By Bob Nieman | Feb 01, 2012
When was the last time you looked up a business’ phone number in the Yellow Pages?
When last did you rely on the knowledge of a sales assistant when looking to make an informed purchase?
Honestly, don’t you just Google it?
Well, your customers are doing the same thing. And, as a result, there has been a seismic shift in marketing for all small businesses, including self-service laundries. Online marketing has changed the business landscape forever, as small companies with limited budgets get into the game. In fact, small business has been much quicker to adapt to the opportunities of online marketing – and those that embrace it are fast outpacing their competitors.
Here are some eye-opening statistics regarding online consumer behavior:
• 97% of American Internet users use the web to shop, of which 57% characterize their behavior as shop online, purchase offline. (NPD Group)
• 90% of online commercial searches result in offline bricks-and-mortar purchases. (comScore)
• 82% of local searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call or purchase. (TMP Worldwide/comScore)
• 80% of budgets are spent within 50 miles of the home. (Direct Marketing Association)
• 74% of Internet users perform local searches. (Kelsey Group)
• 73% of online activity is related to local content. (Google)
• 66% of Americans use online local search, like Google. (Google)
• 61% of local searches result in purchases. (TMP/comScore)
• 54% of Americans have substituted the Internet and local search for phone books. (comScore)
• 35% of all searches are local. (Direct Marketing News)
• 25% of Internet searches have a purely local, commercial focus. (Kelsey Group/Bizrate)
Clearly, buying behavior has changed, and it’s critical for any small-business owner who wants to grow to start with an online marketing strategy.
It’s not only about having a website, but using all available online resources to find prospects, nurture them and turn them into customers. Setting up lead generation websites, e-storefronts and Facebook pages is within the reach of all owners. Combine this with the growth in mobile marketing (using QR codes as discount coupons to draw new customers) and local marketing opportunities like Google Places and you will put your laundry business light years ahead of your competition.
The Digital Divide is Narrowing
Of course, naysayers will counter that “traditional” laundromat customers – typically, racial minorities and those falling into the lower income brackets – have limited access to the Internet, thus rendering coin laundry websites and Facebook accounts useless.
However, there is evidence that the digital divide is indeed narrowing.
In 2000, 50 percent of Caucasians had access to the Internet, compared to 43 percent of Hispanics and 34 percent of African-Americans, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. As of 2009, 77.3 percent of Asian-Americans, 68 percent of whites, 49.4 percent of blacks and 47.9 percent of Hispanics used broadband at home, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Although the racial gap in Internet connectivity and usage is still evident, it is narrowing, as racial minorities experience a higher growth rate than majorities.
Eighty-one percent of U.S.-born Latinos, versus 54 percent of U.S. foreign-born Latinos used the Internet in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of all adults, English-speaking Hispanics are the fastest rising ethnic cohort in terms of Internet usage. In 2010, 81 percent of English-dominant Latinos, 74 percent of bilingual Latinos and 47 percent of Spanish-dominant Latinos used the Internet. And, although the rate of dominant Spanish-speaking Latinos is low, comparatively, it has risen significantly since 2009.
Between 2000 and 2010, the Pew Internet and American Life Project noted that the racial population of Internet users has become increasingly similar to the racial makeup of the U.S. population, demonstrating a closing racial divide.
As for household income, in 2010, 57 percent of individuals earning less than $30,000, 80 percent of those earning $30,000-$49,999, 86 percent earning $50,000-$74,999 and 95 percent earning $75,000 and more used the Internet.
Also, as mobile technology grows and puts computers in our pockets, Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely than the general population to access the web through cell phones – and they use their phones more often to do more things.
Fifty-one percent of Hispanics and 46 percent of blacks use their phones to access the Internet, compared with 33 percent of whites, according to a Pew poll. Forty-seven percent of Latinos and 41 percent of blacks use their phones for e-mail, compared with 30 percent of whites. The figures for using social media like Facebook via phone were 36 percent for Latinos, 33 percent for blacks and 19 percent for whites.
Aaron Smith, a Pew researcher, said more research is needed to understand the implications of blacks and Hispanics moving so quickly to mobile web access, because this technology is changing the patterns of Internet use as profoundly as the shift from dial-up to broadband did over the past decade.
“Mobile is a totally different experience,” he said. “It's a huge change when the gateway to information in the digital world is always with you.”
Claiming Your Online Identity
Potential customers may be on their home computers or their smartphones, but either way, they are definitely looking at your online business listings – whether you have claimed ownership of them or not. In fact, some customers may be writing reviews and telling the world about your laundry, regardless of whether you are active on Yelp, Google Places, Foursquare and so on.
Therefore, the first step in your online marketing plan should be to claim your online listings. Start by identifying the business listings and review sites that appear on the first page of search results for your laundry. These are likely to include Google Places, Yelp, City Search, Insider Pages and Yahoo Local. Then, take action:
• Register for a business account, which should be free.
• Stake your claim as the owner of your business.
• Confirm your ownership, generally through a verification process that may involve responding to a call or entering a code from a postcard delivered to your physical address.
The next step is to build your profile. Review the information that is already posted on the business listing, and then determine what information and categories to keep, remove, change or embellish.
Julie Rains – senior writer at Wise Bread, a personal finance community – offers the following suggestions for beefing up your profile and engaging your customers:
• Verify basic information such as your address, phone number and business category. Update whatever is outdated or wrong.
• Add your website URL and pertinent facts that you want customers to know, such as hours of operation, etc.
• Post photos of the exterior of your laundry, which is helpful for those who may need help finding you.
• Post images of your store’s interior, which can sway those who may initially be reluctant to use a laundromat.
• Write a paragraph or two about your business, its history and you. Give customers insight into your approach to doing business, along with specifics about your services and areas of expertise.
• Create deals, which can act as tempting incentives.
• Encourage loyal customers to review your business.
• Interact with customers, whether they provided a positive, mediocre or negative review. Claiming your listing will give you the opportunity to respond to reviewers, address concerns and thank customers for their patronage directly.
• Add video to offer a multi-dimensional perspective to your profile. This can further clarify your brand message and business strengths.
5 SEO Strategies
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of improving the visibility of a website in search engines via “natural” or unpaid search results. And, like claiming your listing, it’s crucial to your online marketing strategy.
In general, the earlier and more frequently a site appears in a search results list, the more visitors it will receive from that search engine’s users. Here are five tips to get you started:
Monitor where you stand. You won’t know if your SEO efforts are working unless you monitor your search standings. MarketingVox suggests that you keep an eye on your page rank with tools like Alexa and the Google toolbar. It’s also important to check your referrer log regularly to track where your visitors are coming from and the search terms they’re using to find your site, according to PC World.
Keywords, keywords, keywords. You should be conscious of placing appropriate keywords throughout every aspect of your site: your titles, content, URLs and image names. Think about your keywords as search terms. How would someone looking for information on this topic search for it? The title tag and page header are the two most important spots to put keywords, PC World notes.
Link back to yourself. There is no more basic strategy for SEO than the integration of internal links into your site; it is an easy way to boost traffic to individual pages, SEO Consult says.
You should make it standard to link back to your archives frequently when creating new content. MarketingVox advises that you also make the anchor text search-engine-friendly: “The more relevant words point to a page, the more likely that page is to appear in search results when users run a query with those terms.”
Content. Your content needs to be fresh – updating regularly and often is crucial for increasing traffic.
“The best sites for users, and consequently for search engines, are full of oft-updated, useful information about a given service, product, topic or discipline,” according to MarketingVox.
One way to ensure that your site gets new content on a frequent basis is to integrate a blog. “Get the owner or CEO blogging. It’s priceless,” Search Engine Journal advises. A blog is a great way to reach out to customers and create more linking opportunities, while giving the site a personal voice.
Link to others. An easy way to direct more traffic to your site is by developing relationships with other sites. PC World suggests you personally ask the webmasters of well-respected sites if they’ll include a link to your site on theirs. Be sure to return the favor – and everyone wins.
In the Field
Thus far, we’ve discussed online marketing in rather general terms. Now, let’s let those on the frontlines tell you, in their own words, what they’re doing with their own online marketing plans:
Wash Day Laundry
Austin and Wimberley, Texas
Our website has been the foundation for our marketing efforts in two ways: finding our business and adding credibility to our business. Almost every new customer who comes to one of our stores has found us on the web. By keeping our site relevant, we are easy to find by using general search criteria, such as “Austin laundromat.” There are dozens of free listing sites; it takes time to input your information, but it’s worthwhile. By allowing customers to comment on our services through sites such as Yelp, we become credible.
We continually update our site, and we outsource our SEO. The website continues to be our best investment.
We also use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare – and we blog using WordPress. Our tweets and blog attach to our website. We send out a quarterly e-newsletter using Constant Contact.
Each site has a slightly different use. We use Constant Contact to develop our database and send coupons to customers. We make sure to allow customers to “forward to a friend.” Meanwhile, Foursquare allows customers to check in at one of our locations and get points by doing so; those points lead them to a special offer. LinkedIn is more business-oriented and provides a summary of my work history. We tweet to create a quick buzz or to draw attention to a relevant article or photo. Facebook is more social, so we may send out status updates that are lighthearted and fun.
I would suggest taking classes through your local small business development office or using online tutorials to learn about each option. Then, find other small-business people who have more experience, and ask them to help you in exchange for offering them laundry services. That's an inexpensive way to get up and running.
10th St. Laundromat
A lot of new customers find us through a web search, which either directs them to our site or to local web pages in Philadelphia that have reviewed the store. We also have offered a Groupon special for wash-dry-fold and received exposure to a new customer base. We sold nearly 100. Only time will tell if these customers return again to use our services. We’re currently planning to run a comforter and quilt special through Daily Candy. It’s imperative to have a web page and to get creative with Internet opportunities.
Nokomis Coin Laundry
By far, the best money I have spent on marketing has been the development of my website – or, more specifically, the money spent making my web presence visible to mobile phones via Google.
More and more people are using their mobile phones to search for information. Time after time, I have discovered that my customers have found my store by Googling “laundromat” or “laundry” or “washateria” in “Alexandria, MN.” Over the past two to three years of utilizing this form of marketing, this has generated thousands of dollars’ worth of additional business.
I’ve spoken with many customers who told me they were traveling through our town or were in the area on vacation – and needed to find a laundromat. Many of these people told me they found me via their mobile device, and often that one visit educated them as to the ease and usefulness of my coin laundry.
I don't claim to have a fancy website, but I do have plenty of photos of my store.
Tulsa and Broken Arrow, Okla.
Our two locations feature a website filled with photos, videos and customer testimonials. Our newest location is in an area with a fairly tech-savvy population, so our site gets quite a bit of traffic; in fact, last year that one-year-old store grossed 11 percent better than our original location, which has a seven-year lead with an established customer base.
We also take advantage of Google Places, Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Tumblr, Bing and several other local business search websites. Perhaps the most effective element of our marketing plan comes from our Google Places customer reviews. If you do nothing else, be sure you get a few positive reviews on Google Places; it is as easy as asking happy customers to write them. Once you collect several glowing, five-star reviews, your business will start to look like the golden child, compared to other area laundries that have none.
We are about to begin two new social media pushes. The first involves Foursquare, offering special deals to people who “check in” to our stores through an app on their mobile phones. They also can leave reviews and pictures of their visit if they wish. The second push involves our new Tumblr blog. Social media sites thrive on sharing content, and we are fortunate to have two talented artists among our attendants. We plan to create funny and interesting content for the blog, which will then be promoted through Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, which in turn will generate more traffic to our main website and help boost our search rankings.
Business websites are typically very static in the content they provide and are, therefore, not likely to be shared on sites like Facebook. However, with the blog, we can be creative and produce a constant stream of new content that will drive web traffic. Online reviews, social interaction and an abundance of content will win the game every time.
We have a website, and we are on Facebook as well. We have used Groupon and got 175 new customers from it. We also send out a monthly newsletter with a coupon using Constant Contact. At a minimum, I would advise other owners to build a website.
Pat’s Wash Tub
I use Constant Contact to send a monthly e-blast with a coupon to 1,200 addresses, and I normally get a 17 percent open rate. A free wash coupon gets the best results, especially for retaining customers. In addition, my son, Stephen, recently send an e-blast, asking customers to write a review of the laundry for Google – and just six reviews put us at the top of the Google page for laundries in our town.
You have to do something with your web marketing every month. If not, you will get behind. But, usually, if you do anything you will be way ahead of the competition.
Big Wash Tub Coin Laundry
A website is an absolute must, whether or not your laundry is attended. Customers tell us all the time that they found us on the website. The site gives us a chance to describe our store in words and photos for those who haven't been here. We also have a Facebook page where I post laundry-related item, such as washing tips.
Web marketing is a must. You've got to have a presence on the Internet. Newspapers and phone books are on their way out. In addition, TV ads are expensive, and cable offers so many channels you never know when and where to catch your potential customers.
Wonder Wash Family Laundry Center
Downey and Anaheim, Calif.
Having a website helps our business by being a source of easily accessible information. Nearly everything these days can be found on the Internet, so it’s important to be present where everyone else is.
Wonder Wash also has established a presence on Facebook and Yelp. It’s important we don’t isolate ourselves from sites that garner high traffic. We have our general company Facebook page, as well as pages for each location of our business in Spanish; it’s important to cater to your consumers.
We’re in the early stages of establishing our business online, and we have seen more of a response with our Yelp presence, as customers go to see the business there first. Providing basic information and details, such as landmarks to get to the business, are helpful. Making the information convenient and accessible may be more of an incentive to get customers to the business.
Baymeadows Coin Laundry
I personally ask my customers how they found my laundry, and 80 percent of the time it was through a web search. Most of our customer have smart phones and use computers. I just wish I had started my web marketing sooner.
Wash It Kwik
The Internet is the easiest and least expensive way to drive more business to my door. I averaged 67 hits per day to my website for 2011; this is up from 53 per day in 2010. Some of my largest customers have come from a simple Google search for my laundry service. People call daily about our services from the surrounding metroplex, and they tell me they found me on the Internet. As a result, my sales were up more than 20 percent for 2011.
I also am on Facebook. For the price, it’s a no-brainer. Creating buzz is what you’re trying to do. Even if just one new customer finds you through a friend on Facebook, the reach doesn’t stop there.
Also, I recently had my IT guy set up a router, where my customers have to login to use my store’s WiFi. I collected 62 e-mail addresses in less than a month that way and will use that to send e-mail blasts.
Building a website has never been easier. You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you haven’t already built one. When I built my laundry in 2002, everyone said, “Why bother with Internet ports for customers to plug in their laptops?” After 10 years of solid growth, I have my answer.