GLENDALE, Ariz. — Being a new store owner—a “newbie”—is both exciting and scary. A long time ago, I remember being really stoked that I was realizing my dream of “being my own boss.” Optimism and hope were my big feelings back then.
But so was the fear of failing. Did I cover all the bases during the due diligence period? No. Did I miss something that could hurt my chances of success? I missed a few things. Unexpected challenges came up in the beginning. After all, I knew nothing about the business when I started in 1976.
My fear was more motivating to me than my optimism, so I worked very hard not to fail. My optimism helped me come up with creative ideas I thought customers would like.
LEARN FROM MY EXAMPLE
Here are my newbie mistakes, the ones I hope you investors and new store owners can avoid:
Failure to Ask the Other Tenants About a Location You’re Interested In — For my first mat, I only checked with one tenant in the building about the landlord and not much else about the shopping center. That was a big no-no; you’ll be amazed at the stories you’ll hear.
After speaking to a few other storekeepers at the site, you’ll have a better idea whether the landlord is a team player or not. I corrected that mistake when acquiring my other mats.
No Experience Diagnosing/Repairing Laundry Equipment — You need someone who can handle learning how to diagnose and repair the equipment. Even though I always loved mechanical things, and was fairly decent at fixing cars, I knew nothing about commercial laundry machines. Nothing.
Even back in 1976, my distributor offered an occasional class on how to diagnose and fix the machines. I never took a class, but I should have. It would have saved me a lot of aggravation. Turned out that distributor classes back then were the only way to learn.
Nowadays, you can watch how-to videos online. Many are offered by the manufacturers of your equipment, as well as their distributors. There are also some sharp, experienced mat owners offering equipment repairs and mat infrastructure fixes on YouTube.
No Experience Managing a Staff — If you’ve never managed a crew before, make sure you learn how.
As a newbie, my hiring and managing of employees was terrible. I had never hired anyone before, so I had a lot of gaps in the hiring process. I was also poor at screening employees so I ended up with too many bad actors in the beginning. To make matters worse, I didn’t know how to manage my crew to make sure they were happy and productive. I should have simply read a book about hiring and managing people.
Today, the internet offers some good advice just a couple of clicks away.
Failing to Recognize Customer Complaints as Opportunities — When I was new, I took complaints personally instead of trying to learn from the complaint and resolve it.
I thought too much about keeping my machines and employees working and spent too little time thinking about what my customers needed or wanted. I made my own assumptions. Who was I to assume I knew it all?
Customer complaints are usually pure. If a customer is angry, there’s a good reason, and the probability is high that there may be others like them. As I grew older, I learned to look at complaints as opportunities to improve.
Instead of reacting defensively, I realized that all I had to do was listen to the customer to gather information and let them blow off some steam, thank them for giving me the head’s up, correct the issue, and give them a little more than they expected.
This approach turned angry customers into sales reps for my mats. Not only did they get satisfaction—which is hard to find nowadays—giving them a little more than they expected really made a difference. And what did it cost to keep the customer and have him/her tell friends how great my laundromat was? A lot less than sending them away angry and primed to bad-mouth me. Keep the customer who spends $10 a week and you’ll realize $520 for the year, not to mention the positive word-of-mouth.
Cutting Too Many Corners — I cut too many corners when I started. I should have raised more money first. I opened my first mat in December 1976, and it had no heat in the winter. Since I was running out of capital, and saw other mats that didn’t feature heating systems, I didn’t need it. The dryers could supply the heat, I thought. That was a bad choice. There’s only so much that dryers can do. If the winter temperatures dip below 35, everyone will feel cold inside the mat. Customers were leaving their coats on inside, a dead giveaway that I shouldn’t have ignored.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].