By Brian Wallace | Aug 29, 2012
“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.” – Walt Disney
Next to vend price, there isn’t a more combustible topic of conversation among laundry owners than competition.
In my now 20 years with the Coin Laundry Association, I’ve heard this subject discussed and debated constantly with the owner of the newest laundry nearly always cast in the role of villain. But I want to explore the competitive dynamic in the laundry business and posit the notion that only you can serve as your best tool for staving off the next competitor.
The appearance of the “Coming Soon: New Laundry” sign anywhere near your store is accompanied by emotions ranging from panic to anger, frustration to resignation and nearly everything in between. No doubt, it’s a sinking feeling. What I often hear from the existing laundry owner who is soon to have a new laundry nearby are appeals for justice along with a palpable vitriol reserved for the new investor and the equipment distributor who presumably has given said investor terrible advice. These emotions are understandable, if not justifiable, to anyone who has been in businesses for themselves. After all, it is your business and your livelihood that hang in the balance.
Sure, the urge to immediately blame the new investor may be justified in some cases. In my experience, more often than not this reaction unfairly scapegoats the distributor and gives very little credit to the new entrepreneur who, while he or she may not have any experience in the laundry business at least has the financial wherewithal needed to build a brand new store and the willingness to take a risk.
New stores open in competitive markets for several reasons – both sound and not. Sometimes a new laundry owner falls in love with a potential location based on narrative or, conversely, based on reams of demographic data and exhaustive analysis. Other times, the new laundry owner has been presented a location by a local distributor or business broker.
Increasingly these days, the potential laundry owner controls the real estate and is looking for a new business to occupy a space left vacant by a previous tenant. Ultimately, there is an entrepreneur who believes that he or she can serve the market better by opening a new laundry. Right or wrong, that’s the fundamental judgment being made. It’s not a foreign line of thinking to you as an experienced laundry owner. Chances are your store was far from the first to enter the marketplace. Yet, you saw an opportunity to compete by doing the job better or meeting a need that previously had gone unmet.
But, in the end, does it really matter why that new laundry is set to open? I seldom hear the “blame game” from the very best laundry owners. Rather, they focus on marshaling their experiences and resources to best withstand the latest challenge to their businesses. I contend that the best strategy is to be your own competition.
Let’s face it. It’s easy to become complacent in the laundry business. Laundries invite the development of routines and often times not much changes week-to-week from an operational standpoint. Like any other business, it takes a special entrepreneur to fight through the “ruts” and continually strive to get better. If we expect a new competitor and operate from that frame of mind, it is easier to stay sharp.
This approach will manifest differently for different laundry owners. The push to continually improve can come in the form of constant upgrades to the laundry itself. It can come through a perpetual evaluation of the existing competition relative to your store – looking for and seeking remedies for any deficits. Aggressive marketing to the neighborhood can ensure that the lion’s share of customers are finding your laundry. Multi-store owners look to new acquisitions or newly constructed laundries in the same area as a way to “corner the market.”
In the end, there is no way to prevent new competition from entering your marketplace. But you can do your best every day to dissuade that new competitor from challenging your “best in class” laundry, which is taking great care of customers and leaving little room for improvement.
Easier said than done!
Competition in business is a stark reality that all are confronted with at one time or another. What separates the best from the also-rans is the ability to stay motivated and continually make the business better. Your best competitor may be the one in the mirror.