CHICAGO — Everyone of us is a customer. We buy goods from big box stores and neighborhood groceries. We dine in elegant restaurants or grab a bite from a fast food drive-thru on our way home. We try to burn off those calories during trips to the gym. And the list goes on.
So, when you visit one of these businesses, are you more likely to have a good experience and plan to return in the future if Company XYZ is a) warm and welcoming or b) cold and indifferent.
Indeed, stores that are welcoming, bright and secure draw more business than their dark, dank competitors.
American Coin-Op reached out to several industry experts this month and asked them to share what they think it takes for a self-service laundry to be customer-friendly through and through.
Q: Please describe how a store can make itself customer-friendly through the following:
Kathryn Rowen, North American sales manager for equipment maker Huebsch: Plenty of comfortable seating to enable watching TV, surfing one’s phone, or simply people-watching is always appreciated.
Steve Bowie, national sales manager for equipment manufacturer Speed Queen Commercial: Make it comfortable. Don’t opt for the cheapest seating possible. We all know that much of the laundry experience is spent waiting. Seating that looks and feels “institutional” sends the message that customer comfort was not a major consideration.
Kevin Hietpas, director of sales for equipment maker Dexter Laundry: It’s a reality of our business that waiting is something that our customers at our locations need to do, so some type of seating area is definitely a good idea. How that need for seating is combined with other amenities like play areas and game areas is a matter of owner preference.
CHILDREN’S AREA, ENTERTAINMENT AND DIVERSIONS
Bowie: Absent a children’s activity area, kids will do what kids do – find other “fun” like scooting around in laundry carts or disturbing other patrons. Creating a clean activity area gives kids something to do. Simple toys, books, coloring books, and a desk to do homework are all good considerations.
Multiple TVs tuned to family-friendly programming, Wi-Fi, games, snack machines stocked with customer favorites, and even soft background music can help contribute to a pleasant atmosphere. As owners plot out offerings in this area, they should also be paying close attention to how quiet their laundry equipment is. Visit other stores and note how loud washers and tumble dryers are. TVs and music that have to be at high volumes to be heard do not add to the experience, they just add to the noise level. Quiet equipment is as important as the entertainment.
Hietpas: If a location is large enough to accommodate a play area and/or game area without sacrificing equipment capacity that’s really needed, then there’s a case to be made for having one or the other. In talking with owners, the best advice for locations having or considering play areas is to be committed to keeping them very clean. With regard to games, the two pieces of advice are 1) to keep things fresh by changing out games periodically and 2) to avoid filling up exterior window space.
Randy Karn, global service manager for equipment manufacturer Whirlpool Corporation Commercial Laundry: Providing forms of entertainment such as Wi-Fi and TV can boost a customer’s laundry experience and make the environment more pleasant. Additionally, parents who need to bring their children will appreciate a kids’ area with constructive distractions such as books and puzzles, which make laundry an easier process as a parent. Added amenities such as vended snack options or laundry supplies can help make a customer feel more comfortable or valued.
Michael Mastorides, owner of Electrolux distributor Masters Laundry, and a multi-store owner: (Children’s areas) have come and gone, and now they’re making a strong comeback in our stores. It’s not so much a play area but more of an educational area where kids can come in with tablets and books and just spend some time doing homework, reading, or doing some kind of work on a tablet. No more building blocks, no more chalkboard.
Rowen: As the Coin Laundry Association continues its affiliation with Children’s Literacy non-for-profit groups like Libraries Without Borders and Too Small To Fail, we’ve come to realize the Laundromat has become the “hub” of the community; with that, there are significant social opportunities Laundromat owners have the privilege to provide their patrons. One of the biggest opportunities is to provide reading materials in these children’s areas. Since the dwell time for a family in a Laundromat is typically two-plus hours, a children’s exposure to reading materials systematically over their early childhood can literally make an indelible impact in their lifetime development.
Although traditional gaming has moved from a stand-alone arcade module onto people’s smartphones, children’s claw games, quarter pushes, and vending machines are still steady streams of income. You can also never go wrong with a couple large TVs. On-demand music can provide a nice background vibe, but many customers prefer to do their laundry chore with their own earbuds and mp3s. Of course, Wi-Fi has also become a standard offering for most laundries and aids customers in finding their own diversions on tablets and phones.
Q: Based on your experience, in what area is a self-service laundry most likely to fall short when it comes to being customer-friendly?
Bowie: Again, I think many owners fall short in lighting, cleanliness and décor. Failing in these basic elements puts the business at risk, and tarnishes its image.
Hietpas: The “kiss of death” for any business is taking the customer for granted. In our industry, this is waiting too long to make updates/upgrades. Customers might keep coming because they don’t have any good options, but once they find them (like a new competitor), things can happen quickly. We’ve all had a great waiter or waitress at one time or another, someone who just seemed to do the right thing at the right time without being asked. That’s our challenge as business owners, to give our customers what they don’t know they want yet. If we wait until they ask, we’re keeping up with expectations (but barely). But if we’re reading their cues, we’ll spot the trends and can stay a step ahead.
Karn: Customers appreciate knowing about discounts, promotions and other key happenings. Social media can serve as a good word-of-mouth tool and drive traffic through postings about special promotions and special events. In addition, social media offers a sense of community that can be felt within the store itself. Once customers start coming into a business, it’s important to help ensure they return. Engaging with customers on social media may allow owners the opportunity to build relationships and a loyal customer base.
Mastorides: My grandmother used to say, “Cheap is expensive.” I think a lot of laundry owners, it just fascinates me how they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building a business and then they short-change themselves with signage, handwritten signs, the cheapest employee they can possibly find. … The fit and finish of a store is important. A distributor can only do so much for a laundry owner. … The owner really needs to take care of his investment in the store, in the employees, and with the customers.
Rowen: Fundamentally, most facilities fall short in the foundational elements of cleanliness and safety. However, if there’s no specific signage, personal touchpoint, or reward system that lets your customers know you value them and their business, it could feel very “transactional” to your patrons. What owners should strive for is a personal relationship with them, where you truly value and appreciate their choice to use your facility.
If you missed any of the earlier parts, you can read them here:
Part 1: Meaning of being “customer-friendly”; owner or manager/attendant responsibility for making store customer-friendly
Part 2: Addressing exterior appearance and signage; days and hours of operation; and parking and access to become more customer-friendly
Part 3: Addressing equipment selection/reliability, and pricing and cycle times to become more customer-friendly
Part 4: Does attended store automatically have an advantage over unattended store? Should store owner poll customers on what they like/dislike about their store?