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On Second Thought

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Doors. (Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Spectral-Design)

Howard Scott |

CHICAGO — I recently received an interesting e-mail from a Laundromat owner. The owner was thinking about putting in a back door. He had gravel out back, but realized that four parking spots could be created.After speaking to a builder, he received an estimate of $4,000 for the work. He decided not to proceed with the project. After all, he said he had an adequate front door, and some parking. Yes, if he had a back door, some customers could drive around back, making their visit a little bit easier, he surmised. There was one other factor: Creating a back door also meant losing some dryers.PLENTY TO CONSIDERThe operator asked me if he made the right decision. Answer: No. Two entrances with four extra parking spots is always preferable. Giving your customers some type of choice is a big plus for any business. Plus, a back door opens up the store, giving it more light and providing an airy atmosphere. Two entrances also make a place feel more spacious. When it comes to toting baskets of clothes around, the shorter the trip the better.That was my short answer to him. Now, let’s explore the longer answer. I don’t encourage spending $4,000 if it can be avoided, but we must consider the benefits of any action. I don’t have “hard numbers” to back this up, but I would be willing to bet that 70 percent of your regular customers would appreciate a second entrance. They will believe that you are a progressive owner, not an owner who’s just interested in maintaining the status quo.I also believe that 25 percent of your customers would use the back door at some time. This would free up the front of your store. Passersby would see parking availability, and I predict 25 new customers would walk through your doors within the first year. In addition, some of these new customers would also switch to using the back door because it would be more convenient for them. This means you retain ample parking in front of the store.These 25 new customers would probably spend an average of $9 per visit (washing, drying, snack spending, etc.). On average, this group could visit your store 40 times a year. That’s $360 per person, and that may be a conservative figure. Total additional revenue would be $9,000 ($360 x 25). Your marginal profit might be $7,000 ($9,000 less $2,000 for utilities and other variable costs).By the second year, it’s possible that these customers would tell friends and family about your store, and another group of people might be sampling your service.By year two, a sharp owner may have reconfigured his operation so that the drop-off service is near the back door. This change will make it easier for customers to take advantage of the service. Just park the car, enter through the back door, and drop off the laundry. A remodeling job could really boost this extra-profit center.Using this thought process, the operator would recover his investment within six or seven months, and initiate a steady growth pattern. STILL NOT CONVINCED?Another reason for spending the $4,000 is that it will provide fuel for your marketing efforts. To say that “My store has a front and back entrance, both with parking, so there’s never any problem getting in or out” is a marvelous selling feature.Whether the message is conveyed in person, in the newspaper, on your Web site, or on a mailer, the individual thinks: large store, ease of entry and exit, and plenty of parking.With print advertising, include a photo of the new entrance and the parking. Readers will take notice. Here’s a slogan: “A clean, well-lit Laundromat with two entrances and two parking lots.” You can also say, “Easy use through two entrances.” To build drop-off volume, try “One-minute drop-off service.” When someone hears these messages, they may be thinking, “I’m going to give that laundry a try.”Don’t forget that a second entrance differentiates you from the competition. Most stores have only one entrance. You may be the only operation in your marketing area with two entrances.The truth is, most Laundromats are in tight, commercial spaces. When you use one of them, there is often little room to move around and do your work. People bump into one another. The space issue can be a sensitive one. Any attempt to open up that space and make it easier for customers to move around will be much appreciated.Don’t discount the “airiness” factor. Light sources coming in from two spots open things up considerably. In the summer, screen doors on both entrances can make the place seem less closed in. That’s good, because some stores are dingy, damp, cave-like spaces.Be creative. I’ve seen stores with side entrances. I know of one Laundromat with three entrances and parking in the three spots. Whatever makes visiting your store more convenient for your customer is the right thing to do.In the bigger picture, such a move is tied to effective management. A good owner never accepts the status quo. Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud owner who rests on his reputation. Stay the same and your business will suffer. Do something, anything. This will be construed as forward motion. You’ll get the reputation of running a progressive store.If you add a second entrance, just wait for the first time a customer walks in, looks around, and uses the back entrance. You’ll hear the customer say, “You guys have really changed this place. Good for you.”Spending money is always a calculated gamble. Think long and hard before you spend. But also think long and hard when deciding not to spend. More often than not, spending money to increase volume will pay for itself, if for no other reason than it shows that you are proactive. Proactive operators flourish.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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