CHICAGO — As we come to the end of another year, where do you see your vended laundry operation? Is it improving? Growing worse? About the same?
While anchored in a service that is decades in the making, the coin laundry industry still is subject to influences both internal and external. While the basics of self-service laundry operations are largely unchanged, there are other factors at play when it comes to building your business.
American Coin-Op invited representatives from several manufacturers and distributors to size up the industry today compared to five years ago, to identify opportunities for stores to improve, and to establish the manufacturer’s, distributor’s and store owner’s roles in moving this industry forward. Their responses are being presented in a series of stories here throughout the month of December.
Seated at our virtual roundtable were:
- John Antene, president of coin laundry sales and marketing, distributor Coin-O-Matic
- Joe Frankian, president, distributor D&M Equipment
- Gary Gauthier, national sales manager, vended laundries, manufacturer Pellerin Milnor Corp.
- Kevin Hietpas, director of sales, manufacturer Dexter Laundry
- David Hoffman, sales manager, distributor Gold Coin Laundry Equipment
- Joel Jorgensen, vice president of sales and customer services, manufacturer Continental Girbau
- Bryan Rausch, regional sales manager, manufacturer Whirlpool Corp. Commercial Laundry
- Jim Rosenthal, North American sales manager, manufacturer Speed Queen
- Kathryn Rowen, North American sales manager, manufacturer Huebsch
- Mark Schram, North American sales manager, manufacturer Primus
Q: Let’s break down a vended laundry operation just a bit. For each of these aspects, name at least one way that any store owner can seek improvement, and describe a general plan or course of action to achieve said improvement.
Frankian: By replacing old antiquated machines with modern, energy-efficient washers and dryers. Updating old water heaters with new, high-efficiency systems. Adding multiple vending systems, like credit card and dollar coin acceptance.
Gauthier: Ensure that all machinery is operational. If everything is running, make sure it can stay that way by performing preventative maintenance on a regular schedule.
Hietpas: Make a plan. Like any journey, it starts with knowing where you are, and where you want to go. A store owner needs to understand where they are today — equipment mix and age of that equipment — and then develop a plan on where they want to take their business. If they don’t have a vision of what their store needs, look for help. Get advice from other owners whose opinion they trust, from their local distributor, or simply develop their own ideas based on what they believe will best meet the needs of their customers. At the end of the day, the “winner” in any retail business is the one who offers the best value to their target customers.
When talking with folks about updating equipment, I advise owners to start with what they really want, and get an actual quotation on the cost to do that. With the financing options available today, many owners are surprised to see that they can afford to do what they really want, especially when they also look at the revenue side of the equation and the increased revenue delivered by the equipment they’re adding.
Hoffman: Updating equipment in the store will help lower your utility costs, because the newer equipment is more energy-efficient than the old equipment.
Jorgensen: It doesn’t matter who you are, you can overhaul the structure of your laundry in terms of efficiency, initiating a good preventative maintenance program and updating signage and services, according to demographics and location.
Once that’s shored up, look at replacing old equipment with high-speed and efficient equipment. High-speed washers generating more than 200 G-force will ultimately improve customer turnover, lower laundry completion time, and cut dryer operation and resulting gas consumption.
Choose equipment that saves water and reduces the time it takes for your customers to complete laundry. Invest in an electronic payment system that accepts a variety of payment options and helps you better manage your store remotely! Then market your high-speed store aggressively. You’ll be surprised how business improves!
Rausch: For recently purchased equipment, begin with proper installation. If done the correct way, there should be ample space behind washers and dryers for easy servicing and maintenance, which can assist in keeping long-term machine costs down. In addition, make sure to install dryers on the exterior wall whenever possible. This helps ensure optimal conditions for proper exhaust and make-up air needs.
Rosenthal: Revolutionary equipment with advanced controls provide your customers with many added benefits and provide them with more options when doing their laundry. It’s important to communicate these offerings to your customers. These advanced capabilities will help increase customer satisfaction and increase profits.
For example, multi-level pricing lets the store owner charge different prices for each wash cycle to capitalize on premium selections. Additionally, creating a pricing structure encourages customers to use the equipment in the way that best fits their budget and washing needs. A “heavy soil” program can increase washer revenue by 4-5% and, overall, cycle modifiers can add more than $2,000 in profit per year.
Time-of-day pricing also lets store owners take advantage of peak laundry hours and boost usage during typically slower periods by customizing price settings according to traffic volume.
Rowen: The newest equipment has improved aesthetics, reduced cycle times, and creates more efficient water and utilities usage. Many machines have upgraded options within their controls that can provide incremental revenue and ability to manage maintenance more effectively.
Schram: Updating older equipment with new equipment featuring flexible controls can bring both increased profits and energy efficiencies. As a store owner, being able to adjust water levels can be a major factor in determining water costs. Having controls that can adjust languages, pricing structures, or utilize marketing components can appeal to a larger spectrum of customers.
Antene: No doubt, customers prefer new laundry equipment. For the customer, new laundry equipment cleans clothes better and faster, thus offering them better service. For the store owner, new equipment saves a ton on utility costs. It’s a win-win situation.
Gauthier: Evaluate your store with three important considerations: find a way to make your store cleaner, better-lit and more attractive to customers.
Hietpas: Start by visiting five other laundries in your general area. Rank the stores (including yours) on a 1–6 scale in the following areas: floor, walls, ceiling, lighting, décor, and bathrooms. This simple exercise will give you an opportunity to benchmark the other stores that potential customers moving into your area might try in addition to yours. By ranking your own store among its peers, it should give you a clear idea of where you need to start.
Hoffman: Update and give the store a fresh look every couple of years, with things such as painting, replacing missing or damaged ceiling tiles and, of course, making sure you have the latest energy-efficient lighting. Some local electric companies will offer 50-70% discounts on lighting when you update it.
Rausch: Safety should be the foremost concern. Incorporating numerous large windows and installing bright lights are great first steps in meeting that need. Designing aisles to run parallel to the front of the store allows an unobstructed view and can also assist with the flow of traffic. In addition, keeping 5 to 6 feet between installed product allows ample space for active patrons. Finally, it’s important to implement a regular cleaning schedule to help with overall appearance.
Rosenthal: A Laundromat is a retail business. Therefore, regular upgrades to your store go a long way in providing a superior customer experience and customer loyalty. Every touch point with your store is part of the comprehensive customer experience — cleanliness, equipment, restrooms, atmosphere and customer service. By keeping your Laundromat clean; putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls; adding bright, modern lighting; and providing plenty of comfortable seating, you’ll create an environment that your customers will want to visit more often.
Rowen: Providing a safe, clean environment is simply a ticket to admission for a Laundromat. Although the goal should be to get your customers in and out of the store as quickly and hassle-free as possible, providing an environment that’s inviting and always friendly, with equipment that’s clean and in good working order, is great insurance to keep them coming back.
Schram: Modernization of tired stores is a must to retain loyal customers and reduce utility costs. Aside from new equipment, customer experience is moving to the forefront of why customers choose a specific business with which to interact. Most Laundromat guests have access to smartphones, and have downtime waiting for the completion of their wash. Offering technology like wireless Internet can bring new customers into the storefront. Put another way, not offering free Wi-Fi may create a perception that your store is out of touch and may cause some consumers to go elsewhere.
Antene: Customer experience is more essential today than ever. Customers gravitate to Laundromats where they feel safe and get their laundry completed quickly. Make sure your business is bright and clean, with all laundry equipment in working order.
Frankian: Making the Laundromat more modern. Adding LED lighting and largescreen televisions. Replacing old folding tables and seating units, and floors if needed. Adding security cameras. Having new changers and bill breakers. Ensuring restrooms are clean and well-stocked. Adding Wi-Fi. Making sure all the washers and dryers are wiped down and clean at all times of the day and night. I see too many Laundromats that are run-down, old and very tired-looking.
Coming Tuesday: Seeking and planning for improvement where marketing/promotions and customer relations are concerned
If you missed the series opener on industry assessment, you can read it HERE.