CHICAGO — Whether you own a single self-service laundry or a handful, the time will likely come when you’ll want to entrust someone to supervise your front-line workers and handle day-to-day operations, freeing you to focus on your company’s future or even get away from things for a while.
But how do you go about identifying, choosing and training the right person to run the show in your stead?
To answer that, we sought the counsel of a human relations expert and an accomplished speaker/author with a focus on hiring, Ira Wolfe of Success Performance Solutions. Plus, we asked the same questions of five laundromat owners from around the country.
WHAT MAKES SOMEONE A GOOD CANDIDATE?
What makes a great candidate for one laundromat could be another owner’s nightmare, Wolfe warns.
“The very first step in selecting your next manager would be to simply imagine yourself 12 months from now, sitting down with the manager, and congratulating him/her on two or three goals achieved,” he says. “Once identified, then ask yourself, what skills, abilities or experiences would be required to achieve these goals.”
Are the goals focused on things like fewer machine breakdowns or higher customer satisfaction, growing the business, or reducing turnover?
“The accuracy of management and leadership testing has improved significantly over the years but only if you’re assessing what’s important for your business success.”
“The hardest thing to teach, if not impossible, is to teach drive, ambition and openness to learn,” says Logan Wuethrich, who’s responsible for operations and facilities for Ladybug Cleaners, a 10-store northern Indiana laundry chain. “These are the three biggest traits I look for when building my management team.”
“(I would look for) someone who has high energy and has had experience in the cleaning field, whether in food service or hospitality,” says Michael Finkelstein, whose Associated Services Corp. operates a large chain of laundries in the Southeast.
“First and foremost, I would say integrity,” says Peter Mayberry, who owns six Anytime Laundries in Omaha, Nebraska, and has four other stores in development elsewhere. “They also have to be self-motivated, because I can’t be there to tell them what to do every day. Ideally, an individual is going to run it like it’s their own business.”
SHOULD YOU LOOK WITHIN FIRST?
It’s always wise to promote from within, according to Wolfe, as it’s great for morale and it helps retain your best people.
“When looking for your next manager, observation and results are the best assessments,” he says. “Who are the employees who showed initiative, took responsibility, aspired to be better? Which employees went out of their way to help not only customers but support their co-workers? Which employees coached or mentored others outside the business?
An internal candidate such as an attendant would have an advantage only if they are qualified and prepared, he adds.
“But promoting someone who isn’t ready typically ends up badly … and now you have two openings to fill.”
“I will pick from my company, which does more than laundry,” says Joe Jepsen, whose Diamond J Management company is best known for acquiring, renovating and managing apartment buildings in Utah. He owns six O-Town Laundry stores in Ogden, Salt Lake City and other locations. “For me, it’s about trust, and loyalty. So when I seek a new manager, it’s all about time in my company more than anything else.”
“Our company hiring process is to always promote from within,” says Wuethrich. “I want our employees to know they have the opportunity to grow within our company. We always start with offering positions of management to those with seniority, as long as they have a positive track record. Our three district managers all started as entry-level attendants, and each of our nine store managers started that way as well.”
“I believe that someone with attendant experience would be considered a candidate,” says James (Clark) Sowers, who owns four laundromats in and around Rapid City, South Dakota. “And it would be an advantage (for them) but mitigating factors may neutralize that advantage.”
While your attendants may excel at handling the tasks you give them, not everyone is built to be a manager, according to Mayberry: “I would say definitely look from within but from my experience, if it’s not there, don’t force it.”
Hiring an external managerial candidate requires that you assess cultural fit, according to Wolfe. Do they share similar business values? How will they fit with your team?
“Avoid the mistake of expecting that someone with X years of experience running a laundromat or laundry services business is an automatic qualifier,” he says. “The majority of hiring mistakes are not the result of incompetence, but incompatibility.”
“Searching from outside the company is much harder,” Jepsen says. “This isn’t an attendant, after all. This is a full-blown manager that will have access to a lot of stuff. We tend to interview a lot of people if we end up choosing from outside the company, and I have found that they almost never work out.”
“For us, everyone hired outside of our current employment was head-hunted,” Wuethrich says. “Through a fairly vast relational network of business, family, friends, and church members where I attend, I am able to find someone who first and foremost fits in with our company’s culture, is also trustworthy with good references, and also has the right previous experiences to fulfill the role.”
Check back Tuesday for the conclusion!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].