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Running Your Laundry, Maintaining Your Sanity

Stephen M. Bean |

Like most of you, I own a business. In fact, I own two of them: a 5,500-square-foot self-service laundry in Detroit and a Speed Queen distributorship in Michigan. In addition, I was originally trained as a clinical psychologist and hold a master’s degree in the field.What’s the point of sharing this information with you? Well, I think it’s important to let you know that I’m one of you — a small-business owner — plus, there’s the added twist of a behavioral science background, so I tend to view business from two different perspectives.PROBLEMS WEAR ON YOUOwning a small business can be a very lonely experience, even in the best of times, inasmuch as the solutions to most day-to-day problems must be dealt with by the person in the mirror, since we don’t have things like boards of directors. Our business ownership is usually a very personal and sensitive matter. Then, when the economy turns ugly, we deal with not only the day-to-day issues, but the emotional side of the coin as well.Feelings such as sadness and despair arise. There are issues with self-criticism, and we can doubt our skills. The ball is always in our court, and the last time I looked, no bailout money is coming.It’s very important for small-business owners to depersonalize problems, and not view them as “I’m failing or in trouble,” or “I’m losing my touch,” but instead as “My business is being adversely affected by conditions beyond my control, and I will do all that I possibly can to rectify the problem.”By depersonalizing the issue, we can protect our egos and self-esteem and spend our time in “solution mode,” instead of self-criticizing, which will only magnify our woes exponentially.There is a great book written by M. Scott Peck, M.D. (a psychiatrist), entitled The Road Less Traveled. Peck believes that life is, by definition, difficult, and no one should expect otherwise. How does this apply to your laundry? Simple: If you can’t solve a problem, manage it until it can be solved. Try new marketing approaches, such as drawings for people to win gas, lottery tickets or McDonald’s coupons. Use a different marketing perspective. Conventional wisdom dictates that the early bird gets the worm, but also remember that the second mouse at the trap gets the cheese.TACKLING PROBLEMSEmbrace your problems and try to view them as a way to sharpen your managerial, marketing and coping skills. Don’t let your problems become a burdensome enemy. Then, the next time you’re faced with these types of issues, you will be stronger and more prepared to deal with them.Some say that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Don’t exercise that option. Instead, view life as a constantly turning wheel that, when impinging upon you, can grind you down or polish you up — the choice is yours.Business owners are under a lot of stress these days, and it can affect us emotionally and physically. For some, it’s no longer a question of staying healthy, it’s just a question of which sickness we prefer to get.We each have a limited amount of emotional energy, so it’s important that we try to use it in adaptive, problem-solving ways rather than constantly moan and groan about how bad things may be. If you use this energy adaptively, it can actually recharge your emotional batteries rather than drain you. Owning a business defines you as a leader, and a real leader learns to face the music, even if he or she doesn’t like the tune.DON’T FORGET THE CUSTOMERSWhat about your laundry customers? We’re certainly not the only ones with problems these days. Here’s a therapeutic, and at the same time positive, marketing approach that each of us can use when running our laundries. It’s surprisingly simple; just take some time to actually ask your customers how they are doing and how they are feeling about life. Make eye contact with them, and have what psychologists call an “ocular dialogue.”The eyes reveal a lot about people, such as happiness or sadness. If you take a genuine personal interest in customers, it will make them feel cared for. Give them a chance to talk about how they really feel, and they will find out that they are not alone or unique in feeling down these days. In addition, by showing kindness and understanding, you will feel loads better.I strongly urge you to include kindness and empathy in your marketing program today, because we are all fighting individual battles that are oftentimes not verbalized. Spread some positive feelings, and talk about happy occasions like birthdays, their children, or other positive events in their lives. Instead of focusing on the many challenges the slow economy has created, focus on improving your customers’ psychic economy.This doesn’t have to be difficult. When, for example, was the last time you actually went up to a customer and simply said, “How are you doing?” or “How are you feeling these days?” Times are tough out there financially for business owners, yet I find it interesting that when I ask people how things are going, they usually say “fine,” when I know that can’t always be the case.Use humor as a marketing tool. I realize that things are rough, but oftentimes the worst despair initiates the best opportunity for humor. Let your customers see your humorous side. Very often, customers view business owners as people with no real problems like they have. Let your customers see that you have some of the same things in common. If you do this, they will relate to you much better. Make yourself and your attendants more approachable on the human level. Bartenders and barbers have done this for years.There is a psychological principle that says the frequency of behavior is a function of its consequences, which simply means that when people respond and they get a good result, they will repeat the behavior that makes sense. People vote with their feet. If they feel good in your laundry, they will walk in often. If they don’t, they likely won’t. Go out of your way to make customers feel good and they will respond positively.STAY POSITIVEI hosted a weekly, one-hour radio talk show in Detroit a few years ago called “Entrepreneurial Focus,” where I used to say, “The entrepreneur is the forgotten hero of America.” I believe that strongly. There are, perhaps, about 10,000 or so large, publicly traded companies, but there are literally millions of small-business owners like us who are the real economic backbone of this country.Entrepreneurs are a different breed. They’re ambitious, creative, hardworking, focused and provide lots of employment opportunities for others. Generally, entrepreneurs also have the skills to pay the bills. In fact, they are to be admired greatly. But being one is not easy. This can be a lonely and difficult role. Sure, it has many advantages, but these advantages don’t come without paying the price of sacrifice and hard work.I urge you to keep and maintain an attitude of gratitude during these hard times and be thankful for all that you have and have accomplished. Stay resilient. Don’t let the status of the world allow you to get bitter. Bad times, like good times, don’t last forever.Just keep going in the right direction, and keep doing the correct fundamental things, no matter how difficult, because your direction is more important than your speed. And, above all, protect your self-worth and self-esteem. Your worth and value as a person are never wrapped up totally into what you do — you are not a human doing, you are a human being. And, make every attempt to not worry too much, because it’s truly unproductive. It’s like being in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere.Did you know that nothing great has ever been achieved in this world except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances? It’s true. Be guided by your commitment to your vision, not by your concern for egotistical pride or irrational fears of failure.Always remember that we entrepreneurs are truly the forgotten heroes of America. Looks like we’ve got the perfect opportunity to show it. 

About the author

Stephen M. Bean

Universal Coin Laundry Machinery

Machinery Distributor

Stephen M. Bean is a machinery distributor, self-service laundry owner, and marketing consultant. Bean also has a master’s degree in clinical psychology. If you have any comments, contact him at 248-435-6200.

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