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, and this is the final installment.
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: What responsibility does an individual store owner have to the vended laundry industry as a whole? Or are they responsible only to themselves and their business?
Schram: There are great benefits to socially networking with common-interest business owners. From broadening your industry knowledge, fighting industry-damaging legislation, giving back to the community or maybe mentoring a new owner, there could be big rewards working with other vended laundry owners.
Antene: By following sound business practices, Laundromat owners make more money. In addition, the better they serve their customers, the more demand there is for self-service Laundromats. Collectively, we can all help each other.
Frankian: In our market again, I believe they need be get involved with the local coin laundry association to come together with the other local operators to fight the pending service tax and higher water rates, etc. The more they get involved, the better informed they will be to address how these issues will impact their business and the way they run it.
Gauthier: I only preach responsibility burdens to my two sons … and they don’t always listen. But, any business owner’s primary responsibility is to the health of their business. I will suggest that a properly managed vended laundry should be able to positively benefit the owner, its customers and the industry as a whole. Take care of the business and the rest should fall into place!
Hietpas: Success can be defined in many ways, but in order for a laundry to be “successful,” it must first stay in business. In this respect, an owner’s first responsibility is to ensure the survival of his business. However, I’m also a believer that in order to be successful, the best thing is to do a good job. And if a laundry owner does a good job, it will reflect positively on the industry.
Could it be possible for a laundry to be financially successful and not necessarily reflect well on the industry? That’s possible, but not over the long term. The great thing about markets is that they are, by nature, self-correcting. A store that might be (financially) successful but not operated up to overall industry standards will always be at greater risk to the entry of a new (well-run) competitor.
Hoffman: I think they should give back to the communities that they serve. We have a lot of customers that raffle off things around the holidays. Around Thanksgiving, I have people who will buy a bunch of turkeys and raffle them off in the community, as well as doing other types of raffles for the community. Sometimes, laundries will have a Customer Appreciation Day, where they will do free drying or wash for the day.
Jorgensen: That’s an individual choice. But there are incredible resources and networks locally and nationally that store owners can affiliate with. Join the Coin Laundry Association, laundry forums, or give to the Laundry Cares foundation. Get active, get involved, and share your successes and failures.
Rausch: A store owner may think they’re only responsible for themselves and their business, but there’s more to it than that. People always need clean clothes, so a vended laundry plays a necessitated role within the community.
Think of how the store fits into the larger picture. And if the opportunity arises, give back. For example, offering a free-wash day just to say “thanks” is an easy way to give appreciation to the serving customer base.
Rosenthal: The future of our industry will rely on our continued efforts to provide the best possible experience for our customers. Today’s Laundromat customers are looking for more than a facility to do their laundry—they are looking for a clean, safe, welcoming and relaxing environment. In order to meet these customer demands and operate a state-of-the-art Laundromat, a store owner needs more than cutting-edge equipment. They also need to offer services and amenities that attract new customers and satisfy existing customers.
Store owners who think about their customers’ needs – a comfortable place to sit, free Wi-Fi, vending machines, televisions, child’s play area – and reinvest in their business will stay ahead of the competition and enjoy year-after-year growth thanks to happy, loyal customers.
Rowen: Our industry provides a necessary service to the community. I believe, however we arrived here, we are all very fortunate to be participating in this wonderful service industry. Being a relative “newbie” to vended laundry (coming up on seven years now), I am continually amazed at the willingness of owners across the country to share and impart knowledge with their peers. Other than direct “across-the-street” competitors, the banter on the Coin Laundry Association blogs regarding topics of all shapes and sizes is amazing. There truly is an innate desire to share information for the greater good, and it’s very heartwarming. That sort of fellowship doesn’t exist in many other industries.
Q: Are there are any other comments you’d like to share about improving the vended laundry industry?
Antene: By operating our businesses properly, we all gain.
Frankian: For all of us to succeed, whether manufacturer, distributor or operator, I think staying in communication with the industry is the key to everyone’s success. There are major issues ahead for all of us and getting involved with your local area and national resources is important.
Gauthier: In my 20 years in this industry, I’ve seen vended laundries shift their focus from being a place where customers performed a needed task in a utilitarian environment to a focus upon providing high levels of customer service in a retail environment designed to create loyalty business from repeat customers. Twenty years later, however, there are still some “utilitarian” laundries out there who are missing opportunities to better serve their customers and improve cash flow. The vended laundry industry as a whole will improve as the image of those older-style laundries continues to fade into the background.
Hietpas: People get into our industry from many backgrounds and for many reasons. One thing that benefits the industry tremendously is the diversity of experience that these owners bring to the industry. Having owners be actively involved in the business via local associations, attendance at distributor events, involvement in national associations or simply attending the Clean Show is a great way for them to stay abreast of industry developments and to help keep the industry vibrant.
Rausch: It’s important to reiterate that the most successful vended stores are inviting, safe, and meet customers’ needs. By investing in and maintaining the look of a store, its parking and ease of access, owners tell customers they’re invested in them and their experience. By going out of their way to provide patrons with a space that meets their laundry needs in an aesthetically pleasing and inviting way, owners prove they have a stake in their customers’ overall happiness.
Rosenthal: We must get over the fear that increasing vend prices to “match” rising operational costs will lose customers. In fact, the opposite is true. New investors seek markets with poorly operated Laundromats, as they view them as an opportunity to enter the industry with a superior product and experience that will lead to success.
Rowen: From a tactical business standpoint, I would encourage all Laundromat owners to truly embrace the importance of your customer’s experience in your stores. Put yourself in their shoes. Save them time – make their trip as convenient as possible. And if you’re not sure what to do to provide them exceptional customer service, just ask them! Make sure you are leveraging social media to connect with your customers, which gives them an opportunity to provide their feedback and opinions. And acting on their responses is paramount to building a loyal customer base.
From more of a social standpoint, we saw so many events this year where Laundromats gave back to their local communities in a variety of ways. For example, more owners coordinated CLA LaundryCares Free Laundry Day events. I am continually inspired by the kind of community outreach that Laundromat proprietors like Brian Holland and Tyrone Atkins of The Laundry Café coordinate in Philadelphia. I truly believe their efforts, leveraging the Laundromat as a hub of the community and using it to provide education and positive reinforcement, is ultimately empowering and strengthening their neighborhoods. This is a great example of the positive impact our “basic needs” industry can truly provide if we can vision and desire — it’s incredibly motivating to be part it!
Previous stories in our series: