GULF BREEZE, Fla. — You’ve had the date circled on the calendar for months. You’ve weathered the delays that are an inevitable part of any construction project and the equipment is, for the most part, ready to go. If you rush and leave some of the detail work for later, you can still hit that projected opening date. My advice? Show a little patience. Patience is a virtue, and in the vended laundry business it’s almost a prerequisite. In the weeks leading up to your store’s opening, patience and attention to detail will be more important to your success than hitting some opening date. Your store only gets one shot to make a first impression, so it’s imperative to have it working and looking its best when the automatic doors slide open for the first time. (You remembered the automatic doors, right?)MAKE A LIST AND CHECK IT TWICEI recommend to all owners, first-time and experienced, to create a list of items to check, get done and even recheck. If an 80-pound washer-extractor isn’t torqued down, you’re going to have big problems. Check and recheck.The No. 1 thing on your checklist seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning. Do you have all your city approvals — electric, plumbing, etc.?OK, you are legally set to open, but make sure the store is physically ready for ramp-up. Add to your checklist:- check and tighten all hoses- make sure all equipment is securely bolted down- make sure drain valves are functioning- check your door locks for proper operation- make sure ancillary vending equipment is functioning and you have adequate supplies on hand to re-stock if traffic gets heavy, and if you are utilizing a card system, review its operation and ensure you and your staff are equipped to answer any customer questions on how it works.Now let’s talk about dirt. Even dirt you can’t see can have negative consequences for your operation. One thing we’ve found with new construction is that debris can get caught in drain valves. I recommend that owners run the equipment and check the drain valves again, cleaning screens of any PVC or metal pipe shavings or other excessive dirt build up.It also helps to run all the washers at the same time to test water pressures and fill times. This is an easy way to head off any problems in advance of opening.IS YOUR CONTRACTOR FINISHED?It’s a well-known phenomenon that upon payment, it’s difficult to get some contractors back to the job site to complete their own punch-out list. While there’s a tendency to minimize these tasks, don’t. These are the small details that contribute greatly to the overall image your store will present to customers.Broken tiles, missing moldings, paint in need of touch-ups and other minor damage all influence your customers’ opinion of your store. First impressions are everything. Make sure the contractors complete the punch-out list before you open.SAVE THE FESTIVITIESStart with a soft opening, which means unlocking the doors and plugging in the “open” sign — no fanfare.Going this route allows you to fine-tune things and address any issues as they come up during the next week or two. This should leave you even more prepared to host an event such as a grand opening. I would much rather learn of any problems with a few customers in the store than during a grand-opening celebration loaded with celebrities. (OK, maybe just customers, but if you are doing your job, they’ll feel like celebrities.)Soft openings also enable you to spend more time training and getting attendants up to speed on the operation, what’s expected of them, questions that may come up and the business mission statement, including how it relates to their actions.If you invested in programmable controls and reporting systems for your store, this is a great time to familiarize yourself with how they function. Too often, owners get excited about the features of such management systems but never fully tap into their potential. The more skilled you are at reviewing store data, the better prepared you’ll be to maximize your store’s profitability. Work with your distributor to learn what the system can do and how to do it. You bought this technology; you should use it to the fullest.MAKING IT GRANDWith you, your staff and your store running like a well-oiled machine, you're now ready to make an entrance into the market with a grand opening. Your distributor can help greatly in planning the event. He should know what has worked for other laundries as well as offer insight into how to get the word out to your target market. Newspaper advertising, banners and store signage, radio ads (often stations will tie in a live remote at the store as part of an ad package) and door hangers are just a few of the ways to advertise the event.I’m partial to offering discounts on either wash or dry cycles as part of a grand-opening event, perhaps even for a week. People love a good deal and this is an effective way to get those customers in for that all-important initial visit. Giveaways and door prizes also are popular components of a grand opening. A word of caution on giveaway items: If you are promising a free box of soap or whatever, make sure you have more than enough on hand. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver. It can cost you customers.Be creative and make people feel welcome. You’re really creating your image with customers; little things like greeting them at the door and asking if you can help them with anything will go a long way.A focus on image will serve you well in this business. Having your store looking its best before opening is the first step in creating an image; but success also will hinge on a continued commitment to this image by keeping the store clean and well maintained. Clients will note this as a reminder of how you value their business. Valued customers are loyal customers.