GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just as you sit down for dinner, you get one of those dreaded emergency calls that require you to drop everything and run down to your laundromat.

One of a mat’s biggest perk—that you’re not always physically in the store—is also one of your biggest headaches when you need to handle an emergency.

Contrary to popular belief, laundromats do not run themselves! Regular maintenance is needed for a smooth and relatively problem-free business.

In Part 1, we started taking a look at preventing emergencies (if possible), or at least some ways to handle them. Let’s continue:

Smells — The smell of anything burning requires your immediate attention! It could just be a rubber belt from a jammed-up basket that can’t turn. Or, it could be something that ignited and is a full-blown emergency.

Obviously, gas smells and sewer gas should also be immediately addressed and fixed. Evacuate everyone from the store if you smell gas!

Fire Prevention Protocols — Preventing a dryer fire comes down largely to how you handle lint. Inspect your dryers regularly. Keep them clean of lint from the air intakes, around the stoves, through the insides of the machine, and also the exhaust pipes.

Keep your lint screens clear. Uncared for, they will eventually clog up not just with lint but also with a waxy residue from fabric softener.

If they are fabric screens, I recommend buying new ones. If they are metal screens, you can clean this residue with a 4-to-1 hot water to dishwasher detergent (most are designed to cut grease) solution and a brush. Rinse with clean water when finished.

Active Fire Protocols — Keep a few fire extinguishers handy throughout your mat so you can deal with an active fire. Make sure they are charged and inspected every year.

When I worked in a hospital many moons ago, they gave us an acronym: RACE. It stands for:

R — Rescue anyone in immediate danger.

A — Alarm, as in call the Fire Department to get it on its way.

C — Confine the fire with a fire extinguisher, if you can, while the fire truck is on the way.

E — Evacuate everyone from the immediate area, if not the store.

In the event of a dryer fire, first, shut off the electricity so the dryer stops fanning the flames inside. Then stand back and have someone slowly open the dryer door just enough so you can blast the fire with your extinguisher; spray at the base of the fire, not at the top of the flames.

Your entire crew should know your RACE steps, and how to properly use a fire extinguisher. And be sure to have reminder sessions from time to time. I had only shown my crew the steps just once when we had a dryer fire and the employee on duty froze like a deer in headlights. Luckily, a customer knew what to do.

After that, I held re-training sessions every six months, and I required a “return demonstration” so I could be sure they weren’t just “yes-sing me.”

Lighting and Cameras — A good surveillance system coupled with lots of lighting will not only help prevent crimes and other emergencies, but also help you handle them.

They intimidate the bad guys, and the videos can help catch them. Whenever I had a crime at my mats, the first thing the cops asked was if we had a video system.

Some unattended mats will have a public address system coupled with their surveillance to help communicate with customers and people who are loitering. You can tell loiterers that you are watching and will call the police if they don’t disperse.

Upset Customers — If you ever receive a phone call from a crew member and can hear a customer screaming in the background, you need to address the matter immediately. The attendant will not be able to calm the customer down at that point, so don’t let them handle it alone.

Dealing with the public brings all kinds of people to your mat, so you won’t know just which ones will misbehave. Shrugging off the difficult ones or avoiding them will only make the situation worse.

Here’s what worked for me in this situation:

  • Listen patiently, and let them vent to you, not your attendant;
  • Ask specifically what can be done to make them happy; and
  • Apologize to the customer.

If it’s missing or damaged laundry, tell the customer that you’re on it but will need a few days to trace the laundry to rectify the situation. This buys you some time to fix it, and to research the real value of the item because they’ll almost always demand more money than the item is worth. This also opens the door to the possibility the customer will find a missing item at home.

If it’s a broken self-service machine, refund their vend with apologies.

It all boils down to this: Soothe the savage beast. These days, you never know how a customer will react. Escalating a hot-headed situation could trigger violence.

There were times that I actually gave the customer my personal cell phone number. It works like magic! Not once did anyone abuse it (I gave it out at least 25 times over the years), except to check the number to see if it was really mine. Then they actually became meek! (If someone does abuse your number, you can simply block them.)

Congratulations, you just turned an angry customer into an advocate for your mat!

If you take the approach that, once in a while, you will take a loss due to something your operation caused, you can be better prepared to respond correctly.

To summarize, the less routine maintenance you do, the more emergencies you will experience—and they always seem to happen at night or on the weekend.

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.