By David Selib | Apr 27, 2009
As vice president of one of the nation’s largest commercial laundry distributorships and with experience as a consultative partner with laundry owners in building more than 70 new self-service laundries in the last three years, I feel qualified to share my knowledge as to what exactly it takes to make a laundry profitable and a standout from the competition. Owning and/or operating a laundromat is much like any other brick-and-mortar retail establishment – you need to attract customers into your store.
Customers have a choice… help them choose your store. Laundry owners should know that consumers are seeking convenience and will opt to do their laundry in a store that is clean, comfortable and safe – over older, less attractive alternatives. Yet, those laundromat owners who are unhappy with the condition of their stores’ appearance often fail to recognize the importance of basic upgrades, such as new washers and dryers, interior and exterior facelifts (paint, tile, lighting, signage), and the addition of other amenities to improve the overall customer experience.
Below is a list of the actions that self-service laundry owners can take to invigorate their laundry businesses, boost revenues and, ultimately, deliver a more pleasurable customer experience:
1. Fix and/or upgrade your equipment. Too many “Out of Order” signs result not only in lost revenue but also in lost customer confidence. Most people use a laundromat because they either don’t have laundry facilities in their home or they can get their wash done faster at a coin laundry. If working equipment is not available for them to use, you lose.
Replacing older, less-efficient and/or out-of-order machines can remedy this situation, as well as providing savings in energy costs and restoring customer confidence in your store’s ability to provide a reliable place for them to do their laundry. Make sure you work with a reputable distributor who can advise you as to the most dependable and energy-efficient equipment available and help you determine the proper mix of machines that will satisfy the needs of your customer base.
2. Evaluate your lighting needs. A brightly lit store conveys a feeling of safety and cleanliness. Make sure all of your service areas have adequate lighting. Replace any burned-out bulbs; new, energy-efficient florescent bulbs offer a cost savings, too.
3. Add signage. Does your signage make it easy for customers to do their laundry at your store? Especially important at unattended locations, signs should not only instruct customers as to how to use the machines or what particular machines are best for various types of loads (think comforters vs. lingerie), but also alert customers to new services offered, new hours of operation and so on.
Signs need to be clear, concise, easy-to-read and positioned properly for maximum effectiveness. Bilingual or multilingual signs can be important to communicate in a language your customers will understand.
4. Repair your floors. Clean floors are critical. What customer would want to take the chance of dropping a clean item on a dirty floor? Your floors need to be in good repair, with no cracked or missing tiles. Whatever your floor surface, make sure that laundry carts can roll easily.
Of course, the carts themselves should be in good repair – free of rust and easy to roll.
The whole idea is to make doing laundry less of a chore and more of a pleasant, safe experience that will keep customers coming back to your laundromat.
5. Freshen your interior space. Peeling wallpaper or flaking paint is not an atmosphere that’s conducive to cleaning clothes. Customers do not want to handle freshly laundered items in a dirty or dilapidated facility. Make sure the appearance and condition your walls reinforces the feeling that this is a clean environment for customers to get their clothes clean!
6. Provide a diversion. Waiting for a load of laundry to go through a wash or dry cycle can be about as exciting as watching grass grow. Therefore, be sure to provide your customers with a comfortable place to wait. Televisions, reading materials and vending machines with snacks, candy, soda and even ice cream can make the time seem to pass more quickly.
And don’t forget about the kids. Most laundry patrons are women with children – so provide a space, away from the exits, where the little ones can play. This area should feature soft flooring such as carpeting or rubber tiles, some toys (safe for all ages), books and a TV that plays children’s videos.
7. Include the extras. Adding more amenities – from the expected, such as plentiful folding tables and new laundry carts, to the unique, such as Internet connectivity, tanning beds, massage chairs and lottery tickets – gives customers more reasons to come to your self-service laundry and will also provide you with additional sources of revenue.
8. Consider card technology. Going coin-less can be a great way to build customer loyalty. With card technology, there is no searching for quarters; customers pay in advance and use up the value on the card over time. They can add funds to the balance on the card at any time. Owners no longer need to collect quarters and can set flexible pricing to drive business during certain hours of the day or on particular days of the week to boost revenue. This can mean discounts during certain less-busy times and premium pricing during peak periods. Card-operated stores offer unique loyalty and marketing opportunities that traditional coin laundries do not.
9. Focus on your wash-dry-fold business. Today, many customers would rather have you do their laundry for them. A drop-off wash-dry-fold service caters to this group and can generate significant income. This additional revenue conceivable could cover the wages for an attendant, who also would be available assist customers, promote a safe environment, and keep your store clean and tidy.
10. Don’t neglect an exterior cleanup. Up to this point we have targeted the interior of the store. This assumes that your customers have been sufficiently impressed with the outside of your facility to actually venture inside to do their laundry.
Make sure this is the case. First impressions are critical. Your storefront tells people what you do and can allude to what they will find inside. Your exterior sign should be welcoming, and the sidewalk should be free of litter and debris (such as leaves or weeds). Make sure your windows are clean and free of obstructions so that potential customers can see how inviting your laundry is and will, in turn, be drawn inside.
An automatic door can prove to a great help to customers entering with baskets of laundry, especially if there is no attendant available to help them.
All in all, most consumers choose which laundry to patronize based on its number of available machines and its cleanliness. So fix those areas outlined above – your regular customers are sure to notice, and you’ll very likely attract new customers as a result of the improvements.
After all, the ultimate goal is to grow your profits by attracting new customers and retaining the current ones.
What’s more, look to other retail businesses for inspiration. For example, Starbucks provides a great place for people to meet, sit and enjoy their coffee. Bank of America and The Gap offer greeters when customers enter their doors. Although these companies are not in the laundry business, they offer their own unique welcoming experience that keep customers coming back again and again.
Learn from these companies and brand your store. Most laundry owners fail to recognize that there are hundreds of reasonably priced marketing opportunities that can help promote their stores – and you are limited only by your own imagination and creativity. In many cases, your laundry equipment distributor can be a valuable resource in helping you plan an enticing events calendar.
The simple steps outlined here will help fend off competition in your market. Don’t be complacent. If you wouldn’t want a family member to do laundry in your store, it is definitely time to make some improvements. Upgrading your self-service laundry is great for business, and a reliable laundry distributor can help you get started.