PEMBROKE, Mass. — Are my sales up or down? It’s a question you must ask yourself frequently, perhaps every month, quarter, or at least every year. Then your answer will lead to another question. Why are my sales up or down?
Take some time, sit down at your desk—with all of your laundry’s business information at your fingertips—and, using a pad of paper, come up with your best guess for a detailed explanation.
In American Coin-Op studies over the last few years, approximately 35% to 40% of Laundromats have not seen sales increases from the prior year. I include flattened sales in this “failure” category, because no increase means you are behind from where you were a year ago. So, two out of every five coin laundry owners have a lot of figuring out to do.
LOSING TO THE COMPETITION
Are you losing business to a competitor? This is a serious problem. It means you have disappointed customers enough that they sought other alternatives. Customers tend to stick to patterns, so forcing someone to say, “I don’t like this Laundromat. I can do better elsewhere,” means you haven’t worked to keep customers satisfied.
Can you remember specific incidents? Did a customer complain about a dryer breaking down and walk out? Have you heard grumbles about high prices? Did a mother say to her child, “Don’t sit on the floor, it’s dirty”? Did you catch someone swearing over a TV that wouldn’t work? Do people complain that they have to walk far because there’s not enough parking nearby?
Did you lose customers when a brand-spanking-new store opened up in town? If that is the case, it is not surprising that you lost business. Everyone likes to try a new shop. Then you must ask yourself why you enabled a new shop to move in. If you are a strong competitor, it would not have entered your market.
Has the neighborhood changed? Subtle changes could be signaling increasing violence, less public-sector maintenance (poor garbage pickup, lack of parking policing), middle-class migration to other neighborhoods, and loss of magnet stores. If a nearby supermarket closed and moved across town, that would be one reason for lower patronage.
EMPLOYEE TURNOVER AND POPULATION CHANGES
Have you had employee turnover? Has a long-time employee, who knew everyone who walked through the door, quit and joined a rival operation? Have you had a revolving door of night staffers, making that time slot less inefficient? Have you had trouble personally maintaining visibility in the store? Does your store seem to lack a human presence?
Are you having difficulty maintaining your part of your management obligations? Are you getting in at 5 every night to collect the revenue, to respond to customers, and to handle any problems? Are you withdrawing from your customers, preferring to remain anonymous? Do you have the energy to monitor your employees so they are doing their jobs as thoroughly as possible? Are you keeping up with machine maintenance, so there’s a low breakdown rate, or are you letting things slide?
Has traffic flow—both vehicle and pedestrian—changed? Has a new roadway altered the traffic by your store? Are people walking by in fewer numbers because an incident of violence on the street has given the area a bad name? Perhaps a new highway has opened up, and an access road makes it easier for people to bypass you. Has sidewalk construction obscured your store? All of these are reasonable possibilities for seeing less traffic.
Of course, populations are always evolving. People die, people move away, people change their situations. A trickle of this lost business is to be expected every year. But it should be replaced by new residents, new Laundromat users. If it hasn’t, is the trickle going somewhere else? On the face of it all, you would think sales would remain stable.
Is there anything you can do to counteract these conditions? In the case of customer complaints, you could come up with a procedure to respond immediately to complaints and to offer a coupon to sooth sensitive nerves. Perhaps the answer is putting up a large sign that reads, “Have a Complaint? See the Boss. I Will Give You a Complete Refund.”
In the case of a competing store opening, you can create a blitz of promotionals to maintain your customer base and win new patronage. You might be operating at a lower margin for a while, but it will be worth it if you achieve a net increase in business.
Think of other approaches. Offer coupons to make your shop more competitive with a new store. Start pickup and delivery service to maintain your customer base. Investigate and discover what a competitor cannot do as well as you and use that information to regain customers.
In the case of a changing neighborhood, one thought is to move. If the neighborhood is deteriorating quickly, you may have no other choice.
Another alternative is to install more exterior and interior lighting and to staff your store every hour that it is open. Put up a sandwich board sign in front of your store that reads, “This Area is Safe Because We Patrol It.” Find extra parking spaces for customers. You could figure out a way so that staffers don’t have to park in back.
In the case of a member of the staff slacking off, can you rekindle their old fire? Say to yourself, “If I don’t change, this will be a doomed enterprise. Everything I’ve worked to build in the last dozen years will be wiped out.”
Changing traffic patterns are more difficult to combat. You could periodically hire a clown (dressed as a washer woman) to stand in front of your store with a sign that reads, “We Clean Your Clothes to Look Like New.” Or, you could insert circulars under windshields in the local supermarket parking lot to advertise your service.
Do you see how asking how your sales are can really make you stop and think?