GLENDALE, Ariz. — Retail businesses and even some non-retail businesses have much more in common with the self-service laundry industry than we may think.

Great business ideas and solutions to problems are around us every day. Some of our issues have already been solved in other industries.

All you need to do is maintain an awareness so you can take note of them. Here are just a few that I’ve taken advantage of:

STORE DESIGN IDEAS

Look no further than the big restaurant chains, 4-star hotels, or even your local gym for store design ideas.

Why the gym? Because many new chains are building beautiful gyms that are very appealing. And they use materials that must hold up from heavy weights being dropped all day long. The rubber flooring in a good gym is extremely durable, impervious to water, is slip- and scuff-resistant, and provides a slight cushion if someone falls. These rubber floors last for many years.

Have you noticed that many larger mats being built are copying the big-box strategy? That’s a big mat with tall, open ceilings; lots of available machines in many different sizes; plenty of parking; etc.

Walked into a new McDonald’s lately? These restaurants have a terrific combination of design and durability (done by the best commercial designers), and they are kept spotlessly clean inside and out!

LIGHTING TRICKS

Some 30 years ago, I was talking to a men’s clothing retailer. He told that they used “special lights” to enhance the look of their suits, shirts and ties by making the color pop. He was describing what we now know to be 5,000K Daylight bulbs.

It made sense to me, and I was intrigued. So I converted my mats to 5,000K, which gave them a cleaner, brighter look. I went even further and added more lighting over the folding tables to make the clean laundry look really bright when customers were folding. This worked especially well for white items.

MANAGING PUBLIC RESTROOMS

Are you aware that there are people who will not patronize a mat that has dirty restrooms? How many times have you used a public restroom that impressed you? Every now and then, I will come upon a nice, clean restroom. One that was built with durable materials that look great and are vandal-resistant and easy to clean. Try looking at the big-box stores and fast food places.

But if you really want to see great restrooms, check out a 4-star hotel. Some of them post a clipboard requiring employees to document that they have cleaned it every hour.

Yes, there will always be jerks who dirty and vandalize restrooms, but you really need to get past that and fix them every time they are vandalized. If you have a camera trained outside the door, and your crew is cleaning the restrooms every hour, you should be able to pick up a pattern of who’s messing it up.

Tell your crew to take “before” and “after” time-stamped photos each time they clean the bathroom; this replaces the clipboard. Let’s say the restroom was cleaned at 4 p.m. and is dirty at 5, and the camera observed two people go in during that hour, then you know one of them messed it up and can address it.

SERVICE IDEAS

One day about 25 years ago, I was driving to work thinking about how I could make our customers’ socks look like new. I never cared for wrapping them up like little baseballs because that would stretch out the elastic. I also didn’t like using rubber bands to hold groups of socks together—not professional enough.

Then it struck me: If I want the laundered socks to look like new, then what did they look like when they were truly new? I took a cue from the sock manufacturers and began using paper sock wrappers! That one idea alone greatly increased our drop-off business.

Another one came from the fast food places: a drive-up or walk-up window for drop-offs and pickups. It was another big hit for one of my stores, and I was amazed that even after 15 years, not one of my competitors copied it.

MAINTENANCE

Want a fast way to clear lint out from inside and behind your dryers? Use a leaf blower like landscapers use or, better yet, use an air compressor with a blowgun attached like some mechanics use. Yes, it’s messy and should be done after hours while you wear protective clothing, but it’s far faster than other methods and will blast lint out of every nook and cranny.

Losing too many laundry carts? You can add double pole racks like many mats do. There’s a supermarket I know that uses a perimeter wheel-locking system on its carts. If a customer tries to take a cart past the buried sensor wire in the parking lot, one of the wheels locks up, making it near impossible to push the cart. You can add an alarm when the wheel locks.

Want a really good lubricant? Try Tri-Flow®. It’s a spray meant for bicycle racing chains because it does not attract dust, but then locksmiths discovered it’s useful to lubricate locks. When it dries, the Teflon it contains still lubricates but is not sticky like so many oil sprays.

How about those 95-inch serpentine belts for dryers? I once paid over $60 each for high-quality OEM belts; I’ll bet they cost even more now. My other choice was to go for cheaper, imported aftermarket belts that would last less than a year, and eventually I was changing them nearly every week.

Thinking outside the box, I looked for the same size belts used outside our industry. I found the type online, only they were designed for truck motors. The groove lines were slightly off but the belts were so tough, it didn’t matter. They lasted many years at just $32 each.

THE LITTLE EVERYDAY THINGS

Buzzer systems to allow customers entry through locked doors in high-crime areas, isopropyl alcohol in spray bottles for customers to disinfect surfaces (much cheaper than disinfectant sprays), counterfeit bill checkers, colorful welcome flags or wreaths to signal the change of seasons—they all come from other industries.

So when you look at the stores that you like to patronize, ask yourself why. Why do you like one restaurant over another? Then ask yourself if that business is doing things that you could do with your own. Once you train your mind to pay attention to the great things you like about other businesses, you just may pick up some fantastic ideas.

If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.