RIPON, Wis. — When considering new business ventures, savvy entrepreneurs look to the profitability of Laundromats and find that vended laundry stores in the United States see an average return on investment of 25-30%. But how does a store owner jump-start that success and then ensure it continues for years to come?
Prior to opening a store, there are several factors that a new investor should consider to better equip themselves for long-term success. This process starts with the initial building and furnishing of the store and transitions through to ongoing marketing efforts and, most importantly, customer service and appreciation.
Investing in quality equipment and a state-of-the-art control system are the first steps toward long-term laundry success; however, there are still many day-to-day actions that will help to attract new, and retain existing, customers.
While Laundromats offer store owners the freedom to manage their business remotely, it is important that investors have an ongoing commitment to excel at the fundamentals that keep customers coming back. The store should be cleaned daily, including in and around the outside entrance.
Daily machine maintenance, such as cleaning the lint filters on the dryers and the soap compartment on washers, helps to keep all machines functioning and ready for customer use. In the event of a machine breakdown, servicing should be done immediately.
In addition to providing a clean space, interior and exterior lighting must be maintained for the safety of all customers, especially if there are hours when the Laundromat will be left unattended. These are not difficult operational requirements, but owners who do not keep up with these daily tasks risk losing repeat customers.
It is suggested that Laundromat owners create monthly marketing plans aimed at existing and new customers. As a rule of thumb, most successful operators use 1% of monthly gross income for in-store marketing and 2-3% for external marketing to new customers.
Advertisements and promotions in local publications, signage, and maintaining an active social media presence are good ways to attract new customers. By providing proper signage within the store, Laundromats can increase customer awareness of additional services and new promotions. Additionally, rewarding customer loyalty also gives Laundromats the potential to grow their customer base through the positive experiences of their current customers.
Signage begins on the outside of the store with a professional-looking sign and a well-lit surrounding area. As customers move inside, they should see large banners and window stickers that advertise weekly promotions, pricing charts and ancillary services.
Once a customer base is established, it is important to make returning customers feel welcome and important. Some stores find success with “Customer of the Month” programs, where customers fill out contact information on cards that are randomly drawn at the end of every month to receive a gift card. This contact information can also be useful for weekly or monthly promotional e-mails.
Giving free cycles is another way to show repeat customers that they are appreciated. Some control systems offer a “Lucky Cycle,” which gives a free or discounted wash on a machine after a predetermined number of cycles. These free perks provide the customer with something exciting, makes him or her feel special and creates buzz about the Laundromat.
It is easy to forget about the power of the existing customer; however, creating word-of-mouth marketing from current customers through these small tokens of appreciation is a huge opportunity for Laundromats. A 2013 study done by the Chicago advertising agency Zócalo Group found that “91% of consumers make a recommendation after having a positive experience with a particular brand.”
Finally, to ensure that customers continue to return and promote the Laundromat, provide complimentary perks, such as TVs, a children’s area and free Wi-Fi. If the store is not located near a convenience store, consider providing snack machines for customers to use while waiting for their laundry to finish.
Ensuring long-term laundry success requires a continual investment of time and resources, but it is not complicated. The process begins with providing customers the best equipment, monitoring the Laundromat for machine errors and cleanliness, and incentivizing returning customers to recommend the store because of their positive experience. If each of these steps is executed properly, investors should continue to see increased profitability and a return on their investment.