Look after your customers or they’ll vote with their feet

For the last 12 months I’ve been having my gi dry-cleaned.


You have your gi dry-cleaned? 

Stop the madness!

Sorry, but I hate ironing.




So when I discovered that I could have my gi dry-cleaned instead of  having to wrestle with it myself, it was a no-brainer.

So I made my way to the dry-cleaners, close by my dojo.

From the depths of his shop beyond the steaming iron, emerged a wiry 50-something Korean man with his name “Kim” embroidered into his pale blue shirt.

“Hello”, I said.

He grunted, as if he was too afraid to smile in case his face might crack.

“Can you dry clean this for me please?”, I asked as I passed my gi across the counter.

“Tuesday”, he said.

“Today’s Thursday. Is there any chance I can get it earlier than that?”, I asked.

“Tuesday”, he repeated.

I took a breath and tried to forget that the sign out front read, “One hour dry cleaning”.

“How much will that be?”, I asked.

Kim picked up my gi and then punched some keys on his computer.


I took another deep breath, while thoughts of highway robbery crossed my mind.


Kim passed me the ticket, and I walked out.

— Fast forward to the following Tuesday —

As I pulled up to the dry-cleaners, disgruntled Kim put out his cigarette and walked in the side door to meet me at the counter.

“Hi, how are you?”, I asked.

Kim walked by me and pushed a button. With an electric buzz, suddenly a rack of suits, dresses and shirts started revolving.

Kim pulled my gi from the rack and hung it on the bar at the front desk.

Holy smokes. Was that my gi?? Wow! Looked brand new. Bright white and beautifully pressed.

“$12.50”, he grunted.

“Hey, you did a really nice job”, I complimented him. “It looks great! Thank you so much!”

“$12.50”, he said again.

As I paid Kim I said, “I have a lot of students and plenty of my own uniforms that require dry-cleaning. I can bring you a lot of business.”

“It har work!”, he grunted in his thick Korean accent.

“Alright then… I guess I’ll see you later… Kimbo”,  I thought to myself.

As I pulled my gi from the bar I notice the coat hanger slogan that read, “We love our customers”.


Really, Kimbo? You LOVE your customers? You sure have a funny way of showing it. In fact you remind me a little bit of the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld.

Anyhow, I took my gi to Kim for the next 12 months, and each time he’d scowl as he saw me coming. Then, he’d continually complain about the business I was giving him.

I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, if you don’t like what you do, stop doing it. Or if you don’t want my business that’s ok. I’ll go elsewhere”.

And that’s exactly what I did. I found another dry-cleaner right across the road who gives me next day service with a smile and charges one third of the price. I had three heavy-weight gis laundered and pressed for $17.50.

Now here’s the thing. If Kim had lived up to his coat-hanger slogan and given me better customer service, I would be happy overpaying him to dry-clean my gi and could have referred more business to him.

But he didn’t.

So what the heck has this got to do with teaching karate?


Look after your students. Greet them with a smile. Return their phone calls. Answer their emails. Praise them. Get to know them. Go the extra step. Give a little more. It’s not that difficult.

Don’t be a Soup Nazi. You’re not the only martial arts school in your town.

You see people would rather pay a little extra to feel special. But if you don’t back it up with quality customer service, you’ll be left wondering why your students voted with their feet.

If you’ve ever bought something from me, you know I will always do my best to provide you with great customer service. I’ll answer your emails and return your phone calls promptly. And if you have any questions at any time you know I’m here to help. Customer service is exactly that… service. Without service, customers (and students) dwindle.

Who do you need to call today? What tasks do you have that you’ve been delaying? What student of yours needs some extra encouragement?

Make sure you do something each day to provide great customer service…



12 thoughts on “Look after your customers or they’ll vote with their feet”

  1. Great story, and one I could visualise while reading! Thank you for not being like the dry cleaning man, and for being so quick to respond to queries.

    Last week I was having trouble with my copy of 125 Karate Drills and contacted you for help – which I got within a day (it was my system that was the problem, not the book).

    Thanks for helping so quickly and cheerfully – and for your amazing book. Loving the new updated version!

  2. Hi Jason, as well as being a martial artist I am also a customer service professional. For me, this stuff is just second nature, and I find it really hard to understand how some people just don’t get it…
    Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Thanks David.

      It’s strange, isn’t it? And the thing is it’s not that difficult! Basic common courtesy and responsiveness is really what it boils down to…

  3. Yesterday I got a letter (not an email) from a former student (a teenager) thanking me for teaching him. There’s someone who has caught on to what you are talking about in your dry cleaning story. Imagine the reference letter this former student would get from me.
    Great reminder of what is important…people, not business.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head Jim with the last line – “Great reminder of what is important…people, not business.”

      Look after your people and your business with thrive.

  4. Do you think they really dry cleaned your gi or just washed and bleached it? I have a tournament coming up and I would love to get my gi sparkling white and well pressed but I can’t really find any recommendations for this. Are you still dry cleaning your gi? Are they wearing out faster?

    • The dry cleaner will either launder or dry clean it depending on what I ask. They don’t bleach it, I know that. If they did the patch would fade too. I’m now having my uniforms laundered and pressed. Are they wearing out faster? I don’t think so, but I wear mine 22 hours a week so my gis last a year or so before I buy a new one.


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