CHICAGO — It’s a new year, and it’s not unusual at this time to hope for a bit more success at your store. It doesn’t hurt to hope, but you would increase your odds for success with a little action.Take a close look at your laundry. Start with the exterior, and move to the interior. Is there some improvement that might catch the eye of a passerby? Is your business in need of a “homey” touch?Some of you are probably thinking, “That sounds good, but I don’t have the money to remodel.” There might be some ways to add some pizzazz to your store without emptying your wallet.EXTERIOR SETS THE TONE“The No. 1 reason I’m attracted to a store is exterior signage,” says Tom Jessen, BDS Laundry Systems, St. Paul, Minn. “Some of the signs are not clear, don’t project well, and are simply confusing about what type of business it is. Operators need to make good use of the brief time passersby give to the store.“What your store looks like on the outside, people perceive it to be the same on the inside. Some simple remodeling can really boost sales. Store owners don’t realize how much income can be lost by not being appealing.”A nice exterior goes beyond good signage, he adds. “We put full-blown seating areas outside. We’ve sought locations with outdoor greenery, used benches with nice coverings, and put out smoking containers. People like to sit outside and read a book.”Natural light is also a key, Jessen suggests. “We’ve added windows with remodels. People are bored inside, and looking out makes time go faster.”Avoid cluttered windows, he says. “You want exposure both ways. When people look in, they are interested in safety. Make sure any nooks and crannies are eliminated.”When re-examining your interior, the focus should be on lighting, paint and flooring, he says. “Get rid of any discolored lighting, and remember that paint is cheap.” A little elbow grease and a small investment can result in a significant improvement, he believes.More specifically, he recommends a concrete or ceramic-tile floor. He realizes that some operators may be scared off by the price of ceramic tile, but it’s more cost-effective when you factor in maintenance and durability concerns, he says.On a simpler note, it could pay to establish a store theme. “We have beautiful stores with a Northwoods theme in lake areas. You can get a cabin-type look.”Regardless of the changes you consider, Jessen believes operators must target the nontraditional customers who crave larger equipment and an attractive location. “[Nontraditional customers] need to know that stores are no longer dingy, and that operators have the equipment to handle larger items or just provide the convenience of letting them catch up if they’re behind on their laundry. This thinking leads to starting commercial accounts.”Jessen knows that some laundries have survived in the same location for 40 years. However, he believes the future winners will make changes and greater revenue will result. “It’s all about hooking new customers.”SIMPLE TOUCHES EFFECTIVE“I’m a keep-it-simple guy,” says Ryan Smith, AAdvantage Laundry Systems, Tulsa, Okla. “I notice the exterior signage first. I love a catchy title, but people need to know you’re a Laundromat. A bad sign simply uses a catchy phrase, but not the world ‘laundry.’”Your signage also needs to be well lit, Smith says. “One of the best seasons for business is winter. During winter, it gets dark earlier. If your sign is not well lit, people will drive right by without noticing you are a laundry.”Little exterior touches can also make the store more attractive, he suggests. “I like secured benches. Most stores are smoke-free, and a lot of the laundry clientele likes to smoke. Other times, people just want to sit outside because the weather is nice.“Most of our laundries are trying to attract new customers. All it can take is using a flag, an arrow sign, or some attention-grabber like the store van parked near the laundry.” Smith cautions operators to check with the landlord before embarking on any exterior-related project.“My interior turnoffs are bad lighting and bad paint. I’m not a designer, but I like ‘happy’ colors. Royal blue and white is hard to beat. A lot of operators prefer market-driven colors. For example, certain cultures favor certain colors. In a Hispanic area, you might use a lot of yellow, orange and bright tones. Good colors create enthusiasm!”To fine-tune a paint job, he suggests adding something as simple as a 12-inch stripe to break up the monotony of the walls. “You can also establish a theme to break up the monotony of the walls. I like neon, but it’s not the cheapest thing out there. But, it’s nice if you can afford it.”On closer interior viewing, Smith sees two types of stores: those with good lighting and those with bad lighting. “The new stores have made the investment in good lighting. They do more volume. Conversely, the older stores have not made that investment and are viewed as stereotypical drab stores. These stores are struggling.”Things are evolving in the industry, he notes. “Ten years ago, a brand-new store had ceramic tile and nice paint. Today, that’s the norm here. Operators are retooling their stores and changing the appearance.”If you’re thinking about adding a new store down the line, the focus should be on throughput, he advises. “Now, our culture is about doing things faster. Speed is everything. Layouts are becoming more targeted to match this need. Look at your customer flow. The ‘horseshoe’ look (the starting and finishing point being the same door) works. Most people are right-handed and will gravitate to the right of the store, if possible. Setting up a layout depends, of course, on your space.”BRIGHT AND COLORFUL SELLS“The exterior is the first thing that catches my eye,” says Bob Guyer, Super Laundry, Ambridge, Pa. “I’m not drawn to a plain, vanilla box. Give me some color.”Guyer recalls being “mesmerized” by a small laundry near a major chain store. “On closer look, the exterior looked like a circus tent, with striped awnings. This fun, happy appearance drew me in. I stopped my car for no other reason but to see this store.”Guyer realizes that landlords, municipal codes, etc. can hamper a creative operator. “But, if possible, make the exterior colorful. I also like a lot of windows. If I can’t see the inside, that’s a turnoff. I need to see the interior bright lights from the outside. I want few words and no clutter on the windows. No clutter equates to cleanliness. Keep all your advertising on the interior.”Laundries can be a bit boring, so utilize some out-of-the-box things if you have an attendant. Various types of ancillary services can accomplish this, he adds.Guyer once again recalls the “circus” store. “It wasn’t a big store, it was about 2,000 square feet. But the owner was selling scarves and various knock-off items, such as purses. There was even perfume for sale, with a nice glass counter to protect the products. There was a display on the wall behind the attendant.”If selling product isn’t your thing, he’s big on establishing store themes. “If you’re near an ocean, sailboats on the wall can be great. In a university area, replicate the school’s color at your store. One college-town store even replicated the school’s colors by dying them on the floor.”There are many small stores in Guyer’s territory, so he doesn’t look for major design changes in the future. However, if he had a large store there, he would “play to” the area’s demographics. “For example, I’m in Pittsburgh, and there’s an amusement park near me. I might focus on some amusement-park nostalgia. This is unique to the area and the people are familiar with it. I would ride off of this.”Click here to read Part 1 of this story.