CHICAGO — When embarking on a new venture, we’re bound to make mistakes. Laundry investors are no different. There are errors that new owners are prone to make, especially during store conception or early stages of operation, that could cost them.
American Coin-Op sought the counsel of experts from several equipment manufacturers to identify some of the pitfalls to sidestep among the makings of a typical self-service laundry operation.
Sometimes, owners only attend to equipment when something goes wrong, says Chad Lange, sales director of Maytag® Commercial Laundry.
“This can lead to even more downtime, and can be avoided by setting a routine schedule that allows you to conduct specific tasks,” he says. “Creating a schedule is about preventative maintenance—preventing repairs and downtime over the life of the machine.”
Aubrey Pollesch, Laundromat sales development manager for Alliance Laundry Systems, warns that equipment maintenance is often overlooked, yet one of the most important parts of owning a Laundromat. Simple steps that can help prevent larger issues include cleaning dryer lint screens daily, checking the washer-extractor door locks for proper operation, checking water inlet valve hose connections on washer-extractors for leaks, checking drain valves or drain system for clogs, and leaving washer doors open at day’s end to allow moisture to evaporate.
“Blowing off” preventative maintenance “results in a less-efficient store and equipment breakdowns,” asserts Tod Sorensen, sales manager for Continental Girbau. “Daily, weekly and monthly PM schedules are key to long-term, successful operation.”
And equipment must be easy to access from the front, top and back. Do not bolt machines too close or not provide access between narrow, dimly lit and cluttered bulkheads or preventative maintenance won’t be done, he adds.
“A great way to understand your equipment better is to attend a service seminar or open house at your local authorized distributor,” suggests Kevin Hietpas, director of sales, Dexter Laundry. “These are great events to meet other owners as well as talk with local and factory representatives who can help you understand how to get the most out of your equipment.”
“Any store that does not invest the time/resources in providing a clean store is missing the minimum customer expectations within the industry,” warns Pollesch. “If you keep your store clean, your customers will respect that and help keep the store clean themselves.”
Cleanliness is an area where first-timers generally excel, according to Hietpas.
“A pitfall to avoid is working hard, but not smart,” he says. “There are many tricks to be learned and, once again, a service school or open house at your local authorized distributor is a great place to learn them. Hard work coupled with smart work will yield even better results.”
EXTRA PROFIT CENTERS
Additional ways to generate revenue—vending (detergents, snacks, soda, ice cream, etc.), games, ATM, etc.—are great, Hietpas says, but first-timers must consider not just what will generate the most revenue but which of them they have room for and where, as well as what mix of additional revenue sources will add to the overall experience for laundry users.
“This is where having an effective store layout comes into plan once again,” he says.
A mistake some store owners make specific to offering wash-dry-fold (WDF) is not educating/advertising, according to Pollesch.
“We often assume people know what WDF is, but that’s actually not the case. You’d be surprised at how many self-service customers may not know what WDF is or the value of it to them or that you offer it.”
Make sure to have enough signage explaining it, she suggests, plus you can send WDF marketing/promotional offers via text or e-mail to target and convert specific self-service customers.
ADVERTISING OR MARKETING
Many first-timers entering the industry with outside business experience are anxious to apply their advertising or marketing ideas, says Hietpas. A pitfall is making the assumption that laundry ownership success is all about great marketing.
“While it’s true that great marketing can put a location on the path to success, the underlying product (the laundry itself) still needs to function well and deliver the best laundry experience possible,” he says.
“Few Laundromat owners do any marketing, or any good marketing, so this is an easy way for owners to differentiate themselves from the competition,” says Pollesch. Marketing can help new store owners with customer acquisition, customer retention and changing customer behavior.
She challenges every store owner to do two things: Google their business, and track their marketing program.
“Try and find yourself online and see what the results are,” Pollesch urges. “If you are not showing up, you are missing potential customers. Also, make sure to claim all of your business pages like Yelp, Google My Business, etc. Have your correct address, phone number and business hours.
“If you are going to spend money on marketing, make sure you are tracking the success and tracking ROI. Leverage tools such as CRM systems to automate marketing as much as possible.”
OTHER IMPORTANT ASPECTS
Sorensen considers not interviewing all of the equipment distributors in your area and not having attendants in your store to be avoidable pitfalls.
“It’s a big pitfall to buy from one company without exploring what other companies offer,” he says. “Look for an established distributor offering the full gamut of products, parts, services and marketing support. Look for strong references of other investors that have traveled your same path and are pleased with the service provided.”
About the importance of attendants, he adds, “This is too great an investment to not have eyes and ears onsite. Attendants also make customers feel comfortable, safe and welcome.”
From Hietpas’ view, when considering the initial investment to update a location, budget a few extra dollars to improve the overall décor: walls, floors, bathrooms, etc.
“Our best customers are going to spend an hour with us every week, and there is no reason that the surroundings shouldn’t be a pleasant space to be in.”
Also, avoid having too many “No” messages around the store: “Having rules for comfort and safety is important, but having signage that seemingly ‘yells’ at customers is quite another.”
If you missed earlier parts of this article, you can read them HERE and HERE.