CHICAGO — Still looking for some last-minute ideas to improve your store’s image? If you plan on making some changes before the new year, time is starting to run short.In the final part of this story, distributors speak out about the importance of the laundry exterior and provide even more tips about how operators can improve the interior look.LITTLE THINGS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE“The stores here are mediocre in terms of look,” says John Schemmel, Dongieux’s Inc., Jackson, Miss. “The ones [that are worse than] mediocre are usually gone in a short period of time. Some operators haven’t invested more because of rent, taxes, etc.”Little things can make a big difference, Schemmel believes. “It’s a negative to see out-of-order signs. Some stores can look pretty rough if the attendant leaves before final housekeeping.”Start with some paint, he says. “Painting is always good. With our stores, we have one guy who goes from store to store and paints the bases. The bases can get shopworn pretty fast.”Schemmel believes that the store’s exterior creates an image of the store. “People look how the building is painted. The grass should be cut, there should be no weeds. The signage doesn’t have to be lit but the business should be clearly identified as a laundry or coin laundry. There are plenty of businesses around; people can be confused when looking for a laundry. It sounds strange, but it can happen.”Interior signage also needs to be addressed. “If you have a Hispanic customer base, for example, they may not be able to read or understand your signs. Consider putting up some signs in Spanish. Try to keep [the signs] simple.”However, this may not be as easy as it sounds, he admits. “People don’t read signs.”Most of the stores he sees have air conditioning. “The stores without air conditioning don’t suffer as much as you would think. With coin laundries, there is the convenience factor. People would rather sweat a little at times than drive a mile or two more.”If you can’t afford to do much, he says stick with the basics such as picking up trash and keeping the floor clean and waxed. “You can’t replace the tile too often because of the cost.”A spruced-up store may not hinder vandalism, he says. “Unfortunately, even a nice store is subject to vandalism. A store in a rundown neighborhood may not be as abused as much as a store in a nicer neighborhood.”START AT THE FLOOR AND WORK YOUR WAY UPThings are looking up in California, according to Jim Johnson, New Wave Equipment Co., Arcata, Calif. “As a whole, the larger facilities are well maintained and the smaller ones are dated and could use some sprucing up,” Johnson says. “Most of the stores in our market are owned by a few operators.” For overall look, Johnson rates the stores a “7” on a 1-10 scale.“Cleanliness is always a key. The carpet and flooring are a big deal. When you walk into a store and see a dirty, nasty, stained carpet, the last thing you ever want to do is drop your dirty laundry on it.”Johnson doesn’t think the exterior is nearly as important as the interior look and the equipment. “In my area, you don’t find people driving to your facility. You try to go to the closest store unless it is dirty or in a bad part of town.” However, he believes in using illuminated signage. “If laundry customers do business after hours, they can drive by at night and see your business. Otherwise, you’re just another store at the strip center. Use neon, and backlit signage to avoid getting lost. Keep the signage simple.”If you have a free-standing store, maximize use of the windows with signage, he suggests. “Don’t give someone a jar of tempera paint to do the job. Get a professional to do the window signs.”Johnson has two interior priorities. “First, you need good flooring. It should be well maintained and have a good, quality finish. There is carpet available that is bleach-resistant. With human nature, your eye starts at the ground and works its way up.“The second thing is color and having a feel for the decor. Most laundries use stainless steel themes. This lends itself to bright color combinations. Fluorescent lighting is good, or just try to have lots of natural lighting. Skylights can be huge.”Is sprucing up the store really necessary? “You just don’t know how many customers won’t visit your store because of some situation. Some operators will never know about problems because most of them don’t mingle with the customers on a consistent basis.”What about vandalism? “If you spruce up your store, you’re going to draw a better clientele. The bottom-of-the-barrel customers will go to the store that’s the cheapest. The concern is if [the store] looks too high-end, and is unattended, there is the perception that money is around and this can lead to vandalism.“You need to make sure the store looks nice but you need an attendant, maybe a nice senior citizen to watch your investment. The store doesn’t need to be attended all day. You can use an auto lock to open up in the morning, you can use surveillance cameras.”THREE BIG SELLING POINTS“The majority of stores I see can use a good cleaning,” says Robert McNulty, Pellerin Laundry Machinery Sales Co., Kenner, La.McNulty, who covers seven states, recently visited Houston and checked out about 30 laundries. “If I saw two shining stores out of the 30, I would be surprised.”He strongly believes that the brightest and cleanest laundries do the most business. “If you’re bright and clean, you don’t even need great equipment.”The exterior is important. McNulty says he forms his first impression of a laundry when he drives up to it. “I like to feel safe, I like to be able to see from the outside in. To save energy, some owners have tinted their windows or put up shades. Who wants to go into this store? When I see this on the outside, I think the inside has the same old look.“When you pull up to a store and see a sign hanging off the wall, you know what it will be like. A clean store, a good sign and a clean parking lot will do the job.”The good news is that if you open up a clean store in a “bad” area, you really don’t have competition, he believes. “You can put [other owners] out of business with a spruced up store.”With the interior, the floor is the key, he says. “People don’t want to drop their clothes on a dirty floor. You don’t need to spend a lot on a ceramic floor. Some guys just put a coat of paint on the floor.” McNulty is also a proponent of a new coat of paint on the laundry walls every now and then.He has a warning for operators with dirty stores: “Beware of the competition.”While an attractive store may increase business, it doesn’t necessarily deter vandalism. “Vandalism is about the neighborhood, not the look of the store. Twenty-four hour stores are more prone to vandalism. Equipment not working leads to vandalism, especially in unattended stores. If there’s no one to complain to, people will lash out. If people are short on money, spend three bucks on a machine and can’t get their money back, they are going to take it out on something!”To read Part II of this article, click here.