GULF BREEZE, Fla. — The temperatures are rising, kids are out of school, and all those heavy sweaters and cold-weather gear are packed away until fall. While not the case for all vended laundries, loads are getting smaller and the summer slowdown is hitting — unless your laundry is in a vacation/resort area hot spot. Then you might be heading into a busy time.
But for the majority of owners, summer is a “catch your breath” period. That’s why I think of summer as a great time for Laundromat investors to take a look at their results and business as a whole. While some might argue that the best time for that is at year’s end, when all the numbers are in, I think finding a point in early summer to look at year-over-year and historic data might be better.
Reviewing your operation now, during a slower time, brings clarity and makes it the perfect season to explore retooling and upgrading. Summer is most definitely retool time.
It would be easy to reduce this column to a discussion of “well, it’s been a few years; you should update the paint and in-store signs.” While that’s definitely part of the summer retool equation, I say take a deeper dive and look at your business holistically for areas to retool.
Start with a review of general business operations. Performing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis within the confines of your market is a great first step to identify how your store matches up against the competition. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses (as well as your competitors’) puts you in a great position to make educated decisions about your store’s summer retool.
I will also caution that in putting together your plan, it’s probably a good time to take a look at your lease. Obviously, if you have just a few years left, it’s a bit of a risk to make a substantial investment in the location. By contrast, it may be an opportunity to open a dialogue with your landlord on lease terms/extensions based off improvements you will make.
DO YOU STILL KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Equally important a guide in your project is understanding the market. You opened with amenities and an equipment mix that catered to a demographics report. Are your demographics the same as when you opened your Laundromat? Neighborhoods are in constant change.
Perhaps a wash-dry-fold option made sense upon opening. Does it still make sense? Do the demographics and numbers match? Your business retool could be focused on figuring out a way to expand and better market that business component because it has been growing and the neighborhood has seen an influx of higher incomes. The flip side may be that the demographics and a decline in WDF business show it no longer balances out with the staffing required. That expense may be better served in adding a couple 80-pound machines.
This look at demographics might be an opportunity to review payment systems as well. If an upgrade of equipment is part of the retool strategy, is it time to offer additional payment options aside from just quarters or dollar coins? Card systems and app-based solutions not only increase the amount of payment options to make using your laundry easy, but they also may offer rewards programs to encourage loyalty. If coin is still in the mix, look at the changers your store offers. Do you have bill-to-bill changers? Again, upgrading helps make your laundry more customer-friendly.
Do you know what your customers want when it comes to snacks and beverages? It may be time to upgrade or re-think vending. For decades, soda ruled the snack machine realm. However, today we see more people drinking energy drinks, bottled water and chilled coffee beverages. Does your Laundromat’s vending machine reflect this shift? If not, customers are likely running to nearby businesses for these items.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!