Our industry isn’t exactly known for giving dynamic plant tours. In fact, we rarely do them, but a plant tour is a great opportunity to showcase your competitive advantages. It gives prospects the opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes and reveals not only how advanced your procedures are but also how much time and attention goes into doing things the right way to service your customers. In addition to garnering new sales, using well-executed plant tours can strengthen your relationship with current customers, especially those who need to be reassured of your commitment and capabilities.
When you think of plant tours, most of us envision potential new customers getting walked around while a plant manager points out all the various equipment. Have you ever really stopped and thought about what a properly conducted plant tour could mean to your bottom line? Neither have your independent competitors. On the other hand, that may be why you are losing business to the national companies who often do a terrific job at organized plant tours. Luckily, a dynamic plant tour can be executed no matter your company’s size. Don’t focus on the fact that your plant may not have all the bells and whistles of a competitor’s newer facilities. Instead, emphasize what makes you unique. Need more motivation? Consider that your closing rate (or renewal rate) is almost guaranteed to substantially increase if you can convince a prospect (or customer) to join you on a tour that follows our recommendations.
A little bit of preparation before a prospect arrives will go a long way. Prior to their arrival, think through the current issues and needs of a prospect to customize their experience while on the tour. Know in advance how much time a prospect has for the tour and be careful to respect their time limit. You’ll want to pick a primary leader for the tour who you think will be able to build the best rapport with your potential customer. Of course, make sure all cell phones are turned off before a tour begins.
Instead of putting the weight of the tour solely on the shoulders of your plant manager, consider making plant tours a group effort. We recommend having the sales manager be the one to greet the customer and take him through the pre-tour session. The plant manager may be the primary leader when going through the plant but the service manager should join the tour and contribute. This promotes a collaborative environment and demonstrates to the customer that everyone at your plant works together.
Next, try to imagine yourself as a potential customer. A prospect arrives at the plant for the first time and as they walk in, they see a posted welcome sign with their name on it. This makes the experience personal and helps them feel important. (Spelling the person’s name or company incorrectly has the opposite effect so double check before posting the sign.)
Start with a pre-briefing in a conference room. Make an effort to have the room be a comfortable environment where everyone can relax. Having some drinks and snacks available is a definite plus. Of course, cleanliness is also important –especially every bathroom. The management team should make a brief appearance to welcome each guest. If possible, have their potential route rep join in during time. If their potential route rep is not available, have them stop by the customer’s location prior to the tour to introduce themselves. The tour leader – typically the sales manager or general manager – should do a brief introduction of the company and help lay out the goals of the tour. Reveal the information you collected in your pre-tour preparation that shows that you understand their needs and point out similarities between your two companies.
At this point, we suggest having the service manager to speak up and share how they understand the concerns of that particular prospect (based on information shared by the sales team). The service manager can speak to the fact that any uniform or linen service can provide the same materials but what sets your company apart is the service that they will receive from their route rep and the support that your plant provides in order to exceed expectations. This is your opportunity to highlight what makes your team uniquely positioned to best service their specific business needs.
We also recommend creating a one-page “fact sheet” about the company that the prospect can take with them. This should contain statistics such as how long the company has been in business, number of employees, utility consumption, community awards, annual sales and other key performance statistics. When appropriate, also include a list of key customers in similar industries as good referrals for your prospect.
Station #1: The Service Department – We like to recommend starting in the service department and explaining that this is “home” to each member of your service team. Of course, most of the time those offices will be empty so explain that all X number of your route reps are currently out on location servicing your many clients. It may be helpful to have pictures of all your route reps posted on a wall to provide you the opportunity to point out their potential route rep as one of your best.
Station #2: The Soil Room – Begin the plant tour in the soil room. Know where to stand so that the customer will have the best view. (We recommend going so far as to paint feet on the floor as a visual cue at each station along the tour.) Help the customer understand your business by explaining it without the technical jargon. Draw an analogy to their home laundry…only on a scale 3,000 times larger. Talk about unloading soil, separating into classification and getting proper weights. This gives you a great opportunity to talk about all your product offerings. Emphasize levels of soil and the cleanliness of the finished result. Address the negative impact on the environment if everyone was to wash all their items at home. For uniform rental companies, have the customers imagine the impact on morale if each of their employees had the added inconvenience of washing, drying and pressing their own uniforms every day. Emphasize safety and the environmental benefits. This is a great opportunity to talk about employee longevity and why they choose to continue working for your company. At each station, make sure to pause and ask for questions – you want to make sure you are talking with the prospect, not to the prospect.
Station #3: Washroom/Dryers – While standing at the best viewpoint, again preferably marked by painted feet, explain how your technology best meets their needs. This is a great opportunity to brag about your equipment. Help prospects understand how much goes into properly laundered textiles. For the washers, talk about time, temperature, water levels, chemicals and even the computerized chemical injections. Explain how the machines don’t move on to the next step until the current function (water level, temperature, etc.) has been completed for consistency. For the dryers, emphasize technology, dry times, and moisture retention, as it will impact the tunnel and press and ultimately garment or fabric quality. Call attention to the need to get the items on a hanger ASAP once it has been through the dryer. Be sure to point out investments in new or updated equipment and technology throughout the tour.
Station #4: Steam Tunnel/Press – At the steam tunnel/press, address productivity, repair inspection and percentages, proper collaring techniques and proper leg alignment. Explain how hot air and steam interact with polyester and cotton materials versus permanent press items. Discuss the time through the tunnel and the optimal temperature. We recommend doing a “before tunnel” and “after tunnel” comparison so the prospect can see the difference. Point out the cleanliness that your process ensures. At the press, use a dry cleaning analogy but explain that you can buy the materials and process them for 1/3 the cost. Again, make an effort to emphasize safety and the environmental benefits.
Station #5: Repair – Show the customer how you identify and repair rental items. Speak about your replacement policy as well as the external repair system used by the customer and the route rep. Make sure to explain to the customer explains why quality and proper repairs/replacements are important to your company.
Station #6: Sorts – Take the prospect to the area with an optimal view of the sorting area. Explain the multi-step process of sorting and be sure to mention just how many items go through your plant every week. For uniforms, talk them through from day route to customer to individual wearer. Refer back to the soil room where everything was dirty and mixed together. Show off your newly processed items that are clean, bright and sorted. If appropriate, talk about your successful load completion rates. Show them how items are readied for truck loading and explain how your company runs two to three days ahead of the sort process so that you can be proactive if any concerns or needs arise with customers.
Station #7: Miscellaneous – If applicable, show visitors the mat and fold areas and highlight the wide range of products you offer.
Station #8: Stockroom – Explain to your prospect/customer that the stockroom is the hub of the garment operation. Talk visitors through the process so that they understand what happens behind the scenes – from generating work orders to showcasing the differences in grades, colors, sizes and emblems. Show them the process from order pull to assignment. If you know what the prospect is looking for, show them potential items. If managing uniforms let them know that used garments are the first option to help keep their costs down and discuss the process for names and emblems. Also, talk through your process for garments from quit wears and exchanges. Share how you recycle garments for reuse. For all items, explain a barcode and why your company uses them. If you are proud of the percentage of your orders that are complete for the next delivery, share it with the prospect.
Station #9: Debriefing – Once the tour is complete, head back to the conference room to discuss next steps. Have your service manager highlight processes, tools and systems for ensuring customer satisfaction, emphasizing any points that he knows are important to that specific prospect. Mention again your commitment to safety and the environment but most of all; speak to your company’s emphasis on customer satisfaction. If you have the opportunity, bring lunch in or take the prospect to lunch. It’s also a good idea to have a small branded gift for visitors to take with them. As an added bonus, consider having your lunch catered by or taking your prospect to lunch at one of your customer’s locations. Allow the current customer to meet the prospect and you may even get your testimonial right there.
All these seemingly small details add up to a dynamic plant tour that involves every area of your business. It showcases your competitive advantages while allowing the prospect to feel important and a part of the team. And, in the end, your plant tour will optimize your opportunity to grow your business and meet your financial goals.
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