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Improving the Industry Roundtable: Equipment and Store Condition

Keeping machines running, offering variety of capacities seen as keys

CHICAGO — With the last calendar page flipping to reveal another year has passed, how would you rate your self-service laundry operation? Do you think it has improved, has gotten worse, or is about the same?

The self-service laundry industry, while well-established, is still subject to internal and external influences. The basics of your laundry operations are largely unchanged but there are factors at play when it comes to building your business.

American Coin-Op invited representatives from several manufacturers and distributors, along with some store owners, 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.

Q: I’ve identified some key aspects of a self-service laundry operation. For each one, name at least one way that any store owner can seek improvement, and suggest a general plan or course of action to achieve it. First up is equipment.

Kurt ArcherSales RepresentativeWestern State Design

Equipment is the most controversial discretionary area in our business. Ask 10 experts and you will get 10 opinions, usually stated as fact. All brands will wash clothes if maintained well. The amount, type and frequency of repairs is what separates reliable from problematic equipment. As an owner we pay for our equipment and the ground it sits on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An out-of-order machine doesn’t just not make money, it loses money in space wasted. Worse is a machine that fails during use. This breaks customer trust and creates animosity in your customers.

In addition to keeping all equipment in working order, the best way to keep and/or gain market share and profitability is plenty of large washers. Today’s large washers are efficient and produce more revenue per square foot at a lower utility cost than older and/or small washers. A ready supply of large-capacity machines, even on busy days, will assure customers with piles of dirty clothes don’t drive past your business for elsewhere.

Brian BrunckhorstMulti-store owner based in California

It used to be that running equipment for 15 to 20 years between retooling was the norm. My recommendation would be to consider upgrading if your equipment is over 8 to 10 years old. The increase in revenue and reduction in utilities will almost always far exceed the cost of the payments for the retool, and most lenders will be glad to loan you 100% of the money.

Michael FinkelsteinMulti-store owner based in Virginia

If you look at improving the product mix offered in the store to reflect what your customers want. Have enough machines for single folks or bigger machines for families. … I would also say to do the regular preventative maintenance to ensure that those machines are operating efficiently and effectively.

Connor FrankianVice President of SalesD&M Equipment

You have to think of every machine in your store as a tenant paying you rent based on its footprint. The larger-capacity machines will generate far more “rent” for the footprint than smaller washers. Not to mention it is just a modern necessity for stores to offer high-capacity machines to appeal to the clientele whose only reason to not do laundry at home is to be able to wash amounts and particular items they cannot at their home or in their building’s laundry room.

Gary GauthierNational Sales Manager, Vended LaundriesPellerin Milnor Corp.

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.

Kevin HietpasDirector of SalesDexter Laundry

Owners should plan to upgrade equipment where needed and also be looking to add capacity as time goes by. New equipment is not only more efficient than older equipment, but by updating with newer and larger-capacity models, owners can improve the revenue generation potential of their business. This is especially important for older locations that might not have been updated in a number of years.

Chad LangeSales DirectorMaytag Commercial Laundry

The condition of equipment, a store’s most critical asset, can potentially make or break an operation. It affects almost every facet of the business, including utility costs, store appearance, and the ability to track key operational data and customer retention. Deciding to update equipment is not always easy due to the upfront expense, but using the latest machines can have a lasting impact and potentially drive profits in the long term. It can help reduce monthly utility bills, enable remote management with the latest technology, help improve the aesthetic look of the store, elevate the customer experience and promote customer satisfaction.

Cathy NeilleyStore owner based in New Jersey

Conduct a survey of manufacturers’ models and impact on water and utility costs, then consider upgrading over several years, if possible.

Kathryn RowenNorth American Sales ManagerHuebsch

Equipment must always be operating, clean and energy-efficient. These are non-negotiable. The “lost opportunity” cost of having an out-of-order sign is far higher than the repair cost.

Tod SorensenRegional Sales ManagerContinental GirbauVice PresidentContinental Girbau West

When it’s time to replace washers, choose high-speed soft-mount washers over lower-speed hard-mount washers. Soft-mount washers generate extract speeds up to 400-plus G-force compared with hard-mounts that generate 75-200 G-force. Because of the higher extract speeds, soft-mount washers remove considerably more moisture/water from a load. They can cut drying time by up to 50% over a hard-mount washer.

Brad SteinbergCo-PresidentPWS – The Laundry Company

Customers like new equipment. This allows store owners to get a higher vend price, as well as save on utilities and repairs with more efficient equipment.

Andy WraySales ManagerACE Commercial Laundry Equipment

Given water-bill-sensitive locations, older equipment is now the equivalent of a “gas guzzler” vehicle. We need to be using “hybrids” all over the coin laundry industry to make money by reducing costs. Remember, we are often just a utility broker selling water, gas and electricity to our customers.

John AntenePresident of Coin Laundry Sales and MarketingCoin-O-Matic

As our daily lives grow increasingly more hectic, owners are aggressively seeking to ease the way of managing their businesses. With today’s more advanced laundry equipment and control systems, the owners are gaining a better grasp of all aspects of their operation: costs, revenue and customer following.

Q: Now, how can a store owner seek improvement where store condition is concerned?

Brunckhorst: I recommend LED lighting! LED lighting makes your store pop. Clothes and everything else look cleaner under bright light, and the savings in utilities will pay for LED lighting within a couple of years.

Finkelstein: By making sure the store is well-lit and clean. Painting the store will also make a difference.

Frankian: The key aspect that always must be considered … is the understanding that people are coming to your store to clean their belongings. Therefore, the environment when people come to wash at your store should always feel clean, and comfortable. Not everyone is in a position to have a fully modernized, styled store, but whether your store has outdated styling or state-of-art styling, if your store does not give your customers a clean and sterile perception, they will feel more comfortable doing their laundry somewhere that is, even if they have inferior equipment or whatever else your store may have that they don’t. Cleanliness is key for any self-service laundry experience.

Gauthier: Evaluate your store with three important considerations — find a way to make your store 1) cleaner, 2) better-lit and 3) more attractive to customers.

Hietpas: At least every few months, store owners should look at their operation with a very critical eye from top to bottom (ceiling to floor), and think about which areas need attention: lighting, walls (colors or condition), bulkheads, equipment, floors, etc. Reinvestment, refurbishment and updating are a part of the lifecycle of any business. If an owner sees weakness in the condition of their store, it’s likely that potential competitors will see that weakness as well. The best way to discourage potential competition is to make certain that they know that you are not going to make it easy for them to appeal to your customers.

Lange: A store’s condition — from its overall cleanliness to specific components like lighting, equipment, and aesthetic look and feel — is an important consideration for a successful vended laundry. Priority one in this area for owners should be making sure that customers feel safe and comfortable in their stores. Judicious use of lighting — both natural and artificial — can go a long way to making customers feel safe. A good distributor partner can also offer advice about best practices related to installation, spacing and maintenance to aid in the improved condition of a store.

Improving the condition of a store affects more than just customer acquisition and loyalty. Items like updated machines typically perform more consistently and effectively. Don’t underestimate the impact preventative equipment care and maintenance can have on an operation! Clean, functional machines can help reduce downtime and help improve customer satisfaction — a win-win for everyone.

Neilley: Keep it clean: Ask other local businesses if they can recommend someone and get estimates on a schedule that fits your budget.

Rowen: Owners must focus on the goals of clean, inviting, well-lit, safe, and well-kept restrooms. To ensure these goals are achieved, they must have attendants as committed to this experience as they are.

Sorensen: (It should be) light, clean, safe and operational. Ensure your store is brightly lit, fully attended and secure. When machines are failing, fix or replace them immediately. Use expanded security systems to monitor both the inside and outside of the laundry.

Steinberg: Customers expect more amenities than in years past. Follow the trend of chain fast food restaurants. There is a reason they are always spending money on store enhancements. Customer tastes are always changing and retailers need to stay on top of this.

Wray: Beautifying a coin laundry can be the most overlooked aspect when “all of the equipment is running right.” From polished concrete floors to LED light fixtures, there is always something that can be done in a coin laundry to keep it looking fresh and modern. New owners are adding large-panel TV screens, more seating, tablet kiosks, as well as “raising the roof” for a large warehouse look.

Antene: As we all know, the standards are clean, well-lit, equipment is in working order, etc. The layout and ease of the store’s features are factors. How well does your laundry work with the demographics? How comfortable are your customers in your laundry? Are the amenities inviting? What makes your laundry unique and keeps customers coming back?

Archer: Store condition includes maintenance but goes further. Cleanliness, lighting, and cameras for customer safety all play a large role. Many customers are women with children. A clean, safe environment means more business. Owners should walk into their business and imagine it is their first time entering. Would I recommend this store to someone I care about? If the answer is no, develop a plan to cure the issues.

Coming up on Tuesday: Seeking improvement in marketing and customer relations