CHICAGO — Traditionally, this is the time of year when one reflects on the year past and sets goals for the new year. It’s no different for the self-service laundry owner. This is a good time to analyze a store from top to bottom, from the front door to the bathroom, to determine what is working and what needs improvement. It’s also an opportunity to look at high-impact, low-cost ways to give the business a facelift.CLEANLINESS COUNTS One of the easiest and least expensive ways to refresh a store is to make sure it is sparkling clean. Cleanliness is a critical component of customer satisfaction. People are coming to the laundry to clean their personal belongings and they want to do that in a bright, sanitary environment. A little elbow grease and a modest investment in paint and supplies can make a huge difference. Start with the bathroom. Most laundry customers are women, many with children, and a clean bathroom is a priority for them. Are the pipes dripping? Is the sink stained? Is the soap dispenser empty? If your answer is “yes” to these questions, you are not making a positive impression. Mop the floor, put on a new coat of paint and attend to any plumbing issues. Make sure the bathroom is well-stocked with necessities — soap, toilet paper and towels. To spruce up the main area of the store, wipe down the machines, replace stained or broken ceiling tiles, scrub down grout and wax the floor. Pay attention to detail. Make sure the soap dispensers and lint traps are clean. Remember that lint also gathers behind the machines and at the exterior of the building. If possible, give the walls and trim a fresh coat of paint, and don’t ignore the elevated bases of the front-load machines.THE LITTLE THINGS One area that owners are often reluctant to update is folding tables and seating, important things to customer satisfaction. Customers don’t want to fold their clean clothes on a dirty table. They don’t want to pass the time by sitting in shabby chairs. Wire baskets and rolling carts also need to be kept in good condition. If the cost to replace all of these furnishings is prohibitive, take small steps to upgrade. Make your plan and work your plan, adding new items as you can afford them. Install antibacterial wipe dispensers so that customers can wipe down the tables and carts themselves and be reassured that they are sanitary. Automatic hand-cleanser dispensers are also a great way to underscore the clean theme — and keep customers healthy — in the store. At this time of year, much of the country is experiencing wet, cold weather. Is there a place for customers to hang their coats? Are floor mats in place to capture tracked-in salt and snow? A small investment can avoid muddy tracks on the floors and dripping coats piled on folding tables.EMPHASIS ON THE EXTERIOR Police the exterior of your store and make sure that the area surrounding the building is clean and kept up. Clean out planters and remove dead or dying plants. Wash the windows, and ensure all lighting is working and the signage is in good repair. Repainting the faded striping in the parking lot is an easy way to instantly give the store a new, refreshed look. Another way to brighten up the exterior is to install an awning. It’s not expensive, and it immediately adds color and personality. It is also a great way to differentiate your store from neighboring businesses. The goal is to call attention to your brand.STRENGTHENING TIES Now is a great time to reconnect with your distributor. He/she can look at your laundry with fresh eyes and point out small, but effective, ways to enhance it. Your distributor is also an expert on the market and will know if the competition down the street has installed new, larger machines or is offering special deals. A distributor can help evaluate your equipment needs and make sure your store has the right mix. Replacing aging top loaders with front loaders can result in water savings of up to 20 gallons a load. If your largest available washer is a 40-pound unit, and customers have to break up loads to use those machines, perhaps it is time to add a 60-pound washer to the mix. When upgrading your washers, make sure that you upgrade drying capabilities as well, adding a 75-pound single or 45-pound stack dryer. Drying capacity should always exceed washing capacity. Make sure that there is adequate signage explaining use of the equipment, especially new machines.AMENITIES Finally, look at how amenities that are meaningful to your customers can be added or upgraded. What is the condition of your vending machines? If the venders are outdated, negotiate with the supplier to get the latest vending equipment. What about adding something new for your customers? Consider adding video games, a TV or free Wi-Fi. If you are unsure about what to add, talk to your customers. They are your best resource for determining everything — from what kind of soap to stock to whether you are employing the right attendant.WORTH THE EFFORT It will be well worth it to take some time at the start of the new year and focus on the best ways to reinvest in your self-service laundry in order to realize the greatest ROI. Let your passion and pride be reflected in a store that sends a clear message to your customers — you care about them and want to provide them with an experience that will keep them coming back. A modest investment of time and resources, intelligently applied, will reap great reward.