CHICAGO — From the moment you contemplated opening a laundromat, you probably had at least a vague idea of how you wanted to operate it: the work schedule, the level of service, the cleaning and maintenance, you name it.
And if your laundry was going to be attended in some manner, you’d need some way to organize your thoughts about its day-to-day operation, how certain tasks were to be performed, and whose job it would be to fulfill those responsibilities. The time would come for you to establish your policies and procedures.
American Coin-Op polled a handful of store owners around the country to learn a little about the guidelines and protocols they produce, how they inform and educate their workforce about them, and what these owners say could happen if clear guidance in operations isn’t given to a laundry’s employees.
So what can happen if there is no clear guidance in place for employees?
“Lack of focus, misunderstanding, and dysfunction,” says James (Clark) Sowers, who co-owns four laundromats and two drycleaning plants in South Dakota with son Randy..
“Confusion from customers, staff, and even for yourself,” adds Kristyn Van Ostern, co-owner of Wash Street in Manchester, N.H. “I cut and copy our policies from both the terms of services and employee handbook on a regular basis.”
“Chaos will ensue if you have no clear guidance,” asserts James Radovic, who owns two fully attended stores in the Florida communities of Jupiter and Stuart. “Drop-off customers will be confused as to what to expect as the final product, and what to expect when they drop off their clothes. Walk-in customers will ask for help, sometimes asking for us to watch their clothes while they run errands, or help them fold their clothes, etc. One employee may help and another may not and the customer will wonder how far they can push to get help. You need to have every employee operating off the same page.”
“Retention is likely to suffer, triggering a myriad of repercussions for the business,” says Cathy Neilley, owner of Spin Doctor Laundromat in Hamilton Township, N.J. “No hire wants to feel vulnerable, embarrassed, used, and incompetent—especially today, when virtually every customer feels entitled to better treatment than others; demands a timely and accurate response, along with perceived competency. At some point, it may seem wiser for the employee to leave than be subject to complaints and/or retaliation.”
“Employees do their best. I don’t love the ‘bad employee’ excuse lots of laundromat owners use,” Mark Vlaskamp, director of central operations for 2ULaundry, says. “Bad employees are like bad kids, there’s no such thing. There are only bad bosses like there are only bad parents.”
And that’s where guidance that’s easily understood, especially in the early stages of laundry employment, can keep everyone on track.
In Bellingham, Wash., Travis Unema oversees Brio Laundry and Brio Cleaners. “Clear guidance helps management enforce rules equally,” he says. “Having no reference point for rules won’t work. Clear guidance sets expectations and assists management to make sure the expectations are set.”
“Clear guidance reduces stress for all parties,” adds Sharon Sager, owner of Sierra Madre (Calif.) Laundry. “Managing staff is simplified when policies are in place. Should issues arise with an employee, having a document to refer to can help re-establish expectations.”
Creating a handbook for a business can seem daunting, Sager adds, but there are resources available that can make the task attainable.
“You can get templates for both a terms of service and employee handbook from your insurance company,” suggests Van Ostern. “They want you to have policies in place and usually help you build a framework out if you don’t already have one.”
Unema recommends getting assistance from a legal team to draw up an employee manual.
“Most boilerplate manuals can work as well,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to update policies! Make sure you get rid of policies that don’t work or are outdated. Include social media rules, uniform, attendance, performance. Include things that you want enforced by management.”
Policy in text is the easiest to make as the owner but the hardest to consume as an employee, Vlaskamp cautions.
“Nobody wants to read a 100-page instruction manual. But, short videos, infographics, and photos help. Consider making your documentation more consumable and easier to send, view, text or email. The days of a printed binder of SOPs that you can only read on-site are gone.”
And the nature of today’s workforce and the tightness of the labor market could mean having to relax your policies just a bit.
“Policies can be especially fluid these days,” Sowers says. “‘No tattoos or facial hardware,’ etc., has gone out the window when we need to round out our staff in all of our different stores.”
By setting and communicating your store’s policies and procedures, you establish from the outset how you want your business run and help identify and train the employees that you’ll lead into the future.
In a truly competitive job market, a laundromat owner's ability to hire well has never been more vital. Multi-store owners Jim Radovic and Tim Gill share their approaches to hiring and retaining good workers in this episode.
Promotions and incentives are often used to draw customers to a laundry. Matt Miller, president of equipment distributor Coin-O-Matic, envisions a more comprehensive loyalty-building approach.
Multi-store owner Ken Barrett talks about being industry-inquisitive and sharing what he’s learned through writing, podcasting and YouTube.
- Employee Compensation: Finding Means Beyond the Dollars to Attract, Keep Good Workers
- Survey: Year-Over-Year Business Up for Many Store Owners
- Establishing Expectations, Encouraging Accountability