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Five Things to do for Summer

Mark Benson |

CHICAGO — We’ve just endured a terrible winter in the Chicago area. The days and nights were just a little colder, and the snow just kept coming. It wasn’t about blizzards, it was two, three, four inches here and there seemingly spaced apart just enough to allow you to think it would melt from your lawn before the next pile arrived.The nice days are taking over. I noticed the difference in mid-May when I brought in my own laundry to be done, taking advantage of our drop-off service (some say I’m lazy, I call it “quality control”). It usually takes me three trips to get my clothes back up the stairs into my condo. One trip for the bag, two more for all the stuff on hangers. But this time, there was very little on the hangers, with the light clothes taking over and filling the bag.The warm weather is here, and that marks a big change in the Laundromat business. Lighter clothes equal lighter loads. School’s out, so kids may be in during the morning, making for a slight increase in morning traffic and a slight drop in your evening traffic. People go on vacation. Your numbers fall off, and you find yourself longing for cold weather again.Don’t let this slowdown lull you into a false sense of security, though. There’s a lot that needs to be done.“TEMPER” TANTRUMSTemperature is a big part of creating an atmosphere that will bring those customers back. They’ll be gone for good if it’s too hot or too cold. Make sure your air conditioning is ready. Check/order filters and other parts that you’ll need to have. Test your fans. And most importantly, come up with a policy regarding temperature. Decide what number you want, and hit that number no matter what the weather is outside. Appoint a key employee during each shift to eye that thermostat and ask customers if they’re comfortable.Look for ways to save money. Utilize your doors and windows whenever possible. Open those doors and let a cool breeze in whenever you can. A nice breeze can save you several hours of air conditioning.FIX IT PLEASEGet a little spring cleaning done, especially on the exterior of your building or grounds. This will differ for everyone, but repaint those parking lines, fix those potholes, make sure your outside signage and awnings survived the winter intact, and freshen your paint job, tile or any other building materials. This is as much about repairing the damage of winter as it is preparing for the next one. Plus, using a little elbow grease around the store shows customers that you mean business, that you care about the laundry. They’ll appreciate your effort, let alone your presence. This might lead to a conversation, and they might offer comments on other aspects of your store. If you’re painting out front, they may comment that they saw a spot somewhere else in the store that needs attention. Now, they are taking a direct interest in the store and helping you improve it at the same time. And if that’s the kind of connection they feel when they’re there, then a slightly better price a couple of blocks away isn’t going to be enough to draw them away from your store.EAT, DRINK AND BE PROFITABLE Every store is different, but I’d be willing to bet that the vending habits of your customers change from season to season. Check the sales numbers on specific types of food items in your store. We should all be keeping good vending records, but do you know if the item in C7 is suddenly doing better than the item in C8?  The sales total might be the same overall, but if you look closely you might notice that C7’s sales doubled while C8’s were cut in half. Find these trends and stock your items accordingly. Does warm weather mean you need more water and ice cream? Don’t allow yourself to run out of what is in demand while you stockpile a huge supply of what is not in demand.WHO, WHERE AND WHENDo your staffing needs change during the summer? If you don’t know the answer, then I’d recommend finding out. Whether you plan on changing staffing or if you’re not sure if it’s needed, this change in traffic flow gives you the opportunity to examine your people. Who do you really need year-round? Who is best at cleaning? Who is the best at customer service? Who is the best at doing drop-off work? Does lighter use mean fewer machines for your mechanic to repair? Does the change in traffic flow merit a change in when your shifts start and stop? Answer these questions honestly, but don’t be cold and calculating. If you decide to shrink staff or cut back on hours, that will have consequences and not just on your bottom line. If you have a good employee that is always asking for more hours, think long and hard before you decide to give that person a short shift during the summer. Will she quit? Will she get a job somewhere else that could negatively affect her work for you?We recently had an employee take a second job at another Laundromat several miles away. She wanted more hours and took them. We were unhappy that one of our best was working at another store in her off hours. While the other store wasn’t a threat to us, a couple of things popped up. First, many customers really love how this woman handles their drop-off work. What if our customers follow her to the other store? It’s not like they spend time in our store, so dropping their work off somewhere else at a more convenient time for them might make sense. That’s not convenient for us. Second, she was now dead tired when she showed up to  work here. That’s a problem. After several weeks of this, we gave her more hours in exchange for her quitting the other place. One last thing: If your employees are going to be taking summer vacations, you had better get them to lock in some of those dates early. That way, you can plan your staffing better from the start.SPEAKING OF VACATIONSHave you earned a vacation? If you run a hands-on, on-site management style like we do, then I know you are a) deserving of a vacation, but b) reluctant to leave “your baby” alone for long periods of time. This takes planning, so figure it out now. Bring in someone responsible enough to keep the place afloat while you, well, stay afloat in a boat somewhere. 

About the author

Mark Benson

World's Largest Laundromat

Manager

Mark Benson, manager of the World's Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, Ill., would like to hear any comments you have about the column, as well as any tales you have about the people who patronize your store.

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