CHICAGO — With large-capacity washers and dryers more common in today’s coin laundries, offering some type of commercial service seems to make more sense than ever before.
But taking on commercial accounts is a much different animal than running a vended laundry. There are staffing and equipment issues to consider, contract and billing matters to attend to, and you can’t sit back and wait for customers to come to you.
IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES THAT MAKE SENSE
Someone new to commercial work might think the best approach would be to seek out any and all accounts. And while there are a variety of businesses that can benefit from hiring a laundry service, the distributors believe that a focused approach would serve you best.
“The biggest accounts out there that I see coin laundries being able to go after are on the lower end,” says Andy Wray, sales manager for ACE Commercial Laundry Equipment, a full-service commercial laundry distributor headquartered in Westminster, Calif. “We’d be looking at schools, barber shops and beauty salons, day spas, things like that. Basically towels or limited items.”
Doctors’ offices and physical therapists are other potential clients, says John Sugg, president/CEO of SAMCO, a Fayetteville, Ga.-based commercial laundry distributor serving the coin laundry, multi-housing, hotel, education and healthcare markets.
“Start off by concentrating on one type of commercial business,” he says. “People that we’ve seen be successful have keyed in on these segments. Or they will key on beauty and barber shops and just do towels.
“You can expand beyond your base, but it’s always best to identify the market you’re going after.”
You never know where opportunities may come from. Sugg recounted how a Birmingham, Ala., laundry owner solicited subcontractors staying in the area as they worked to rebuild tornado-torn Tuscaloosa 40 miles away. At its peak, the laundry was turning out about 1,200 pounds of wash-and-fold business a day.
“You can crank out pretty good business if you have the people to do it,” he says.
Some laundries have hired additional staff to work on their commercial accounts overnight, Wray says.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR OPPORTUNITIES
It’s not unusual for a coin laundry owner to do some marketing—store signage, ads in the Yellow Pages and the local newspaper, direct mail, etc.—but making a go at offering commercial service means taking things to a whole new level.
One of Sugg’s customers has had success by setting up a website, running specials, and accumulating the e-mail addresses of potential customers. Another customer takes a personal approach, traveling to potential clients to introduce her business to them.
“You’ve got to market it,” he says. “You can’t just hang a sign and expect people to come to you.”
“A lot of these people, just like in our industry, know each other,” Wray says of potential commercial accounts. “As long as you get in with one account, whether it be a small hotel, a day spa or something of that nature, you might do a great job for them. Word of mouth, as you know, is the best advertisement.”
Once you have landed a client, it’s important to provide them with consistent service, Sugg says.
“If you’re doing towels and you quad fold one week and the next week you roll them, that’s unacceptable to most people. Every towel should look the same every week.”
Deadlines drive commercial service. If you start offering the service but can’t deliver on time, then you’ve got problems.
“The biggest thing would be starting off slow, obtaining accounts, the pickup and delivery of the product, and not biting off more than you can chew,” Wray says.
“I’m not saying you can’t do a lot of volume. You could have 10 or 15 salons you do.”
Whatever decisions you make regarding offering commercial service, be mindful of how they may impact your self-service business, Sugg says.
“You don’t ever want to discourage your paying customers that are coming in the door. That should always be the main thrust of your business.”