CHICAGO — Believe it or not, the new year has arrived. How do you plan to improve your laundry in 2008?If you feel guilty about not having any New Year’s resolutions, now is the time to do something about that.I have 10 ways you can improve your laundry. I started the ball rolling in my last column with five suggestions. If your memory is a bit foggy, here’s a brief recap:• Do a customer survey. Ask whatever you’d like to know. Don’t just read the results, react to them.• Add a service. This can be anything from adding free coffee for your customers to a drop-off or delivery service. Something new tells your customers that you’re here, you care and you’re trying to give them a better place to spend their time.• Upgrade the things your employees use. I believe that a fundamental part of my job is enabling my employees to do their jobs well. Ask them what they need, and supply the necessary brooms, mops, vacuums, etc.• Update your signage. Whether you do something new or not, update your signage, especially outside your building. There is no shortage of laundries, so you need to find little ways to stand out.• Fix that problem. You know the one. The one you walk by every day and tell yourself that it will get done eventually. Customers notice this stuff. They also notice you fixing it.Here are five more things to think about. It’s time to get busy.GET THAT MESSAGE OUTStart a marketing/advertising campaign. This relates to your customer survey that you’re going to do, right? Find out how people heard about your business. Signs, newspaper ads, word of mouth, radio ads, etc.Review your advertising budget and strategies. If a particular area of advertising is expensive and you can’t account for its value to you, then consider giving it the boot. Every area is different, but we’ve found little to no value in our radio efforts and our newspaper advertising isn’t much better. Our business is growing, though. So that tells me that those dollars are being returned in the form of quarters. Take a hard look at those numbers and trim, trim, trim.If you have no marketing or advertising campaign right now, then consider adding certain pieces. Put coupons in a newspaper ad and see if any of them come back. Drive your turf, where you want your customers to come from, and look for dense areas to hit with direct mail. Then, watch your bottom line and see if the needle moves. Your outside signage is a part of this, too.Simply, if you have an ad plan, review it for value. If you don’t have a plan, start slowly.YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FORLook at what you’re paying your employees. Be honest, now. Are they getting a fair amount? You know they raised the minimum wage, right?I’m not necessarily talking about giving everyone a pay raise. But key in on, appropriately, your key employees — the ones who really make your place run when you’re not around. Think of their value to you and your operation. Think of the changes, repairs, upgrades and new services you might want to offer. Could you do these without certain employees?If the answer is no, then consider a pay raise — by far the best way to let someone know you appreciate their work. A birthday card is good, a good hourly rate or salary is better.NEW YEAR, NEW PRICES?If you’re unsure about your prices, then you’d better hit the street and see what your competitors are charging. You don’t want to be a bargain and you don’t want to be a rip-off, so if your competition has raised prices, that’s your green light.STRIVE FOR EFFICIENCYAmerican Coin-Op has done some great reporting on energy issues, and you should take note if you haven’t already. Energy costs can be the dragon that burns your bottom line. If your plan is to watch CNBC every day and see what the markets are doing, then, well, you’ve already lost.I’m about to use my least favorite word in the entire English language. It’s a word that means absolutely nothing, and is always redundant when used. But I’m going to use it here because everyone will know what I’m talking about. Here it is: proactive.It hurts to type that. It hurts.But that’s what you have to be on energy. Slay the dragon or it will char you. There may have been a time when solar power and efficient lighting were considered novelty acts. That time is gone. These types of “green” and efficient energy moves are a requirement today, and the technology is such that you can count on it day in and day out, sun up and sun down.We utilize 36 solar panels here to heat the water for our washers. We save thousands. We just updated our lighting system, going from fixtures with three bulbs to two while brightening the room and saving money.Get the idea that these efforts are novelties out of your head before it’s too late. Sure, there’s an upfront cost with any type of new equipment, but the payback is terrific.Stop wondering about these technologies and start investing in your business’ future. Don’t let international energy markets and hedge fund traders play with your bottom line.TAKE CHARGEBe an on-site manager for a week. Managers present at their stores during regular business hours — 9 to 5, five days a week — are few and far between. That is, however, what I do here. And it is what my father did before I joined and took over those duties. If all you do is stop in, fill changers, make change and do a lap around the floor, then I’m sorry, but you have no idea what actually happens at your store.Sure, you know what money is coming in and going out, and the hours of your employees, but you don’t really know what happens at the laundry every day. You don’t know all the challenges your employees face with customers, equipment and each other.If you resolve to improve your store in 2008, then you had better start by getting to know exactly what happens at your store every day. You filled a changer at 5:00, but you didn’t see or hear the angry customer when he/she didn’t get his change at 3:00. You didn’t see the uncertainty in your employee as she tried to figure out if the person was shortchanged or just trying to get something extra. And you didn’t see the angry customer take their laundry bags and go when they got the impression your employee may have been pseudo-charging them with lying.You don’t even realize there’s a problem with your walkway unless you see the lady dump her cart as the wheel gets caught in a crack on the ground.And you certainly had no idea that your employees like to mop with one hand and talk on their cell phones with the other.Get in there, let your customers and employees see that you really care...and that you’re watching.I hope your New Year gets off to a great start.Send your comments and customer stories to [email protected].