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Don't Forget Training (Part 3 of a Series)

Paul Partyka |

There’s always room for improvement, so we asked manufacturers, distributors and operators to weigh in on ways to stimulate business. Sometimes, all it takes is a little fine-tuning to attract customers and increase profitability.DON’T FORGET TRAININGPeople in his area are probably indifferent if you ask for their impression of self-service laundries, says Ralph Carbonell, Soap City Laundromat, Paterson, N.J.“Generally, the area stores are 10 to 15 years old; some of the owners have let things go,” Carbonell says. “People like clean and working machines. A store benefits by having a colorful interior with good seating, nice tiles, etc.” If owners focused on the three C’s (convenience, comfort and clean machines), the industry image would improve greatly, he adds.The No. 1 way to improve the industry is to focus on employee training, Carbonell believes. “People work at other laundries and develop bad habits. Don’t let these things slide. It happened to me. Train everyone well. Even if you have to pay someone a bit more, it’s worth it if you get a good person. You don’t want to lose a customer over 25 cents.”While Carbonell strongly believes in having employees, his hand is forced — “Here, by law, laundries have to have someone on hand. There are no unattended stores.” Even if you could find a way around the law, it would be insane to even try to run an unattended store, he contends.While poor stores may contribute to a negative industry image, Carbonell says the good stores will take customers from the poor stores. The only influence weaker competitors might have involves pricing. “Once you become more than 25 cents higher than a competitor, problems can develop.”If you have enough space, customers would certainly have a better experience if you offered them food or drink, he says. “If I had 500 more square feet, I would offer some fast food, such as hot pretzels.”Air-conditioning also adds to a good experience. “I receive big compliments when I use the air-conditioning full blast.”Owners should be aware of the customer flow. Even if you can’t afford extra washers or dryers, you can speed things up, he says. Carbonell utilizes a PA system, and during busy times announces that clothing will be removed from certain machines if the customers don’t do it. “Customers leave the store to get lunch, pick up their kids and do other errands. But we have customers waiting to use the machines.”Carbonell sees smaller laundries being phased out in the future, and the industry’s image being dictated by a handful of “super” stores. He expects these stores to offer more, and different services, but issues this warning: “If you do too much expanding, no one is happy.”AMENITIES, MARKETING MATTERThe industry image has really turned around in the last decade or so, says Dan Goldman, Wascomat national sales manager. “Stores have made incredible advances, improving the community image from the laundries built as recently as a dozen years ago,” he says. “Landlords who once refused to rent space to a self-service laundry are now contacting us at Wascomat. The old image of a narrow store set up like a bowling alley is being replaced by new stores with glass frontage, power doors, air-conditioning, televisions, children’s play areas, comfortable seating, and bright, clean vending areas.”In terms of improving the industry, Goldman focuses on a particular amenity, and marketing. “The laundries that I rate the highest are the ones that have designated areas for children. In one store in particular, the owner installed video games under each folding table so the child could play while the parent did the folding.”He also urges operators to raise industry awareness through public relations and mailings about how laundries help conserve resources. “Illustrate how industrial front-load washers use substantially less water, gas and electricity. Use a campaign similar to what we are now seeing in urban areas encouraging people to drink tap water as opposed to buying plastic-bottled water.”If an owner wanted Goldman’s personal business, the owner would need washers that filled five times. “Too many store owners are jumping out a rinse or the pre-wash to save cost and time. I hate improperly rinsed-out clothing next to my skin. It’s most uncomfortable.”Looking to draw new customers? “A nice Laundromat is a great meeting place for singles.” He foresees enterprising entrepreneurs encouraging singles to do their laundry at the store on certain nights.DEALERS NEED TO CONTRIBUTEGood dealers help create good stores, says Wayne Finley, Wascomat regional business manager based in Louisiana. “Dealers have to be professional sales makers and not order takers. They have to oversee the installation of the equipment by the subcontractors and even the superintendent on the job. In the end, when everyone leaves the project, the person who bears the brunt of the owner’s needs is the dealer himself.“The second part of the equation is that the dealers have to follow up after the sale and after the install. They have to become professional business managers of their business and the business of their customers.”Finley is impressed with new laundries, yet notices that older stores are often dirty and not kept up.“The image today is much better then when I started in this industry,” he says. “It has to be to attract the investors needed to put in new stores, and be more attractive to customers, because for a new store to succeed, it has to draw in residence dwellers as well as apartment dwellers.” The machines also need to be better than what a customer can purchase, or even what an apartment can offer, he adds.Little things can make a big difference when it comes to improving the laundry experience. He talks about an owner in Laredo, Texas, who runs a special on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The owner gives back 50 cents to the customer for each wash load. “This is a seemingly small marketing ploy, but it works very well for him.”Owners should also focus on ways to get customers out of the store quicker. He cites appropriate folding tables, more comfortable seating, more carts to use, wider aisle space between machines, proper placement of machinery, and card systems. “We have done all that is necessary with the washers and dryers to process clothes, and if we try to shorten cycles or lessen water levels, then we defeat ourselves because the clothes will not be cleaned properly.”Looking ahead, he sees more strip-center laundries as owners attempt to develop a synergy with other businesses. As for extra services, a good laundry, with proper size, management, layout and equipment, doesn’t have to depend on bars, pizza parlors, mailboxes, etc., he adds.Click here for Part 1.Click here for Part 2.Click here for Part 4. 

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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