LONG BEACH, Calif. — It’s approaching 10 o’clock on a moonlit Wednesday evening and business is winding down at Long Beach’s coin-ops. But in the 200 block of Alamitos Avenue, they’re ready to burn the midnight oil. Welcome to the Super Suds Laundromat, where an overnight shift handles the extra load brought on by a digital shift.
As the last patron departs, the doors are locked. With the aisles free of customers, entire rows of washers are commandeered, gloves are donned, dual-denomination tokens are readied, and the triggers pulled on an arsenal of pre-treatment sprays.
Erasable marker signs with magnetic backing are slapped on washers and coded to ensure the laundresses know when one order ends and another begins. And because each is processed individually — not batched — there’s a lot of iron needed on the floor. That’s not an issue for this mammoth, 8,000-square-foot venue boasting a ton of wash-and-dry capacity spread amongst 83 front loaders and 101 tumbler pockets.
I was invited to stop back on Saturday night for the real fiesta, when a full crew of five livens up the graveyard shift by cranking up the music and transforms the 1,200 pounds of fluff ’n fold into dance ’n fold.
EYES OPEN TO NEW-CUSTOMER ACQUISTION
Six years ago, Aaron Simmons brought his computer information systems background to the family business he’s now charged with. Last year, his younger brother, Matt, himself a seasoned systems consultant, joined his sibling to develop a point-of-sale and integrated process management system and turned their high-volume Long Beach venue into a proving ground.
The software package streamlines the transaction experience between the patron and Super Suds, as well as the logistics from when a bundle is handed over until it is returned. With a few keystrokes by personnel at weigh-in, customer data and laundering preferences are retrieved, load weight automatically recorded, payment method confirmed, and a ticket generated. Employees tap, rather than write, either at the main workstation or on handheld tablets as orders make their way out of the back room to processing, and back again to a designated bin upon completion.
The brothers also track ticket trends through the software, affording them snapshots of new-customer acquisition: “We were blind before, and now we can see it immediately,” Matt points out.
The most recent system data reveals that Super Suds is acquiring an average of 102 new customer names per month, with nearly eight out of 10 walking through the door to drop off orders at an average $33.57 per transaction. For pickup and delivery — which is still in its infancy — bundles are nearly $25 higher, averaging $58.17.
Matt says annual revenue per patron — averaging $243.07 for walk-in counter trade and $456.52 for delivery accounts — is a better gauge.
“The acquisition costs for pickup-and-delivery customers is higher, but they’re worth almost twice,” he explains. “When you’re doing online advertising and you bring in four or five new pickup-and-delivery customers, you just picked up thousands of dollars. It’s important to look at the annual value of each customer; if you look at the monthly (revenue), it doesn’t make sense.”
Counter service rates are $1.40 per pound for one-day turnaround with a 10-pound minimum and a 35-cent per pound upcharge for same-day service. On-demand pickup and next-day delivery service — which runs north to Redondo Beach, east to Cerritos and south to Huntington Beach — mirrors the $1.40 price, but carries a $30 minimum.
The evolving digital shift in a full-service transaction — with its emphasis on automation and parallels to the purist self-service laundry model — was not lost on Matt Simmons, who is focusing on enhancing the experience of pickup-and-delivery clientele.
“If you have to call Amazon, then Amazon failed you. With our system, we wanted customers to help themselves and, ultimately, that’s the world we live in. We wanted the laundry process to be the same way,” Simmons says.
“The conversion rate suffers when a customer has to go from the website or go from their phone and make a phone call. Now you’re relying on the attendant to answer the phone to be able to fill the order and convert that into a sale. If it’s easy for the customer to go online and get all the information and place the order, we expect our conversion rate to increase.”
Aaron Simmons admits he had trepidations that his team — both at the counter and in production — would embrace the move from old-school to high-tech. He credits proper training of the intuitive software, an emphasis on employee and patron benefits, and familiarity with smartphones and tablets for a smooth transition.
With more and more loads coming into the store on foot and by van, he maintains a 200-pound production level per night-shift staffer to ensure quality control, while noting that members of the daytime team are often called upon to process multiple orders in addition to other duties.
The third-shift employees handle no cash; all 184 machines are activated with two denominations of tokens. Aaron Simmons reports that other than one isolated “flasher” incident outside the premises, no issues have arisen late at night.
As Heather Padilla takes a breather from her mopping, I ask what’s her take on all the changes at Super Suds. She says working third shift alongside her co-workers last year gave her a jump start on the ins-and-outs of the new system that she describes as “not complicated to use.”
And while Padilla says the overnight camaraderie was enjoyable and “lots of coffee and turning up the music” helped make processing even a bagful of baby clothes not such a chore, she prefers keeping the laundry tidy and caring for customers during the early evening and heading home at closing time.
“They do laundry, and I get to sleep during the night.”
Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.