CHICAGO — Simply put, an outlook is an expectation for the future. But no one has the ability to see the future, so the best you can hope to do is to gather as much pertinent information as possible, prepare yourself for what you think will come, then have the flexibility to adapt your business to what actually comes your way.
There are reasons to be optimistic that the self-service laundry industry will continue to bounce back in 2012. But that optimism will be tempered by a lagging economy and ever-present high unemployment rates.
In speaking with experts around the industry, it’s clear that an operator’s best course of action in 2012 will be a continued emphasis on running an efficient operation and taking whatever opportunities are available to promote their business.
DEMAND FOR LAUNDRY SERVICES
Renters—the primary users of coin laundries—are a fast-growing population segment and thus a reason to be optimistic about the demand for laundry services remaining high. According to the 2010 Census, of the 116.7 million occupied housing units, 40.7 million—or 34.9%—were occupied by renters. In the 2000 Census, 31% of the nation’s households were renter-occupied.
“The good news is that the apartment industry is doing great, and that many younger people are going back to work,” says Dick Ruel, national sales manager for Whirlpool and Maytag Commercial Laundry.
Raymond McMurry, owner of Pat’s Washtub in Lawton, Okla., predicts his Oklahoma laundry will see 5% growth next year. “Due to the number of new customers we are seeing and retaining in the last half of 2011. … Unemployment creates new customers.”
“I think the economy will continue to be slow as we adjust to the reality that we have shipped many of our jobs overseas,” says Larry Larsen, who has more than 30 years of experience in the ownership, management and construction of Laundromats. “I don’t see any political proposals that will greatly increase demand for non-government workers. I think the current status will continue as long as unemployment benefits blunt the effect of the lack or loss of jobs.”
“Until California can make some headway on the unemployment problems we are facing, especially in the Southern California marketplace, we are in for another bumpy year in 2012,” says Andy Wray of ACE Commercial Laundry Equipment.
ATTRACTING BUSINESS IN 2012
Larsen says laundry owners must concentrate next year on reducing operating costs and coming up with promotions that will draw more people away from the washers and dryers located in their apartment buildings.
Ruel suggests getting back to the basics. “Keep the store clean and safe. If you have not been advertising, now is a good time to start, and make sure you are taking advantage of all the free social media. At the very least, make sure you have a website.”
Setomatic Systems’ Jeff North, who owns the Newport (N.H.) Car Wash and Laundromat, agrees. “This is the way that today’s youth communicate, and it cannot be overlooked. In addition, a website is going to be a must. Direct mail (target mailing) can also help with exposure. Laundry customers are a transient group, and it is important to continually get the word out about offerings and hours of operation.”
Wray urges laundry owners to resist the temptation to lower their operating standards. “When times get tough, it’s easy to neglect maintenance issues or skip repairs, but now is the time to be running your store better than ever.”
“Be 100% different from your competition,” McMurry suggests. “Do not be afraid to be the highest price in town. Customers only compare top loads. Get rid of top loads, therefore no price comparisons.”
Every new customer to McMurry’s store receives a free gift. “Show the customer they are the most important thing in your life.”