CHICAGO — Every vended laundry has those “slow” days or times when few people are in the store and most or all of the equipment is sitting idle. But is a slow day something a store owner like you just has to learn to accept and live with, or is there something you can do about it?
American Coin-Op polled some store owners as well as a few manufacturer/distributor reps to get some tips on how you can go about creating a “slow-day turnaround.”
WHEN ARE THE VALLEYS?
Those polled say self-service laundry business typically wanes during the mid-week period — Tuesday through Thursday. Winter months and summer vacation months also tend to be slower, in general.
An owner can gauge their store’s performance using visual cues (lack of customers, shortage of coins from counts, etc.). What’s more, there is laundry equipment and card payment systems on the market that can enable a vended laundry business to generate detailed reports of number of turns, income generated, etc.
“With networking capabilities on some coin stores and card systems, store owners can monitor their store’s activities to the hour and pinpoint their busy times and quiet hours,” says King Lee, Northeast regional sales manager for manufacturer Dexter Laundry.
“Spin Doctor (Laundromat) operates via a LaundryCard system that captures all equipment starts, so I can chart on a daily, weekly or monthly basis when there are spikes or dips in activity,” says Cathy Neilley of the store she owns in Hamilton, N.J.
“I have reports that analyze exactly what kind of turns I’m doing per day on machine by type,” says “Stucky” Szczotka, a 43-year laundry and drycleaning veteran who co-owns card store New Wave Laundromat, Sterling Heights, Mich., with son Darin.
During lulls in business, it would be nice if your expenses also went down, but that’s likely not the case.
“If you’re in a slow period of time, you’re obviously trying to maximize productivity, because it’s not like your rent is less during slow periods,” says Michael Finkelstein, president of Associated Services Corp., a large chain of vended laundries that operates in Virginia and North Carolina.
So what’s a store owner to do when things get slow?
COME ON IN!
A common approach to generating more business during slow times is to offer some sort of promotion, and these specials can range from A to Z.
Some of the more popular promotions that Lee has seen offered include free dry; soap giveaways; hosting pizza parties; offering a “super cycle” same price as regular wash; bonus dollars when a customer recharges a card on certain days; and exclusive specials offered solely to social media followers.
“On Wednesdays for the past three years, I have what I like to call ‘Club Wednesday,’” says Neilley, who offers 41 washers and 36 dryer pockets, all Electrolux brand, in her 3,000-square-foot strip mall location. “We have kind of a music theme here. So we discount all the washers and all the dryers, and I can do it electronically through the card system. … I don’t promote this in the newspaper. It’s sort of like an inside thing, kind of clubby, exclusive, so (my customers) tell each other.”
Another common tactic is utilizing time-of-day pricing. Today’s advanced equipment makes it simple for store owners to adjust wash/dry prices even when they’re not in the store.
“I see customers use discounts, such as a quarter less for a wash or extended times on the dryers, during slow times,” says Taylor Smith, president of Commercial Equipment Co., a Speed Queen distributor based in Texas.
Lee says it’s important to not change prices infrequently or on a whim.
“Most customers, they like stability, like a half-price Wednesday,” he says. “You have to have some consistency. … You could spin it any way you want. You can be pretty creative and can then track it. Did this promotion work?”
Finkelstein prefers taking an approach designed to keep business coming at a consistent pace.
“If you offer a loyalty program that is available every day, then you will reduce the peaks and valleys that you could create by offering discounts only on certain days,” he says. “Beware of offering discounts on certain days that could create a log jam on what used to be a non-busy day.”
All of his stores accept cash, and about 20% are equipped to accept payment using credit card, debit card, Apple Pay or Google Wallet. He’s begun offering a loyalty program to non-cash customers in which they receive a free wash after a certain number of paid washes.
“I have not found offering discounts or free giveaways do much in creating new business,” Finkelstein says. “I think offering a loyalty program where people get rewarded for using your store during a time that suits their needs is a better approach.”
Check back Thursday for Part 2!