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The Attendant Dilemma

Bob Getschel |

How many of you actually do your own wash, dry and fold? I’m sure it’s not too high of a percentage. Maybe you filled in one day when the attendant was ill.Well, for those of you who haven’t spent a full day doing this extra service, let me tell you, it’s a dirty, smelly, and unappreciated job. During the past 26 years, I have had one, two or maybe three attendants who seemed to be happy to do the drop-off service for minimum wage and a five-cents-per-pound commission.A LITTLE BACKGROUNDAbout a year ago, my last attendant left. She told me it was because the salary was too low — even with a recent increase to a seven-cents-per-pound commission on top of the salary. I checked my sales records, which indicated that an hourly wage increase was not justified.The people I interviewed to fill the position wanted more, too. So I “temporarily” took over the position with the help of my wife. I soon wondered why, for so many years, these women worked for such little remuneration. I always assumed that they were getting great tips from their regular customers, as well as seasonal holiday gifts. But I soon found out that was not the case.LEARNING EXPERIENCESince I took over the attendant work, I noticed that less than 10% of customers give anything other than a “Thanks.”As for tips, most often this is the customer saying, “Keep the change,” which is usually less than a dollar, or giving me a dollar bill. Is it just me, or do attendants deserve more than that?Besides doing drop-off work, most attendants are also expected to keep the store clean. There are many unappreciative customers doing their own wash who the attendant has to clean up after — they do as much as any waitress who has to keep her station clean.My wife tells me I’m cheap, but even I know that when I go in for an $8 haircut, at least a $2 tip is in order. The food delivery person gets a buck or two on a $15 order, and more for a costly order. For a waitress to bring you a crummy $3 beer, she gets at least a $1 or two.What should the attendants get? With the laundry loads ranging from $7 to more than $40, you would think that a reasonable gratuity for going through someone’s dirty clothes would be at least a $5 tip, or more.It takes me about 30 minutes of hands-on work (not including the time the machines take) to sort, pre-treat, load, unload, and flip inside-out items to try to fold neatly. And I work fast. How long does it take to deliver a pizza? Why is that “big effort” worth more to some people?MATCHING UPI’m already charging 70 cents a pound for regular laundry (blankets and rugs are $1 per pound). Many of my competitors charge 60 cents. My profit levels are slim — even with me doing the work. How can we justify paying an attendant $50 to $80 a shift that grosses just $30 some days?At best, I can do 300 pounds of wash in a day. A more realistic 200 pounds a day, at 70 cents, is $140 gross. After I pay the attendant the minimum wage and seven-cents-per-pound commission, I’m looking at about $60 to cover my soap, bleach, softener and wash/dry costs, as well as Social Security, worker’s comp and unemployment insurance.WHAT’S THE ANSWERIf the tips aren’t doing the job, then it’s up to the owners to pay more. How do you pay the attendant more if the customer isn’t paying for it in the bill? Should you justify having an attendant purely as an expense, like keeping the lights on? Should you think if the attendant handles a variety of maintenance-related tasks and does some laundry that it offsets the expense?If we’re doing laundry at close to cost, or under cost, that is charity. No, that’s not charity, that’s stupidity! Let’s face it, 25 years ago, I was charging about 40 cents a pound. Since then, my expenses have more than doubled. Why are our prices not reflecting that?The only problem I have with raising my service price is that there are other laundries around. They’re already charging less than I am. How do they survive?If I raise my prices and they don’t raise theirs, I’ll lose the little business I have now. If all of the laundries were competitive with their pricing and reasonably high enough to make things worthwhile — even in today’s economy — then we could all be happy.The only answer I see is to raise our prices to a level where we can pay our attendants properly and still make a profit. That’s the definition of running a business and making a living. 

About the author

Bob Getschel

Floral Park Village Laundromat

Operator

Bob Getschel operates the Floral Park Village Laundromat in Long Island, N.Y

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