CHICAGO, Ill. — Doing business in a competitive market is something all business owners face at one time or another. We might think that laundry owners are the only people who have had to come to grips with this problem. Not so.Look around a bit. I know that a good percentage of you have probably commented that there seems to be a gas station, restaurant, coffee shop or convenience food store on every corner. Those, to me, seem like really tough businesses to compete with. Let’s look at what the owners of these businesses might do to be competitive and see if any of their tactics might work in the coin laundry industry.STANDING ABOVE THE CROWDI believe that as good business people, the owners of these particular businesses know where their market is and what makes them stand out. Their advantages may be better products, name recognition, higher-quality service, convenience or more competitive prices.I think many of the good businesses have all of the above advantages. Laundry owners don’t seem to spend a lot of time thinking, “What makes my business more attractive to the customers?”The first step is knowing where your customers come from (apartment buildings, homes, other laundries). Establish what you have to offer your customers, remembering that all laundries wash clothes.To simplify matters, ask yourself one question: What do you have or do to entice a potential customer to change his/her habit of using the same laundry? Look at your store and come up with a list of advantages that a customer could make use of if he/she visited your store. Some of the advantages on your list could include:
- off-street parking
- convenient hours of operation
- large quantity of washers and dryers
- friendly attendants
- automatic doors
- plenty of folding tables and carts
- drop-off laundry
- clean and safe environment; and
- special pricing on certain days.
These are just some examples. Your laundry might have all of these things and more. The key now is to figure out how to get this information to potential customers. There are plenty of mediums available — some inexpensive, some very expensive. You need to find out what the cost in your area is for some of these options. These options include radio, TV, direct mail, newspaper ads, inserts in local papers, cash register receipts, co-op with adjoining businesses, Valpak® mailings and extra-large signage.I believe the best form of advertising is direct mail. I think any time you can get your message directly into a potential customer’s hands it will be very effective, especially if your content and timing is right. However, direct mail is also one of the more expensive options.DOING IT RIGHTTiming is key. Most advertising professionals want you to advertise often in order to ensure that you get the word out at the time your potential customer has the need. Having repetitive ads helps the timing factor. However, the ad content is still the most important factor.It is imperative that your ad highlights your laundry’s special offering(s). This offering must be dramatic enough to catch the attention of the potential customer. We know that advertising costs money and what we should strive for is the best return on our advertising dollar, which should relate to more laundry customers. We then need to evaluate our efforts. Was the cost worth it?MAXIMIZING YOUR EFFORTSGetting more than two or three percent return on your advertising is great. That’s why you need to be repetitive with your ads — you will get more customers. Over the years, people have said to me, “I did a direct mail piece and I only got 10 responses. The mailer cost me $500 and I sent out 10,000 flyers. That was not worth it; I will not be doing that again!”Let’s carefully look at the above scenario. A laundry customer is worth about $500 a year if you can keep him/her coming back week after week. The owner in the example picked up 10 customers which are worth a minimum of $5,000 a year and it only cost him $500. That’s a great return on investment. Remember, it only takes one customer who stays with you to get your $500 back.Please keep in mind that advertising just helps attract customers. It is the laundry’s responsibility to keep the customers coming back by providing excellent service.When putting together some type of ad, choosing the right words is important. Some words that attract attention are “free,” “special,” “sale,” and “gifts.” When we, as consumers, look at ads, we all have a different opinion as to what attracts us to a particular product or service. Keep that in mind when you are formulating your ad. That’s why it’s crucial to know your market, as it will affect the “wow” power of your flyer.SUCCESSFUL FLYERSWhat do you need to feature in order to get the most out of your flyer?In my opinion, a good flyer has a main point or offering (use one of the words). It needs to be easy to read and it should have pictures to show off your product or service. That’s a good start.Don’t forget the basics. You have to clearly state your laundry’s location; a map is a plus. Your store phone number and your hours of operation should be easy to spot. Don’t get carried away and try to put too much into the ad or flyer. Cluttering the message may actually turn people away from reading the piece. Stick with a design that can get your main point across in a glance.Some color in a flyer will bring more attention to your offering. If the people in your market area speak a different language, make sure that your flyer is printed in both languages. Printing one language on the front side and a different language on the back seems to work out fine.An inexpensive way to get flyers out is as an insert piece in the local paper. Some papers even provide the flyer for less than you can do it yourself.Remember that your ads are experiments. You need to land on the time that your potential customers are in the market for a change.