Taken to the Cleaners

You’ll be pleased to learn that over the past 20 years, my weight has remained remarkably constant (170 pounds).

By comparison, during that same time span, my family size has more than doubled, the junk in my basement has grown like a cancer, and the hair on my head, which once grew happily and plentifully, has fallen off to nearly zero. Frankly, my body weight is one of the most stable aspects of my entire life.

What has changed, body-wise, however, is the shape of the package. Nothing drastic mind you, but clearly some settling of contents has occurred during shipping.

It’s like how when you go off on a trip, arrive at your hotel, and open up your suitcase … the contents are the same as when you left home but, having endured the ravages of gravity, they’ve kind of sunk down towards the bottom.

As a practical matter, and if I may be a tad more specific, this has led to some of my dress pants not quite fitting as they should. And so the other day, while dropping off a bunch of shirts and pants at the dry cleaners, I asked if they could let out one particular pair “about half an inch.”

When I returned two days later to pick everything up, the owner, a soft-spoken older woman, informed me that she hadn’t done the work because she thought the pants should really be let out an inch and a half.

I don’t mind telling you that I found this kind of depressing. An inch and a half, really? I hadn’t realized I had been sucking it in that earnestly these past several months.

I also couldn’t figure out how she knew this; I hadn’t tried the pants on for her, I just dropped them off. It turns out, she compared the tight pants to one of the others that fit well and deduced the need for an extra inch.

I realized at that moment, that I was in the hands (not literally) of an expert.

Here’s how …

  • She tested my assertion and did more than she was asked. I specifically requested a half inch; she wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about (I didn’t).As a professional service provider, your clients do the same thing. They ask you to write it, build it, fix it, change it … in a particular way. Sometimes they know what they’re talking about. Just as often, they don’t.That’s why (whether they realize it or not) they hired you. Your role as an expert is not to just politely follow the boss’s directions (that’s what employees are for). You’re there to bring your broader perspective and experience to bear by making sure that before anyone start rowing, your client is pointed in the right direction.
  • She wasn’t afraid to speak up. It’s always safer to just do what you’re told (insert your own husband joke here). Maybe I would have been offended by the suggestion that my circumference had expanded three times as much as I believed. But she said it anyway.Interestingly, nearly every professional service firm I work with begins our relationship by telling me the same thing: “We want to stand out from the pack; we want to be seen as thought leaders.”And yet when presented with the opportunity to actually say something stand-out-ish – not insane or disturbing, just interesting or different or to the point – they run back to the safety of that very same pack.That (understandable) orientation doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve your clients – they need you to tell them that their pants are too tight.

Here’s the bottom line. There’s a Japanese proverb that goes like this: “The nail that sticks up gets hit with the hammer.” I think that’s often true.

But the second (little known, because I just made it up) part of that proverb goes like this: “The nail that sticks up is viewed as an expert. So it gets hired, again and again, by the very happy client.”

If my dry cleaner can shine as an expert by simply suggesting that I loosen my pants, imagine what you can do if you’re willing to step up and express your own, expert thoughts.

21 thoughts on “Taken to the Cleaners

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks! And yes, that does seem to be the area where it collects. I wish I could figure out where it’s coming from since nothing seems to be getting thinner (could my hair have weighed that much??).

  1. Marijo McCarthy

    Michael, your latest newsletter arrived at the perfect time … the end of a week within which I had to give several of my small business clients some rational and practical advice … not always the no-holds-barred , cowboy-up approach that they would like to take. In the final analysis, what you wrote says that your dry cleaner wanted you to make an informed decision … to weigh all the facts and then plunge ahead, knowing the implications. Bravo for her customer service and bravo to you for spotting the analogy! As always, a great way to end the week with a soupcon of Michael Katz! Marijo

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Marijo. She’s terrific. I don’t go in there very often but somehow she always knows my name, even before I show her the ticket. Definitely has made an impression on me (and she drives a Lexus, so I think it’s working for her biz!).

  2. Bruce Horwitz

    Hey Michael – it was all really a misunderstanding between you and the owner. You really meant that your diameter had increased by 1/2 inch and we all know that circumference is 3 times diameter (well, 3.1416… times, but 3 is close enough for tailoring).

  3. Rick Shea

    Your weight has been consistent, as has your advice. Great newsletter, as always.

    You asked how I stand out. I try to do it by being a contrarian. In my business, I measure marketing effectiveness. Everyone else talks about measuring ROI. I don’t. In fact I make a point of saying I don’t measure ROI. Instead, I talk about how I measure how effective your marketing was at meeting its objectives, which of course include financial targets.

    The other thing I try to do is to be as helpful as I can be to whoever I can help, especially when they don’t seem to be in a position to reciprocate. I’m happy to behave that way as it feels good to help, but I also believe it’s a great long term investment in relationships.

    Oh yeah, I also try to play close attention to you and steal (I mean learn from) your thinking when I can. I know, not too original, but it works! Thanks, Michael!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Rick! I really like those suggestions, especially the contrarian one. It’s scary to do but I think clients really appreciate it. Thanks for stealing, I mean reading!

  4. William Davenport


    It is interesting how many folks wouldn’t think of someone less than a suma cum lade PhD as an expert but it is nice that you pointed that out. I’ve had a similar experience at a cleaners but it related to a stain, not a size adjustment. Three other cleaners failed and then this little old lady worked her expert magic and voila!, no more stain, no stain ring, nothing. Like shazaam!

    The point being I appreciate a REAL expert. The problem is there are so many people that pawn themselves off as an expert and the reality is that that nail you were talking about actually has more value than any opinion these folks might utter.

    So that’s why I especially liked this week’s newsletter because I just blogged yesterday (today really, about 3am) about how most experts should, well to put it nicely, be treated very badly. I’d love to see some statistics on how much expert prognosticating actually comes true. Wha-da-ya-think, maybe 3%, maybe? The title of the post is, Oh ye expert, ye pundit, ye dimwit – a pox on your house! As you can see, I’m treating the subject lightly. You can read the post here: http://www.glass-guru.com/blog

    Let me know what you think. Maybe I got a bit too shrill?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Great point Bill. And in terms of “too shrill,” I think there’s so much middle of the road blah blah in the way business people communicate, that we could all stand to be more opinionated if that’s what you believe. So I say go forth and say what you think! Some people may hate it but just as many will love it (and that’s when people hire you).

      And speaking of experts, as I was coming through customs the other day on the way back from Canada, the guard asked me what I had been doing. I told him I was delivering a workshop called “How to be a Leading Expert.”

      He thought about if for a second and asked “Who built Noah’s ark?” I had no idea where he was going with this (I’ve learned not to joke with these guys) so I said “Noah?” He said, “an amateur.” Then he said, “Who built the Titanic … an expert.” We both had a good laugh at that one!

  5. Graeme Roberts

    Your tailor was relatively discreet, Mike. The Indian man I went to when I still wore suits said, “Mr. Roberts why are you so fat?”

  6. Roger Magalhaes

    Hey Michael–

    That’s EXACTLY how we sell our services…I really don’t mind to speak up or be the contrarian. And sometimes we don’t get the job because the client insists on something that we know will NOT work. Being the expert (we call ourselves specialists) make you stand behind your knowledge and not just follow the flow…Great newsletter , as always!

  7. Felicia Slattery

    Hi Michael,

    Reading your newsletter is always a highlight of my day! Your clever wording and weaving of personal stories is what stands out for me in the otherwise straightforward world of “how to” marketing.

    As a communication consultant and speaker trainer, one of the things I do FIRST is ask my clients a simple question: Why.

    Why, you ask in return because you’re so pithy…

    Because I have found this is the best way to determine what a client REALLY wants. I’ll have a new client say to me, “I want a blog.” And rather than jump into the hows and whereto-fores of getting started on that, I bring out my trusty question. And I often discover the person does not like writing at all but “someone said I should have a blog.” So that opens the door for me to help them determine what is actually important to them.

    So in my mind being an expert is also a matter of being willing and knowledgeable about asking the right questions.

    Also, in the world of marketing, I’ve very often found the nail that sticks out the farthest is typically not hammered in enough to keep the board stable. Meaning, many of those people who make the most noise are actually not the best at providing a true and valuable service – but seem to be really good at talking about it.

    Cheers to your great work!
    Felicia Slattery

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Love the “why” question Felicia! I’ll have to remember that. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment (glad you enjoy the newsletter too).



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