How NOT to Succeed in the Laundry Business

Stephen M. Bean |

Yes, it would have been more traditional to title this piece, “How to SUCCEED in the Laundry Business.” I went with the unorthodox approach because it’s more dramatic, and will, in my opinion, garner much more attention.I believe that there are essentially five basic fundamentals that motivate humans: fear, greed, guilt, exclusivity, and the need for approval. I rank “fear” as one of the all-time best attention-grabbers. No owner wants to fail in business. Never underestimate the fear factor!Now that I have your attention, and your heart is pounding and your palms are a bit sweaty, let’s get into the different ways one can fail in the self-service laundry business.I have a favorite saying: “I bet on the jockey and not the horse.” The jockey wins the race, and the horse is merely the vehicle that gives him or her the chance to do so. My second favorite saying is, “Having a gun does not make you a gunslinger.” You have to know how to use the gun.The main point is that the mere establishment, existence or purchase of a laundry business doesn’t guarantee its success. You would be surprised at the number of small-business owners (and prospective owners) whom I consult that simply don’t understand this basic concept. These owners aren’t good jockeys or proficient gunslingers. They don’t practice the right business fundamentals on a daily basis.So, let’s make it simple. Here’s my step-by-step formula for failure. It’s guaranteed to work for laundry owners every time.

  • Be sure to structure your laundry so that the customers have to work harder than you. Set your hours of operation around your schedule, not the schedules of your customers. There is no reason to be open late. Close early on Sundays. Remember, it’s all about your schedule. You have a life, too!
  • It’s not a problem if your attendants go out of their way to be unfriendly. They don’t have to be helpful. Give them a break. Attendants should be allowed to lean against the wall and use their cell phones to chat with friends. If they can lean, they can certainly clean — if directed to do so.
  • Cleanliness is overrated. A dirty laundry isn’t the end of the world. Who’s got time to keep things clean when all those people are running around? Don’t forget to post a sign in your store saying, “No Children Allowed.”
  • Make sure that your snack and drink machines are never full. Make sure they carry your favorite items, even if the customers have no interest in them. For example, if you like Clark bars, keep a few slots in the vender filled with them. Customers can learn to love them. Selling these items isn’t the most important thing, is it?
  • Make sure that a number of your machines are always out of order. No one is perfect. When this happens, just tape a dirty piece of paper on the machine that reads “O/O.” Customers will figure out what that means — especially if they see it often enough.
  • You don’t have to respect your customers. It’s not against the law to take them for granted. Heck, where are they going to go? They live in the neighborhood. Don’t they have to use your laundry? Also, poor or improper internal signage is not a big deal. Customers will eventually figure out what to do.
  • Don’t get all caught up with money and records. It’s all cash, isn’t it? If you need some, just take it. It’s yours, isn’t it? Some bills can wait, if need be.
  • Pay no attention to marketing. People will find your laundry on their own. Skip any customer incentives. After all, nature creates dirty laundry, and folks will keep using your machines, no matter what.
  • Don’t put up with anything. Argue with customers over minor matters. They will love the battle. Their viewpoint doesn’t matter. It’s your store, and you can run it the way you want to run it.
  • A bill-to-bill changer isn’t needed. If a customer has a large bill, let him/her go to a nearby bank. They don’t mind driving around in bad weather to get a chance to use your store.
  • Limit the use of your air conditioner, and don’t forget to keep it cold in the winter. The cold is invigorating; it keeps people alert. Plus, it costs money to heat and air-condition. In the summer, keep the doors open. A few bugs flying around won’t scare anyone off. In the winter, if people do become uncomfortable, they can always huddle near the machines to keep warm.
  • Never remodel or refurbish your store. Don’t replace or add machines. If it worked fine 20 years ago, it should work fine now. The retro look is hot!

While some might have additional suggestions, these are the essential ingredients in the formula for failure. Do any of them hit home? I can assure you that if you incorporate all or part of them in your operation, failure is right around the corner.The main message is that it’s all about you and how you operate your store. Attitude is critical. Install a mirror in your office and consult it daily to ask about and see your managerial flaws.Be proactive, not reactive. If you make things happen, they will likely happen for you. If you watch things happen, they will likely happen to you.I have been asked many times what the key is for success in the self-service laundry business. I say, “There are five things. First, always do the fundamentally right things all of the time. I’ve forgotten the other four.”If you are failing in some areas, reverse your direction. Success is a function of the sum of all your choices. You can make the correct choices.Having a successful business is a wonderful and satisfying experience. Being totally honest about yourself and your operating methods will be extremely important in getting you to the right destination. Strive to have a great store — one that’s loaded with extras. I guarantee that when you reach that status and someone asks how you’re feeling, your response will be, “I feel so good, I’d pay a hundred bucks for a headache!” 

About the author

Stephen M. Bean

Universal Coin Laundry Machinery

Machinery Distributor

Stephen M. Bean is a machinery distributor, self-service laundry owner, and marketing consultant. Bean also has a master’s degree in clinical psychology. If you have any comments, contact him at 248-435-6200.


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