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Improving the Industry Roundtable: Marketing and Customer Relations

Experts share views on ways to keep winning over customers

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 today is marketing and promotions.

Michael Finkelstein

Michael FinkelsteinMulti-store owner based in Virginia

(Loyalty programs) seem to have helped (with attracting) customers. Also, making things easy as far as payment options, whether it’s credit, debit, phone, cash, all of the above.

Connor Frankian

Connor FrankianVice President of SalesD&M Equipment

Using social media platforms, it’s simple, easy to operate and, most importantly, it costs you nothing. Make sure to have your business on Facebook as a first priority, and the other platforms as added bonuses. The more ways you can connect with your customers, the better, and with the simple fact that these platforms cost you nothing to use, it’s a no-brainer for any operator no matter how large or small you are.

Gary Gauthier

Gary GauthierNational Sales Manager, Vended LaundriesPellerin Milnor Corp.

Develop or enhance your online profile and reward your customers for reviewing your store on Yelp or other sites.

Kevin Hietpas

Kevin HietpasDirector of SalesDexter Laundry

From equipment with new revenue-generating capabilities to an increasing selection of advertising and social media options, store owners have more promotional possibilities available to them than ever before. Whether owners want to engage in a new social media campaign, offer new mid-week pricing specials, or offer customers a new and easier way to pay for their cycle, the key is for them to understand the options that are available and to never take their customers for granted. Owners need to think about not just appealing to new customers, but to also find ways to show appreciation to existing customers as well.

Chad Lange

Chad LangeSales DirectorMaytag Commercial Laundry

Finding ways to promote your store’s offerings can really help boost store traffic and increase customer loyalty. Owners should find the tactics that, for them, are achievable from a time and budget perspective.

One priority might be establishing a website presence that can be easily found by search engines. This can be important, as the internet is often the first place a customer turns when looking for services.

Understanding who your typical customer is, or could be, can help determine appropriate marketing tactics like digital advertising, outdoor advertising, and in-store promotions. Look to your distributor, as they may be able to help hone in on your customer demographic profile.

Once customers are in-store, promoting available amenities, special pricing, or promotions can also be helpful to ensure customer experience is positive. Finally, developing mechanisms for customer feedback such as suggestion boxes can also help owners determine what store benefits and offerings are working, so they can reinvest in successful activities.

Cathy Neilley

Cathy NeilleyStore owner based in New Jersey

Consider social media or, if you already have a site, consider a blog or adding pictures weekly. Schedule time that will force you to do it, or put out an ad for a high school or college-age individual to manage it for you.

Kathryn Rowen

Kathryn RowenNorth American Sales ManagerHuebsch

We live in a rewards-based society. As consumers, we are always seeking loyalty points. They lead us to select a preferred airline, hotel or even where we get our coffee. Laundries that leverage technology and CRM systems to build rewards programs are better positioned for success in marketing. The CRM also enables them to tailor promotions to specific individuals. When we feel valued as consumers and rewarded for our loyalty, it only builds a stronger bond.

Tod Sorensen

Tod SorensenRegional Sales ManagerContinental GirbauVice PresidentContinental Girbau West

Some of the best marketing ties in with a laundry’s alternative payment system. Use that system to your advantage to get customers into your laundry during slow times. Help offset busy weekend hours by providing wash and dry discounts mid-week.

Brad Steinberg

Brad SteinbergCo-PresidentPWS – The Laundry Company

There has been a large move to digital marketing. This type of marketing can be more cost-effective than traditional print/mailer advertising. A website, Facebook (page) and ownership of Yelp page are what need to be done at a minimum.

Andy Wray

Andy WraySales ManagerACE Commercial Laundry Equipment

Growing your coin laundry business other than through traditional “word of mouth” can be difficult, but in today’s age, Yelp, Yahoo/Google Business, and other digital marketing can be useful ways to grab a customer’s eye when they are searching for a Laundromat location. A high number of customers are using their smartphone to locate and quite possibly order laundry service to them.

John Antene

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

With today’s social media, your laundry has a far more reaching tool than just 10 years ago. There are many resources for you to gain market share; an operator should realize the benefits and tools available and tailor their marketing and business-building efforts to their unique needs.

Kurt Archer

Kurt ArcherSales RepresentativeWestern State Design

Current technologies in modern equipment and systems allow owners minute-to-minute knowledge of customer usage. Available now are simple methods to do time-of-day or day-of-week promotions to drive business to underutilized times. “Super Wash” or bonus washes allow increased revenue at minimal cost.

Brian Brunckhorst

Brian BrunckhorstMulti-store owner based in California

Having a social media presence these days is a must and the biggest platform is Facebook. Consider targeting your customers through online ads, and if the store is attended, reward them for their feedback. A great strategy is to run a contest for the most “Liked” wash video posted to your Facebook page. Have fun with it and get customers involved.

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

Frankian: Generally, when someone is going to research your business the first time, they are going to find it on Google. That is why managing your Google reviews is a must for modern customer relations. Take the time to respond to your reviews. If you have negative reviews, those are the most important ones to address. If you take the time to respond to someone’s negative experience, it shows responsibility, and is the best way to prevent potential new customers from being deterred from doing business with you. These reviews also might make you aware of internal problems you did not even know you had.

Gauthier: Give your customers another way to reach out to you — either posting contact details for you and your staff or building relationships with them via Facebook or other online sources.

Hietpas: Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Vended laundry customers want to do their laundry in a clean, safe environment that good store owners deliver. The most successful laundries keep their equipment clean and in good working order. The location tends to be well-lit, with an owner or employees who are visible on a regular basis. That helps build trust and respect amongst the customers.

Lange: Ensuring that customers feel valued is critical to customer retention and growth. Industry research shows that customers are increasingly looking for amenities like free Wi-Fi, vending, and wash/dry/fold services. Consider looking at these services as an investment in customer satisfaction.

Providing customers with things like flexible payment options, such as card readers, can help increase customer satisfaction by helping to provide a more convenient laundry experience, but also can provide data on how an operation is performing.

Neilley: Set clear policies for refunds, credits, use of bathroom and equipment use so there is no need to negotiate or argue with a customer. Write an employee pamphlet/handbook, and post signs for customers on key safety and usage points.

Rowen: Staff is hugely important to delivering a higher-level customer experience. They are as much a part of the laundry’s brand as the signage and services they sell. Educate staff to always deliver a friendly, fair and hassle-free experience. Customers must be treated with respect.

Sorensen: Invest in a Read, Play & Learn kit for your laundry, even if it means sacrificing a machine or two. … These are uniquely designed to create safe, fun, and engaging places for children and families in Laundromats. Family Read, Play & Learn spaces are equipped with literacy-rich materials to support children’s early brain and language development, and are a meaningful way to serve your community and customers. Plus, customers will want to choose your laundry over the competition.

Steinberg: Look at how many national retailers focus on loyalty programs. The same thing should be implemented in a Laundromat.

Wray: Over the last 60 years, the old adage has always been the same: keep your coin laundry bright, airy, friendly, cheerful, updated and working, and you can’t lose. Same thing with attended stores, especially if it is not you working. They should have a pleasant air; remember, customers in their car have a choice where to do their laundry. Killing them with kindness is a great way to start.

Antene: This is key, in that any laundry’s physical appearance, attendant demeanor, how the operations are run, etc., reflect personally on the store’s owner. All efforts should be made to make your customer feel welcome.

Archer: It seems all well-run laundries are relying on technologies. In business, customers were OK with a return phone call within 24 hours. Today, immediately answering a phone call or text is expected. Laundry customers are the same. Signage with contact numbers or well-trained attendants on site are mandatory. This avoids several bigger problems. Bad social-media reviews can cripple business growth. Angry customers have been known to damage equipment. Even something as simple as water or soap spills can turn into big problems if an owner is unavailable or unresponsive to customer communication.

Brunckhorst: Giving back to the community is one of the best ways to garner positive customer relations. The LaundryCares Foundation has partnered with Too Small to Fail and Libraries Without Borders to help increase childhood literacy in the neighborhoods that our laundries serve. Consider dedicating some floor space in your laundry for a “Read, Play, Learn Center.”

Finkelstein: As part of the LaundryCares Foundation, we’re offering reading centers for kids to help literacy. And there are Free Laundry Days, or disaster relief in areas that are hit by flooding or a hurricane. But also do things local with a charity to help those that are in need. Those are some ways you can connect with your customers.

Coming up on Thursday: Planning for growth and how manufacturers and distributors can help store owners succeed