Many of us – even the uninitiated – know the Boy Scout motto to “Be prepared.” However, few, if any, probably know the Scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily.”
And, with the day-to-day grind of running an American self-service laundry (or laundries), we seem to have little time to help anyone, while just surviving ourselves.
OK, by now some of you may be checking the cover of the magazine you’re reading just to make sure you haven’t picked up the local church bulletin by mistake. No, it’s still PlanetLaundry, and before you turn the page, I think I can show you how to enjoy a hidden, rarely tapped side of the laundry business – the philanthropic side.
While most of us are in a constant battle with utility costs, landlord increases and demanding customers, it seems impossible to find the time – much less the resources – to go out and save the neighborhood. And, because of that mindset, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Today, so many people pass others in need and turn a blind eye, and then they wonder why they find little help in their hour of need. Below are a few obvious (and some not-so-obvious) ways to use your time and business for the good of others.
You don’t need to be near a large city to find the homeless. And, with today's housing slide, there are those who have never been in that situation before. Many churches and civic associations house the homeless on cold winter nights, providing them with blankets and bedding. Of course, that laundry needs to be washed, and you can offer to do it periodically, or perhaps do it at your cost to defray some of the sponsor’s cost. If you have a card-operated store, maybe you can donate cards to cover the cost of personal laundry for those using the shelter. If you require some type of remuneration to perform such a service, understand that you can receive a tax write-off for your donation; however, if you visit the shelter just once, I’ll bet that you will forget all about your 1040.
In certain parts of the country there are natural disasters that occur on what seems like a regular basis. For example, in the Northeast, from where I hail, there has been no shortage of floods recently – or the fallout that follows. After these disasters, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are out in force, providing loss services to the affected neighborhoods. During a flood in Yardley, Pa., we delivered a stack of our wash cards with the name and address of our local store to the Red Cross. To our surprise, we were met with a platoon of flood victims, and as a bigger surprise, they added additional funds to their cards, thus increasing our receipts for the week beyond the amount we donated. It's funny what your generosity can jump start.
Other acts of philanthropy can involve sports teams and civic-minded organizations. Most schools and sports teams are required to wash their uniforms after the season ends. With a few large machines, it is somewhat effortless and can be done for a minimal donation of time and money.
In addition, the local fire department will appreciate you laundering their washable gear after a fire. Most fire departments are all volunteers, and they make a huge sacrifice of their time to maintain a safe neighborhood for all of us.
We offer a discount to the local Boy Scout troop, of which my son was a member. After summer camp, almost anything having fabric was a different color and definitely a different smell – and many of the boys’ moms became regular customers as a result of the discount coupons they received.
Another form of philanthropy is geared specifically toward the industry from which you make a living: volunteer at your local affiliate of the Coin Laundry Association. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, take a position on your local affiliate’s Board of Directors. Or perhaps you have an interest in the business on a national level; you may be fortunate enough to be elected to the CLA’s national Board, where you can influence an even larger sphere of those within the industry.
Most importantly, take an interest in newcomers to the laundry business. Try to remember how overwhelming it seemed when you were considering opening your first store. More often than not these newbies have been barraged with so much information that they just need a clear voice of experience to keep them moving. Often, they may be so overwhelmed that they will appear a bit caustic, but these are the ones who most need your help.
After you attend a few grand openings, you will understand how important your donation of time and understanding was in getting your “mentee” to the finish line. Although there are many rewards in helping someone enter the self-service laundry business, you may find that you gain a confidant – and someone who can keep an eye on your store while you’re out of town.
It’s extremely difficult to explain the benefits of helping others in need, whether it be someone of little means or a wealthy entrepreneur investing in the coin laundry business for the first time. In a society that’s overpopulated with narcissists and those who think that help given others equals “less for them,” many never really understand how it works.
“What goes around comes around” is a tired cliché. But it’s a cliché for a reason – because it’s true. You will find more satisfaction in the aid of others than you ever will in an additional dollar.
If you're still a non-believer, pick up the breakfast tab for an elderly couple the next time you visit your neighborhood diner, and see what happens. Or buy ice cream for your local Little League team, and tell me it’s not worth more than the $20 you spent. And, for the capitalists in the crowd – of which the author is one – you will never gain more from the market my taking, only by giving.
All in all, the contacts and benefits you collect as a volunteer will far outweigh those you develop forcefully through networking.
Albert Einstein once wrote a very different kind of theory of relativity: “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”
In attempting to increase the value of others, I think you'll find yourself worth much more.