Past President David Machesney. “DLI is pleased to offer this change so the association can continue to improve services and assist members.”


Ian P. Murphy is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. He served as the editor of American Drycleaner magazine from 1999-2011.

Posted By Harry Kimmel | 4/7/2016 2:07:36 PM