It’s that time again. The holidays are right around the corner. I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around this.It was so much easier five, six, seven years ago to feel the season change and see the holidays ahead. That was back when my favorite baseball team, the White Sox, was going nowhere, as other teams prepared to march to the World Series. I was ready for football season, falling leaves and rising gas bills.But the White Sox are striving for the playoffs, and are extending the season. It’s hard to think about raking leaves when the boys of summer are raking line drives into the freshly cut outfield grass.So now I have to get used to watching baseball, football and the weather change all at the same time.On top of this, the holiday season seems to be getting earlier and earlier. We buy Halloween candy in September and hear Christmas carols in November. You think that’s crazy? Some are even celebrating “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.” Terrifying.“But Mark, you’re a Laundromat manager. What do you care about the coming holidays?” you might ask. I’ll answer that question with another question: Do your customers care about the holidays?The answer to that rhetorical question, of course, is yes, yes, yes. The coming fall and winter holidays are, to many, the most wonderful time of the year. Do you want to be part of their joy?THE BASICSYou should want to share in your customers’ joy. You have a great opportunity to do this, since Laundromats are in a unique situation compared to other businesses. In this business, you have your customers for hours at a time. They’re sitting there in your store, waiting to experience any type of holiday spirit. Provide it.The simplest thing to do is decorate. This isn’t expensive and it isn’t hard. Buy some decorations from a party store, hand the bag to your employees and tell them to have some fun. I recently sent my employees off with a bag of Independence Day decorations and they had a great time. I even saw customers giving them advice on where to hang the bunting and how high the flag should be hung. Talk about making your customers feel at home and connected!And don’t forget to carve out a shelf or corner of your store space and box up the decorations. That way, it’s only one trip to the store and one bill to pay for a year’s worth of decorations.EXTRA EFFORTBut there is an opportunity to do more, and make the holidays something the customers will truly appreciate and remember. Holiday sales. Holiday songs. Holiday treats at the counter. I know he’s really busy, but maybe you can book Santa for an afternoon. I know our customers get a kick out of dressing up for Halloween, but I bet your employees would, too.None of this stuff is expensive, and it can pay dividends in customer retention.Listen, no one wants to be at work around the holidays, but it’s a necessity. The same goes for your customers. Bring the holidays to your store.Now, if you really want to impress your customers and let them know that you are really paying attention, find less-publicized holidays. This is a great chance to celebrate the cultural aspects of your customer base. Mexican Independence Day is a big day for us, and we make sure to help our customers enjoy the day.Not sure what’s big in your neighborhood? Shame on you. Here are two easy ways to find out. First, if your employees are reflective of your area, ask them (and if you think “Back to School” isn’t really a holiday, you must not have any parents on your payroll).The other way to find out is to drive around your area and glance at the other businesses. Grocery stores, clothing stores and general stores will all have sales, signs and merchandise directed at particular people for particular times of the year. This can even be a great way to network with the other businesses in your community. It might even lead to some coordination and advertising deals. Seek these out, for everyone’s benefit.So, what are you doing for the holidays? I want you to send me stories about the holiday events and activities at your stores. And if you have pictures, I’ll take those, as long as you’re willing to have them possibly appear in this fine publication.A DIFFERENT MATTERI’m also interested in hearing your odd, funny or scary stories about things that happen at your store. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with thousands of customers a week, we have no shortage of interesting characters here at the World’s Largest Laundromat. I’m asking for your stories, so it’s only fair for me to share one of mine.Here’s a question for you: What would you do if a church group marched through your store with an 8-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide wooden crucifix in tow? Well, if you have an answer, I’m all ears.That’s what happened to us recently. I wasn’t here at the time, but when I arrived, my employees were eager to tell me about it. The church group was preaching and passing out fliers. When one of my employees told them they didn’t have permission to be there, they replied, “God has given us permission.”Did they actually say that? That 30-minute event led to instructions, with no gray area, to our employees: No religious displays. None. If my prayers are answered, we won’t have to deal with that type of stunt again.Customers were scared, irritated and angry. So that’s the last time a group gets to pull something like that. It’s funny, because I’m religious, my employees are religious and my customer base is religious, but that type of thing in this place just can’t fly. Don’t let people get in your customers’ way. Happy customers come back, angry customers find a new place.Send your questions, comments and customer stories to [email protected].