PEMBROKE, Mass. — Kids come into the Laundromat with their parents. Often, they must hang around for an hour or two waiting for clothes to be cleaned. The question is, how do you get them to behave? Even better, how do you get them to want to come back, because if they don’t like your establishment, Mom might choose a more kid-friendly spot.
You must do something to make your Laundromat child-friendly. Children can’t sit still for two hours. If you do nothing, they might create such a commotion that they annoy other customers. Or they might “decorate” a machine front using crayons they brought from home. Or they might run around your place, trip on a wire and end up breaking a tooth. Great, now you’re involved in paying for a kid's medical care. Worse yet, the unthinkable might happen: a child could run across the street and get killed. In that case, you’re involved in a lawsuit that could send you into bankruptcy.
At a minimum, have some children's toys in a designated area. Plastic trucks, dolls, wooden trains on rails, and maybe a toy stove will do. A log cabin building set will give a youngster a lot of pleasure. A diorama for plastic soldiers will enable kids to conduct make-believe wars. They can play “house” with, you guessed it, the doll house.
Offer new toys periodically. You don’t have to buy them at toy stores. Goodwill and other second-hand stores are perfectly good sources. Yard sales are another excellent toy-buying opportunity. Spend $20 every six months, if you find something intriguing.
Without a doubt, a table and chairs so that children can color is another excellent offering. Kids love to color. An oil-based tablecloth is easy to clean. Crayons, markers and coloring books are always available at great prices at office supply back-to-school sales in August. An even better source for drawing paper is print shops, which generally have bins of used paper stock in storage; excess stock is often available for the asking.
On a nearby wall, hang a bulletin board to feature creative efforts, but do not place it within reach of children. You don’t want to see little ones getting pricked by pushpins. Mothers appreciate seeing their youngsters' Picasso efforts.
Having handheld electronic equipment isn't a good idea. Items would most likely disappear or be broken. One situation you do not want to get into is having to accuse a tot of breaking a toy. So avoid the problem altogether by not having any breakable items. Besides, generally, many children will bring their own things, which they will use to entertain themselves.
On the other hand, many Laundromats have coin-operated video games. They are a popular pastime for slightly older children, especially those in their early teens. It is beyond the scope of this article to suggest what kind of games. You can go too wrong to offer a shoot-'em-up that showcases murder-and-mayhem entertainment. Scout out video arcades in your neighborhood to see the popular offerings before deciding to buy something.
If possible, enclose the kids’ playroom with one entrance. An opening rather than a spring gate will avoid accidents. If it is in the middle of the floor, four-post fence will do the trick. If tucked in a corner, only a two-sided fence suffices. This separation is worth it. Giving the children their “own” space will keep the toys from being scattered all over. Also, the youngsters will enjoy having their private area. But always make sure to place the kids’ space in view of parents. Nothing would be worse than to have a child out of view for 10 minutes before a mother goes over and find him or her crying.
Taping posters or cutouts to the adjacent side wall entertains a child's curious mind. A map of the United States, a photo of the cosmos, images of favorite heroes—Harry Potter, cartoon characters—will do the trick.
Alongside these entertainments, set up the standard of parental obligation. Post a sign on the wall that reads, “Please Supervise Your Children.” In case something untoward happens, your attendant can always point to the sign and say, “You were supposed to keep your eyes on him.”
Train your attendants in “kid management.” If a child misbehaves, the attendant gets down on her knees and gently says, “We do not do that here.” Additionally, the attendant talks to the parent. Never, ever scold the mother or child, or you will never see this customer again.
On the other side of the behavior spectrum, it would not be a bad idea for the attendant to go inside the kid space every so often, look at the children’s creative work and say, “That’s very good.” Ditto for complimenting parents, saying, “Your child’s so good.” Mothers and fathers invariably appreciate compliments.
One Laundromat I know does this. When a kid is playing and behaving himself, the attendant sometimes comes up to the child, asks his first name, and pulls out a large-letter magnetic letter set. She creates the child’s name on a blank, and affixes it to the washing machine the mother is using. Then, with fanfare, announces that the machine has been named “Eddie” (or whatever the child's name is) for the day. Done well, this act makes the kid feel cool. Of course, the parents feel great that the kids are so pleased.
Having said how much Laundromat staffers should be kid-friendly, I offer this caveat. Be friendly, welcoming, appreciative, but don’t get involved. That is, don’t allow a gaggle of kids to speak because they will go on and on, and disrupt your work routing. When one starts, another wants in, and before you know it, 15 minutes will have elapsed. You want to respond to kids, but do not engage them. The skill of “smiling and running” is definitely something to cultivate with staffers.
Make your Laundromat kid-friendly. It is just another service you provide.