By Art Jaeger | Dec 27, 2011
You’ve searched far and wide for that perfect laundry location or undervalued existing laundromat. You’ve met with every distributor and examined each manufacturer’s spec sheets with a fine-toothed comb before selecting your new washers and dryers. You’ve watched over the construction or renovation like a mother hen over her soon-to-hatch eggs. Now, you’re only seven or eight weeks away from your grand opening or grand reopening.
But now is not the time to let up.
To realize the success you’ve envisioned since the day you started your new project, you must avoid the frequent mistakes new owners make in not adequately and properly planning for their grand opening and the immediate eight weeks or so thereafter.
If you are going to be an attended store, you need to get that “Help Wanted” sign up in the window. The rule of thumb is that you need to see 25 candidates for each position you have open. That’s right, you need to interview 100 people to hire four, who may or may not be successful once you open.
However I don’t look at this as a chore, rather as an opportunity. First, having the sign in your window gives you an opportunity to gauge how well known your impending opening is. After all, you’ve had that “Coming Soon!” banner up since you started construction (haven’t you?) and now is a chance to see how excited the local community is about your store.
Secondly, I don’t treat each interview as just the standard review for a candidate. Instead, I provide a store tour, pointing out the large washers and dryers, the added amenities, and all of the other points of differentiation that makes my store better than the competition. If I’ve done well I’ve just sent another person out into the area to start my positive word-of-mouth marketing.
The grand opening marketing campaign requires plenty of time to put all of the pieces together and meet artwork deadlines for the local publications, printers, sign makers and distributors you will be using. After all, just putting up a “Now Open” banner and hiring a Mariachi band for the day is just not going to cut it – nor is it going to enable you to realize those great pro forma numbers your distributor crunched for you. A sufficient budget must be set aside for the grand opening marketing plan. I understand that your construction/renovation went over budget (they always do); however, don’t take the overage out of your marketing budget. That would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul – don’t make that mistake.
You need to perform an extensive review of which publications and marketing channels are available for your local area. As we all know, a laundromat is a proximity business, so most of your customers are going to come from a relatively small radius surrounding your store. Of course, the more urban your store is the smaller that radius, and, by contrast, the more suburban the larger the radius will be.
Knowing this, you will want to try and select those marketing channels that focus on the zones and/or subzones from which you have determined your customers are most likely to come. After all, you don’t want to waste significant sums covering areas that are not likely to deliver potential customers to your store. If you’re lucky you will be right in the middle of a zone, but more likely you may have to add another one or two zones to cover your targeted areas and, therefore, pay for a portion of the zones out of your market. However, I’ve always seen this as an opportunity to negotiate the rate. I simply point out that their coverage includes areas I don’t want and, in turn, requires a price reduction.
Now that you know what marketing channels are available, you must develop your grand opening marketing promotion. I’ve seen too many promotions that are just not “grand” enough to motivate people to come. Don’t cheap out now. Your promotion must be a call to action strong enough to move people from their current laundry provider and give you a chance to show them why you should be their new service provider.
Another mistake I see in many grand opening campaigns is not having a long enough grand opening period to allow people to find out about you, hear about you through word of mouth or to come multiple times to change their current washing habits. After all, everyone is not going to know about you on Day One. They may see your ad in a subsequent week or hear about the new store from a friend, and you must give these people a chance to get in on the “sale.”
Your distributor is going to tell you to have a “soft opening”, i.e. unadvertised. He’ll tell you this will give you a chance to work out any kinks, to be sure your equipment operates perfectly and to train your staff properly. This will sound logical to you, and you will go along with it. But there is no such thing as a “soft opening.”
You’re either open or you’re not. The first impression may be the only impression you ever get to make. All equipment and attendants must be ready to perform from Day One. You don’t want to have negative word of mouth out there emanating from your “soft opening” period.
Next, you set your firm opening date. Be sure to clear your personal calendar for a minimum of the first week that you’re officially open – and possibly longer. During that first week, you’re going to be in your store every single hour that it’s open. After that, you can evaluate your on-site time requirements based on how your evaluation of the first week has gone.
But not spending enough time in your store during the grand opening period will deprive you of the opportunities to meet your new customers, continue on-the-job training of your employees, listen to feedback on what your employees and your customers are experiencing – and, in effect, telling you what changes may be needed. These changes may consist of in-store instructional signage, employee training, pricing structure, washer and/or dryer programming, etc. If you’re not there, you just won’t know.
As part of your preparation for operating your laundry, you must realize that even new equipment (or a newly built store) requires immediate maintenance and attention. Train your employees in maintaining your washers and dryers from the very beginning. Be willing to learn about your equipment. Go to all of the service schools you can. Have the courage to plug away while being guided via telephone with your manufacturer’s tech support representative. Even if all you can do is diagnose a problem, this will assist your service tech in bringing the correct parts or taking the proper approach to repairing your equipment, which will save you a second trip fee.
Prepare to be a jack of all trades. Have a full set of the proper tools on hand. You can’t always call someone to replace a door knob, tighten a loose hose or fix that broken toilet handle.
Lastly, let me offer you the best of luck. After reading this, does a laundromat still sound like “just a turn-key business” to you?