GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coin-operated laundromats as we know them didn’t really take off until the 1950s. We’ve come a long way from those beginnings when someone would rent a store and fill it with washers, a handful of dryers, and a few signs saying don’t do this and don’t do that.
There was little sharing of knowledge for success in the past, and not many places to ask questions. You were left to figure out many problems on your own.
Generally, laundromats today are far more sophisticated and professionally run than those small mats of yesteryear. Somewhere along the way, real entrepreneurs noticed that running a mat isn’t just a hobby or a sideline, it’s a business, and should be treated as such.
Our industry needs shared knowledge in order to progress and improve.
In Part 1, I discussed technology’s contributions to our industry, and began to list some actions that today’s laundry owners can take to help continue its evolution. Let me conclude:
Consider Adding Pickup and Delivery Service — More and more operators are expanding their markets while improving the industry at the same time with timely, efficient pickup and delivery. No longer is your market limited to just your immediate area.
When COVID helped catalyze the need for homebound people to have their laundry picked up, processed and delivered, and there were restrictions limiting people from congregating too closely in laundromats, pickup and delivery helped mitigate this.
Savvy operators have already created ways for customers to schedule times, either by texting or using a website platform or custom app.
Apps can allow the customer to pay as well. You can buy or rent various apps on the market now and customize them for your operation. Some require using their name so they can build a national network. This may not be the way you want to go, but it seems to be a growing trend.
About the service itself, employ uniformed delivery people and use small vans wrapped with your advertising.
When done correctly, there is a promising future with pickup and delivery.
Organize Your Own Local Association — This may be a hard one due to initial suspicions and overblown egos, but there can be useful cooperation.
When I opened my first store in 1976, my competitor freaked out and had a 2-for-1 sale to fight me off. It didn’t stop me. (A couple years later, he told me he did better after doing that sale.) We actually became friends and helped each other to the point where he performed tub bearing jobs for me (I paid him, of course), and we watched each other’s stores when we took vacations. This takes trust, of course, but it’s not out of the question.
Another thing was I and a couple dry cleaners went in to buy cases of shirt hangers and poly bag rolls. We needed to buy a minimum amount of cases, and together we got a great price.
There’s no telling what other ways cooperation can help. It’s truly up to your own imagination.
Manufacturers and distributors have played a big part in improving the industry.
Over the decades, manufacturers have done a terrific job in improving their equipment, not only with water, gas, and energy efficiency, but also solving a few nagging issues (such as alerts when a washer is not holding water).
Distributors, for their part, have learned to design better store layouts and help owners cope with a myriad of issues.
I believe that manufacturers and distributors are reading the online forum comments of store owners and gaining insight into doing their part better.
And wouldn’t it be nice if a manufacturer asked what you would like to see in its upcoming models? Or if you needed machines with less depth so you can get an inch or two more aisle space? Or designed washers so that belts could be changed from the top without having to open up the back of the machine?
I would like to see more simplicity while keeping or even expanding new features. The more parts a machine has, the more often it will break down. Take a lesson from Elon Musk, who famously said, “The best part is no part.”
Going Cashless — Whether we like it or not, it’s looking more and more that eventually all cash will be eliminated. This may, however, actually improve the industry.
If you and all your competition must take only electronic payments, forcing you all to pay fees, then everyone is in the same boat and vend prices should rise accordingly to keep the industry as a whole going.
When that happens, crimes against your business should drop and the “cash target” on your back may even fade. There’ll be no need to collect and count coins, so you’ll save time. And it will be easier to do things like go on vacations.
Embracing Artificial Intelligence — The future is already here, my friends, and it is artificial intelligence!
AI is still in its infancy, but every day, every second, it grows stronger and more intelligent and powerful.
Have you ever tried asking chatbot ChatGPT what a laundromat can do to combat new competition? I think you’ll be amazed that it will write you 400 words of advice in mere seconds.
Try asking how to negotiate a laundromat lease, or to describe why a commercial washer may not be filling with water, or to list the most common causes of a dryer fire in a laundromat.
All players in our industry—manufacturers, distributors, store owners, parts suppliers, rebuilders, etc.—will be able to benefit from AI.
This is just the beginning, and there’s no telling what ChatGPT will be able to do in a couple more years.
Our industry has come a long way in terms of technology and professional management since I started back in 1976. There are some new challenges ahead, but there have always been challenges. That said, I’m excited about the progress, cooperation and new opportunities.
I wish everyone an exciting and profitable future.
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