CHICAGO — The self-service laundry industry, like other industries, continues to evolve, especially during challenging economic times. Owners must adapt to stay profitable. How can you improve your store? How can distributors and manufacturers contribute?Several of the major manufacturers share their views on how each segment of the industry can contribute to its overall success.HAVE AN ENERGY PLANTo improve the industry, operators can upgrade to energy-efficient equipment, focus on the basics, and improve their store’s appearance by doing simple things, such as painting and upgrading the lighting, says Dick Ruel, national sales manager, Maytag Commercial Laundry.“Due to the lack of income and the current economic status, customers have had to curtail their spending and have had to use other sources, such as friends and family, to do their wash,” Ruel says. “As people get back to work and return to rental properties, and the population increases, the industry should expect to recover and start to experience growth again in the next few years.”Maytag Commercial Laundry contributes to industry improvement by offering more energy-saving laundry solutions than any other commercial brand, Ruel claims. “Continual testing at our state-of-the-art laboratories, and having the world’s largest resources, allows us to raise the bar for cleaning performance, ensuring eco-efficiency and excellent ‘cleanability’ do not have to be mutually exclusive. Through continued testing and research, we will continue to provide innovative technologies to meet and exceed the needs of the commercial laundry industry.”Ruel urges operators to rely on distributors. “A good distributor is a reliable ally, resource and business partner ... from the day [both parties] start doing business together. The distributor can provide value-added services, such as training, customer assistance, marketing guidance, etc.”Conserving energy is the biggest challenge, Ruel says. “In the housing industry, it’s been said that if you’re not building ‘green’ right now, you’re not building. The commercial laundry industry is seeing a similar trend as owners are looking for value, not just the lowest price. Now more than ever, people really understand the value of energy savings. Utility costs are not projected to decrease, and they make up an enormous portion of ongoing operating expenses. This is why equipping stores with energy- and water-efficient machines is becoming the standard.”Ruel offers an energy plan for operators:
- Invest in energy-efficient machines and operations.
- Obtain an energy analysis for your store and determine areas where you can improve.
- Research additional ways to decrease utility bills, such as by using T-8 and electronic ballast, light sensors and task lighting.
“You can expect a three- to four-year return on investment [by following this plan] alone, and [receive] an immediate, substantial decrease in utility bills by upgrading to energy-efficient equipment.”Ruel realizes that the credit crunch is being felt by all segments of the industry. “There is a huge, pent-up demand for equipment. As the economy recovers in the next few years, everyone in the industry should enjoy being back to business as usual.”IMPROVING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE“Attracting and satisfying customers is always a challenge, and should be every business’ No. 1 priority,” says Kevin Hietpas, Dexter director of sales and marketing. Before you cut back on advertising, remember that no business can survive without attracting new customers, he adds.Hietpas believes operators need to focus on a few things, such as new equipment, updating lighting and adding decoration, in order to improve the laundry experience. “Giving customers a more positive experience is the best way to keep them coming back.”Most Laundromat customers value time, he believes. “Getting the task of laundry done and getting back to their life is already critical for many laundry users. Stores that [offer faster turnaround] will be more successful with these customers.”Everyone can be a part of industry improvement, he notes. “Companies offering products that deliver long-term value are always going to be more successful. Dexter Laundry will continue to develop products that offer long-term value to store owners.“The role of the distributor as a resource for store owners is critical, and overall, most store owners don’t rely on their distributors enough. The most successful store owners I’ve met are generally the ones who seem to have the best relationship with their distributor. The give-and-take on new ideas has always been critical in advancing the industry.”Obtaining credit is a concern. “One thing the industry is adjusting to these days is the difference in rates and terms from recent years. For most operators, the ability to borrow is still there, but the terms and qualification criteria might be a little more stringent. It’s important to note that this adjustment in expectations isn’t unique to the laundry industry. It has meant that operators are a little more selective in the projects they pursue, but good projects are still happening, and capital is still available for those projects.”Hietpas urges operators to visit their stores and use them like the customers do. “By doing this, it will be much easier to see the areas needing improvement.”Please check back Wednesday, December 1, for Part 2 of this story.