PEMBROKE, Mass. — In my small town, there are six coffee shops. One establishment has a drive-thru window with convenient ingress and egress. During rush hour, lines often run along the roadside. I would guess that this coffee shop gets 50% of the business. Why? Convenience. It is simply easier for the customer to stay seated in his car, place the order, and drive off holding his/her treat.
The reason I mention this is that it is vitally important that your customers have easy access to your store. Either a side or rear parking lot will do, with a door nearby. Another possibility is curbside parking right in front of the entrance. If none of these scenarios are available, then my suggestion is a shuttle vehicle that transports the customer to the front door and back to his/her car. This option is, of course, price-prohibitive.
In other words, don’t inconvenience your customers. Make it as easy as possible for them to bring their laundry into your store. If you don’t—if they have to walk a half-block carrying their heavy load—they might do business with you once or twice, but then will search for another location.
Now, you know this. Having convenient parking is an absolute requirement of good locations. But I still see some stores where there is no store parking. I imagine the owner would say something like this: “We’re in an urban environment, and everyone knows parking is at a premium. Our customers can park anywhere on the street, if they can find a spot. They might have to drive around the block once or twice, but that’s not too much to ask, not in this city.”
Well, perhaps there is something you can do about it. Insist that the municipal authorities have your front parking spots designated for you. Get the authorities to set aside several spaces in front of your store. This will be accomplished by signs that declare “No Parking,” “Tow Away Load Zone” or “No Idling Allowed—Five Minute Limit.” With such dispensation, you can have your customers park there to clean their clothes. If you can obtain four or five parking spaces in this manner, it will satisfy most of your parking needs.
How do you get the authorities to do this? Initiate a campaign. Argue that yours is a business that requires easy access and egress. Point out that patrons have to bring heavy loads in and out of your Laundromat, and that requires special sidewalk treatment. In a sense, this need is the same as a loading zone similar to those used by commercial businesses.
Certainly all sidewalk businesses want convenient roadside parking, but you can make a persuasive argument for why you should be granted the parking availability over the other concerns. And since you are open 15 hours a day seven days a week, this designated parking is all the more important.
Insist that you are a community resource as well as a service business. Mention that you service 2,000 area families, all members of the community, and that the citizens deserve such a special dispensation from the government authorities.
State that, for older individuals or pregnant women, carrying heavy loads for one or two blocks can be a health hazard. Therefore, not granting designated parking shows that area politicians are not concerned with the health and safety of their constituents.
These are the basic building blocks of your argument. But, of course, every situation is unique, so you must craft the argument in terms that are appropriate.
Find out which government authority has the power to grant exclusive parking rights (it depends on the state and locality). It might be the planning board, the department of transportation, the mayor’s office, or the police department.
You may not have had experience in dealing with public officials. As you embark on your campaign, you might have to attend several meetings and committee hearings. Basically, you must convince the powers that be that designating parking spots near your business is for the good of the community.
You must make a logical argument. And you must always be a cooperative presence. Remain humble. Never lose your head. Stay dispassionate and cool. Avoid calling anyone names.
Use specific examples. For instance, it would be a good idea to cite other spots in the community where there is designated parking. Always be factual; cite statistics that are verifiable. Perhaps you need to quote the number of cars passing by on your street each day. Get it right, and this means that you must do your research.
After you present your case, the committee will take a while to decide. A week or two or three later, you will be notified.
If you lose, don’t give up. Every year, the board or committee composition changes. Or perhaps the authority will be handed over to a new agency that might be inclined to side with your view. Try again next year. Ultimately, with enough perseverance, you’ll be victorious. Either that, or you’ll discover a new solution to the problem.
When you achieve your goal, and have your spaces reserved, make sure your customers have full use. You might put up sandwich boards, designating these spaces “For ABC Laundromat Customers Only,” along the sidewalk. Go outside periodically and confirm that only your patrons are using the reserved spaces.
Apprise the beat policeman or local patrol of the situation. For example, if the street signs read “No Idling Allowed—Five Minute Limit,” point out that your customers can’t do their business in five minutes, but need longer. Policemen are human beings. Massage the situation so that you get what you want. That might mean doing a few favors for the officer.
Having parking close is essential to running a good Laundromat. Examine your operation from an overhead perspective (aerial viewpoint) and make sure you are doing everything possible to ensure your customers’ maximum convenience.