GLENDALE, Ariz. — If you’ve owned a laundromat for a while, you know the stress of receiving emergency calls. They can come at any time, and often when you least desire them: weekends, vacations, at night when you’re sleeping, or even you’re just sitting down for dinner.
The reason behind a call can vary, from an angry customer demanding to speak to the owner, the sewer is backing up, all the way to there being a raging fire.
My column this month is intended to help you deal with the emergency calls you receive related to your laundromat business. We can’t eliminate them, but there are ways to cut them down dramatically.
There are basically four domains of emergency call causes: equipment failure, criminal acts, behavior of customers and/or employees, and behavior of neighboring shopkeepers.
DETER, DETER, DETER
Have the police ever called you at 3 a.m. to inform you that your mat has been broken into? I received many such calls; my stores weren’t open 24/7.
I’ve covered security strategies in previous columns, so I’ll just focus here on prevention to cut down on your crime-related calls.
You must present your mat as being so secure that the bad guys will pass it up for an easier target.
Good lighting at night is a must. If crooks are breaking in through your roof vents, then light up your roof from two separate angles. And light up the back of your store, too.
Roll-down gates are a must in high-crime areas. There are now perforated steel shutters that are secure, yet allow the police to see inside a store. This could make bad guys nervous to choose a different location.
If you’re aware of instances in your area when trucks have been used to smash into storefronts to steal an ATM, VTM or change machine, install bollards (short posts used to divert traffic). You can install the standard vertical pipe bollards, which are the most secure, but I sort of like the idea of using heavy-duty bike racks for double duty.
TRAIN AND TEST
Employ a Great Crew and Train Them to Handle Emergencies — It’s quite helpful to have a manager or trusted employee at a higher rate of pay to help you with emergencies. If you don’t have someone like this in your operation, then perhaps a trusted friend or relative.
If you’re away on vacation, employees can call this person to oversee various emergencies to keep your doors open.
Regarding training, your regular staff should be instructed how to handle a dryer fire. Teach your workers to evacuate the area, and always have them shut the power off first so the dryer stops fanning the flames inside.
Then they retrieve your up-to-date fire extinguisher, open the dryer door just an inch or two and blast the base of the fire. (Important: If the fire is already out of control, have them call 911 FIRST before fighting the flames.)
When training, have them do a “return demonstration,” where your staff member shows you how they would proceed. This way, you can be sure they clearly understand the procedure.
Review this protocol every six months or so, and it doesn’t hurt to post the instructions right above your fire extinguisher.
Consumer Education — As for your customers, posting simple but clear signage that instructs someone how to properly use your equipment helps deliver a positive customer experience; bilingual is best.
The easier it is for customers to use your machines, the fewer usage problems will occur and there’ll be fewer customers demanding to speak to the owner.
If you don’t have your own dedicated utilities coming into your mat, you will occasionally experience utility shutoffs.
For instance, I experienced a shutdown that lasted for days because another shopkeeper in the building who badly neglected her store called in a gas leak. The whole building had to be shut down.
Other issues with adjoining businesses can be competition over limited parking breaking into a fight, your customer’s car getting towed, or your neighboring shopkeepers sending all their homeless into your store to use your restroom.
But things can also go the other way: your mat could flood your neighbors, generating panic and anger on their part.
I think the more you can separate your mat from any other stores, the better.
In conclusion, try to keep things simple. It stands to reason that every piece of equipment in your mat will fail eventually, so the more options and gadgets your mat has, the more things will break. And the more things that break, the more calls you’ll get.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].