CHICAGO — A day doesn’t go by that today’s laundromat owners aren’t competing with other small-business owners to hire capable, dependable workers.
With unemployment rates reaching record lows in various locations during the last few years, the competition for workers has intensified. Even as laundry businesses offer competitive wages that are frequently well above their local minimum wage, they can find it increasingly challenging to attract and retain good employees.
In an American Coin-Op Your Views survey conducted in December, the majority of store owners polled—34.6%—say the prospect of hiring or retaining good employees remaining as difficult as it is at present is their greatest business concern looking ahead.
Job seekers may be “all about the money” but the average small business can devote only so much budget to labor. It can take some creative thinking by the laundry owner to come up with ways to incentivize attendants and managers beyond their wages.
WHAT’S YOUR SUCCESS RATE?
“My attendants and I are a team. We depend on each other to operate a well-oiled machine,” says Kenny Majers, who manages a staff of two at his Majers Coin Laundry in the Los Angeles area; one attendant has been with him over 20 years. A good attendant is the lifeblood of a laundromat; they can make or break it, he believes.
Kristyn Van Ostern, who has co-owned Wash Street in Manchester, N.H., for seven years, says it’s only been in the last three that the owners have “figured out hiring and retaining good employees.”
“I know we focus on it a lot and that it continues to improve,” 2ULaundry Operations Director Mark Vlaskamp says of his company’s hiring performance. “I saw a stat: 54% of QSR [quick service restaurant] employees do not make it six months. If that is the standard, we are doing fine. However, it feels like there is a lot of improvement to be made.”
Cathy Neilley says she’s had “some” success staffing her Spin Doctor Laundromat in Hamilton Township, N.J., with one full-time and five part-time workers: “The pool of applicants for our job posts is deep, but the quantity of good candidates is small. Once we snag a quality candidate, we ensure that they are aware of their total compensation package and benefits so we can retain them.”
“Attracting, screening, hiring and retaining staff is difficult for sure and takes a commitment of time and financial resources to do it well,” offers Dave Menz, who operates the Queen City Laundry chain of full-service laundry centers, employing 38 across his four Cincinnati area stores; about 75% of the staff is part-time. “After a decade of trial and error, yes, we feel we are pretty good at finding good people but our strength is in retention. We rarely let a rock star get away.”
“We have a very solid base and foundation of employees, strengthened by our management team,” says James (Clark) Sowers, who co-owns four South Dakota laundromats with son Randy. “But it is the newer employees as we try to complete our team that are giving us difficulties.”
Hiring for his Brio Laundry in Bellingham, Wash., has improved, Travis Unema says, since the brand created and implemented its own online training resources.
“Brio has had better success in the last 12-18 months after using the Laundry University to train the new (and old) team members,” he says. “Having an effective training program instills confidence in your team and gives them the tools to perform by taking pride in their work.”
ARE HIGHER WAGES OF CONCERN?
Have higher wages offered by other small businesses presented a real challenge to your laundry operation?
“For a time, it was, but I think around mid-year we kind of hit parity,” says Neilley. “Nationwide, hourly wage increases have slowed. What I keep my eye on now is where the state is with minimum and ‘living wage.’”
Wage is certainly important, offers Vlaskamp, and his company has had to increase theirs to be competitive.
“But, it isn’t everything,” he adds. “I figure, if there is one hour I am going to work on this per day, instead of focusing on wage, I focus on everything else besides wage. Wage is a market rate that I really can’t control. What I can control is the rate at which we convert top-of-funnel recruiting leads and the tenure at which they stay at the company. Those things matter so much more than market wages.”
Check back Thursday for Part 2 and more on coping with high wages, plus some staffing tactics
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].