CHICAGO, Ill. — March is coming to an end, have you spruced up your coin laundry to get 2007 off on a positive note? I’m sure you have all looked back at times and tried to analyze what happened in 2006 and why.A variety of questions come to mind. Did your coin laundry bring you what you expected? Were you able to, in a year of uncertain utility costs, maintain a profit? Did you have a plan dealing with how to move forward and keep your current customers, or even better, draw new customers?KEEPING YOUR CUSTOMERSLet me throw out some suggestions. We are really dealing with several types of customers. There are customers with which we currently do business and customers with which we would like to do business. The first type of customer is the one who currently frequents your store. Most storeowners look at these customers as if they are theirs forever. The truth is that this customer is the same one who your competitor is trying to move over to his/her store. Thus, existing customers have to be treated like they are as important as new customers. How do we go about doing this?Well, one way is to find out why these customers use your facility rather than your competitors’ stores. Keep in mind that your competitor can be another laundry, a home washer or even an apartment building washer. Do customers come to your store because you have an attendant on duty, the proper equipment mix, convenient parking, hot water, hot dryers or just because you are the closest laundry? Their answers need to be listened to carefully, and need to be acted on in order to maintain the customers.Let’s look at in-store promotions. These are not for everyone; they are only for owners who want to keep their existing customers. A good customer is worth about $500 to $600 a year. These customers wash once a week and usually spend one to two hours at your store. We should be concerned about the environment in which they spend their valuable time, and make sure that it meets their needs.In-store drawings for free prizes or free washes are simple to do. It takes a box that has an opening in it for a folded piece of paper, a picture of a prize and a time limit on when the drawing(s) takes place. Make a sign that, in simple terms, explains the drawing. Have registration forms and pens on hand. Then do the drawing(s) according to the time specifications. Some owners give out a big prize (approximate value $100) once a quarter, while others give out smaller prizes ($20) once a week.Many owners with attended stores will run a baker’s dozen promotion — wash 12 loads and get the 13th load free. They use punch cards and give their customers one punch for every load that is paid for; when the 12 loads are complete the customer fills out the punch card with his/her name, address and phone number and the attendant starts a washer. The punch card is then deposited into the box for the drawing. This way you combine both promotions and give your customers more chances to win. The real purpose is to have happy customers coming back to your store week after week.Some owners only use “inside” advertising for the drawing, while others might put an ad in a local newspaper. These promotions, however, do not in any way take the place of a clean, well-run, well-maintained laundry facility. That must be the case from the beginning and that’s what helps you maintain your existing customer base.ATTRACTING CUSTOMERSTrying to attract new customers takes a slightly different approach. Have a plan. If you are in a heavy apartment rental area, your objective is to try and get those folks away from the apartment building washers.What advantages does your laundry have compared to those of the apartment laundry? First, and foremost, you have the ability to have a washer available when the customer wants to use it.We are offering the speed of doing a week’s worth of laundry in just one hour. That might sound simple, but in today’s world, when everyone needs to work to make ends meet, free time is hard to come by. No one wants to run up and down the stairs to do one load of laundry at a time, and that’s if the washer is not being used by another tenant or if it’s not out of order. We sell speed and convenience to those customers and we need to make sure they know and understand that. Keeping that message aimed at those customers is rewarding. That’s what customers are looking for and that is exactly what we provide.You can get the word out through direct mail, flyers, newspaper ads, the Internet (web site), word of mouth, Valpak® mailings or any means available to you in your area. I have seen owners get the telephone book out and make 20 calls a day to personally invite customers to their stores. Does it work? See if it works for you. Apartment dwellers move in and out at different times of the year and you never know when it happens. So part of your plan has to be consistency — do your promotions more than once a year. Being repetitive in advertising is the answer.Why do you think we get bombarded with the same commercials on TV constantly? We must understand that we don’t create laundry, we just divert where it gets done. In order to change someone else’s habits, it takes between four and 10 visits. So I’m disappointed when I hear owners say, “I did that once and it didn’t work.” Do these owners ever think about why all major advertisers run spots over and over again? This subject probably needs a series of articles in order to cover all the different reasons why people use coin laundries and how we can advertise to these customers.In the future, I will try to cover what you can do if you are in an area with many well-run stores competing for the same customers. Can you get customers to spend more at your store? How? Can you get customers to use newer, different machines?We, as business owners, must not lose sight of the fact that the most important person who comes through the door is the customer. As long as we respect our customers and treat them all as special, our businesses will be poised for success.