CHICAGO — Phil Arvin and his two partners opened their first Maytag-equipped coin laundry in Memphis, Tenn., last March. The 5,000-square-foot attended store is equipped with new energy-efficient 60- and 80-pound washers that are much larger than those in competing stores and thus could command a higher vend price, Arvin says.
But the group followed the suggestions of distributor Justin Laundry and established prices that are comparable to the laundries nearby, Arvin says. “Even though we’re offering a much higher quality product, we didn’t want to be perceived as the higher priced place.”
This is just one example of how the market can influence a laundry’s pricing strategy. But other factors are at work, too, and there are some basic premises that the self-service laundry operator should keep in mind when establishing or changing vend prices.
Should You Announce a Price Change?
How should a laundry owner approach the topic of pricing with his customers? Should he alert them prior to implementing a price change?
Kevin Hietpas, vice president of sales and marketing for Dexter, says he’s seen many owners have good luck increasing prices when they are up front with their customers. For example, if you’re planning to raise prices due to higher utility rates being charged by your municipality, post a couple of articles from the local newspaper about that topic. “Customers, as much as they may not like it, understand that kind of stuff,” he says.
“As consumers, we routinely respond to price increases with little or no advance notice from the stores or makers of the products we buy,” says Gary Gauthier, national sales manager, vended laundries, Milnor Laundry Systems. “Consumers in vended laundries are no different. Store owners and their staffs should be ready to carefully respond to customer questions about the higher costs. But the vast majority of the store owners that I’ve spoken to hear very little feedback when a modest price increase is enacted.”
He recommends raising prices on different types of machines at different times, instead of implementing a sweeping, storewide increase all at once. “This puts the owner in the position of continually assessing vend levels while customers aren’t shocked when costs go up.”
“The most important thing to address regarding a change in price is why,” says Kent Walters, national sales manager for Maytag/Whirlpool Commercial Laundry. “Customers need to understand why prices are fluctuating. Typically, price increases can be attributed to the cost of utilities. Store owners have to stay ahead of the cost of doing business, especially in the laundry industry that depends heavily on the use of utilities.”
“The owner ends up explaining it one way or another,” Hietpas says. “That’s why I think it’s better to address it on the front end with as many facts as possible rather than feel like they’re playing catch up by explaining it on the back end.”
Shifting Prices Too Frequently?
Vending technology has enabled owners to change prices on equipment easily—during slow hours or days, for example—but care should be taken to not change prices too often. This can turn off customers, Walters says.
“Yes, altering vend prices often is not a good practice for owners looking to be successful and grow their customer base,” he says. “If customers are unsure what price to expect on a regular basis, they will look for a store that’s more consistent.”
Consistent pricing makes things easier on your customers, Hietpas says.
“A lot of customers are very good at doing the basic math in comparing between (machine) sizes,” he says. “If (one machine is) twice the size of a machine, it should be roughly twice the vend price. A lot of owners like to have rational multiples between machines to make it easier for customers to make decisions about which machine they might want to use.”
Customers are more sensitive to how long it took and how much it cost to dry than they are to small changes in wash prices, Hietpas says. “It’s the last piece they interact with, so it just seems to stick in their memory a little more.”
Tomorrow: Your competitor has undercut you – now what?Click here for Part 1.