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Disruption: How Technology is Changing Your Laundromat

Digital marketing, smartphones, payment options are examples, CLA exec says

ALSIP, Ill. — Whether you want to believe it or not, technology is changing, even disrupting, your Laundromat. So says Brian Wallace, president/CEO of the Coin Laundry Association.

Wallace travels the country in support of his association’s mission, which means he visits a lot of stores and sees the various tools they use to operate. Speaking during distributor Coin-O-Matic’s recent Octoberfest open house, Wallace admitted he isn’t a fan of technology just for technology’s sake. 

“I’m not in favor of taking the time and making the investment in technology just because it’s new,” he says.

No, he believes that adopting new technology should make laundry day easier for your customers, reduce your costs as a Laundromat owner, create new revenue, and/or save time and make your management time more efficient.

And he thinks that technology supports the multi-store model that’s growing in popularity.

“That has been largely absent the first 60 years of our business,” Wallace says. “Wasn’t too long ago that we had on the order of 80% to 85% of Laundromat owners had one store. … Multi-store management, I think, has been greatly enabled by some of the technology solutions that we’re about to talk about.”

  • Digital Marketing and Social Media

Laundry owners now have the cheapest and most effective marketing tools ever available to them, Wallace says. These are things like Google My Business and Google Maps; social media posts and advertising; and websites and other online directories.

“Quite simply, search and social is really where it’s at for getting more customers to your laundry,” he says. “We all know there are listings on Google, Yelp and elsewhere for your business, with you or without you, that may or may not be accurate.

“This would be an encouragement to at least grab the wheel and have some control over what’s happening.”

  • Your Smartphone

The advent of the smartphone has made communicating with employees and customers easier, provided the ability to remotely monitor your store, and housed your favorite apps that make doing business easier, Wallace says.

It’s here to stay, with smartphone ownership passing the 90% mark, even among low-income families. And this means that Wi-Fi access and charging stations in your store have almost become a necessity if you want build your customer base.

  • Full-Service Laundry

More households than ever are looking to outsource the chore of doing laundry, so wash/dry/fold and pickup and delivery services are gaining in popularity. In many cases, those services are powered by on-demand laundry apps and WDF software platforms.

  • New Washers and Dryers

New, larger-capacity models are available for vended and on-premise laundering, Wallace says, and equipment overall offers much greater water and energy savings than it has in the past. “I remember when it was 3 or 4 gallons of water per pound of clothes washed. Those old top loaders just drowned the clothes. Now, we’re down to what — 0.8, 0.7, 0.6 gallon per pound? It’s not like we’ve only improved it 5-10%. These are radical improvements.”

  • Millennial Laundry Owners

As the months and years pass, your new competitors are likely to “digital natives” quick to adopt new technologies and exploit digital marketing opportunities and leverage management tools for better profits, Wallace says. And don’t forget that the majority of Laundromat customers are also millennials.

  • Future of Payments

In an industry that was built on coins, the transformation away from “quarters only” is accelerating, according to Wallace. Consumers are less accustomed to paying with cash, let alone coins, and today’s store owners have lots of payment choices they can offer, including card systems, hybrid systems (accept credit cards, loyalty cards and coins), and mobile wallets. 

  • Corporate Social Responsibility

Today’s consumers want to share values with the companies they do business with every day, so corporations big and small are looking for opportunities to demonstrate they care, for chances to do well by doing good. Your community engagement makes a difference, Wallace says, and supports your digital marketing and social media activities.

  • More Disruption to Come

And out on the fringes lie further disruptive influences like the Internet of Things (IOT), self-cleaning textiles, and waterless wash featuring polymer beads. It’s anybody’s guess if or when they could impact the self-service laundry industry, but they’re out there.

“Doesn’t it kind of make you feel a little uncomfortable, all this change that’s happening around us?” Wallace asks. “Particularly in our business, where we’ve been on ‘auto pilot’ for a long time.”

Meeting with other association executives recently, Wallace says he listened to a speaker talking about change who offered this quote: “The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today.”

Maybe your business isn’t quite ready to adopt the new technology that’s trending today, and that’s OK. But don’t fall too far behind or you’ll have trouble catching up to the speed of advancement.

Brian Wallace at Coin-O-Matic open house

Brian Wallace (standing), president/CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, speaks to attendees of distributor Coin-O-Matic’s Octoberfest open house on the topic of industry disruption. (Photo: Bruce Beggs)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected] .