MIAMI — When a competitor opened its doors within a mile of my Laundromat, 2018 became a challenging year — very quickly.

Knowing that customers are price-sensitive, one obvious answer might be to lower prices. Yet, it’s a short-term solution and one that could trigger a price war, decreasing revenue even further. More important, it could hinder the opportunity to try new ideas.

One of the marketing basics is understanding customers’ needs and wants and then delivering the products and services better than the competition can. Going back to basics seemed to be the right approach, and it starts with learning more about the customer base.

SIMPLE SURVEYS AND CONVERSATIONS

About 80% of my customers live within a 1-mile radius of the two Laundromats affected by the new competitor. Proximity is important. This being the case, faces become familiar, and it’s easy to learn a lot from customers directly and through store personnel, simply by engaging them in friendly conversation.

Another tool that I use to learn more about customers’ needs and wants is a simple paper survey. The Laundromat affords a captive audience — they have time. Typically, if the survey is not too long or complicated (one page), customers don’t mind taking a few minutes to fill it out, especially if you present it by telling them the goal is to make their visit to the laundry more enjoyable.

Alternatively, you can ask the questions yourself and then fill in the answers. It doesn’t have to be scientific, nor does it take long to start seeing some trends.

Capturing simple and directional information from customers can be used in two ways. The first is it allows insights to make the environment and experience in the Laundromat more comfortable and convenient. The details matter, with facility cleanliness being the most important. The second is the establishment of a database that can be leveraged for future marketing purposes and, of course, ideas that just might make your store the preferred Laundromat.

TOP THREE AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT AND NEW IDEAS

1. Enhancing Comfort

One thing I learned from my retail experience in women’s fashion is that little details matter. They can all affect a customer’s comfort level with your Laundromat. The surveys easily uncovered what’s most important to customers and—no surprise—cleanliness is at the top.

Cleanliness covers a lot of ground, starting with the floor. It also covers the folding counters, the restrooms (if you have them), restroom upkeep, the garbage cans, surfaces of the machines and windows, the seating, the condition and cleanliness of the vending machines, and much more. Just about everything you see in your Laundromat has a surface — and it needs to be clean and sanitary, every day, throughout the day.

What about when people are waiting? There’s a lot of downtime. Most of my customers turn to their phones for information and entertainment while they wait, so Wi-Fi is a given. Comfortable chairs and adequate lighting are also important.

Another Laundromat element that I categorize under “comfort” is the quality and features of the washers and dryers. Part of comfort includes not having to be at the Laundromat longer than necessary, no matter how comfortable. Customers want faster and better results. Good-quality machines make a difference to customers, and they do notice.

Check back Thursday for the other two areas, and the conclusion!