Sometimes It’s the Little Things

Author Paul Russo recalls his laundromat staff lending new tennis balls to customers so they could “fluff up” their laundry in the dryers. (Photo: © gargantiopa1/Depositphotos)

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Sometimes It’s the Little Things … (Part 1)

Pointers from Paulie B: Subtle ways to draw laundry customers back

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the never-ending quest to draw more customers, laundromat owners are advertising online, outdoors through great signs and banners, and inside with perhaps a special deal or two. With pickup and delivery evolving into a more professional business, we wrap our vehicles with even more advertising.

Many mats are seeing the benefits of keeping the place “hospital clean.” Ideally, the equipment should be operating like it did on day one, and looking mostly new.

All of this is great and par for the course to run a successful retail business like a laundromat. It does, and will, help draw customers.

But there are other, more subtle ways to reach people, and most of them don’t cost a whole lot of money!


Be Happy — It’s all about people’s feelings, about touching their heart a little. It’s about kindness and getting more than they expect.

Advertising agencies and politicians have long known that they can win over people’s hearts and minds by appealing to people’s emotions as opposed to using logic.

Your mat may be great to many people in many different and creative ways, but one snarky comment from any employee to a customer could cause that customer to leave and never return. Emotion has outperformed logic in a bad way in that instance.

Employees should smile rather than walk around looking “grumpy.” Smiling is contagious, but, unfortunately, so is a grumpy look/attitude.

It begins with hiring. I looked for people who are natural smilers; some people just like to smile. Look for people who are basically happy. They can be hard to find, but they’re out there.

I believe “If they’re happy at home, they’re happy at work,” so without getting too personal, try to get a sense of that. Those people got my attention when I was hiring.

A national gourmet food chain reviews its employees every six months. If they did well during the period just ended, they got a raise. If they didn’t, no raise. A key reason for not getting a raise was not smiling for customers.

You can do the “big box” greeting thing as well, where they say hello and goodbye with a thank-you, but if it’s without a smile, I believe they lose half that nice gesture.

You can’t get every crew member to smile at every customer but you should let them know how important a simple smile to a customer is to you, the boss.

Always Return Lost Items to Customers — If you hired honest employees, when they find money or a valuable item, they’ll return it to the customer with a note saying they found it. There’s no better way to build customer trust than that. You’ll probably have that customer for a long time, just because of that.

Tennis Anyone? — I bought 100 tennis balls on eBay for about $30. We would lend them to the customers to “fluff up” their laundry in the dryers. The vast majority would return them when finished.

Go Beyond Clean (Just a Little) — I retired a year before COVID-19, but I used to keep spray bottles of alcohol in the mat to attract the real germophobes. The pandemic has raised the public’s germ/virus awareness to levels never seen before! There could now be many more people who are cautious of ANY germ. If your mat is better at being relatively germ-free than your competitors, these customers will be very loyal!

Don’t Forget the Restrooms — There are lots of people who will not use a dirty restroom, so if your restrooms aren’t clean, you’re literally chasing some customers away.

It’s good to put your restroom on a cleaning schedule every hour or couple of hours, whatever works to keep it clean. Have your attendant take before/after photos. Google “restroom cleaning checklist apps” for virtual tools to help track things.

If you have a camera aimed conspicuously at the restroom door, you’ll know who went in, who came out, and when.

Sell Plastic Bags at Cost — Plastic bags are dirt cheap. We used to give away a bag or two if any customer asked, but we found some greedy people demanded five or 10 at a time. We ended up charging 10 cents each.

Display Some Nice Flower Arrangements — Your local home goods store sells beautiful artificial arrangements. We always had one on the counter, along with wreaths, and we received smiles and compliments about them. They can last a long time if taken care of.

We also put up some colorful decorative flags to give the mats some color. A store that has all stainless steel equipment is in need of some softness and color to balance the eye appeal a little.

Don’t Allow Loitering — You can do everything else right but if your mat is frequented by homeless people, they will scare away customers. Visitors who only sleep, stink, throw up, pass out on the floor, watch TV or use your bathroom aren’t doing you any favors. (Read my 2018 “How to Deal with Loiterers” column for tips.)

Run Raffles — Don’t require anything for someone to participate, and make it easy for a decent amount of people to win.

I read many years ago about a mat out West where the machines were hardwired so that simply activating a washer could randomly activate an alarm and a flashing sign that read “WINNER.” Much like when a slot machine hits. The customer then got some relatively small thing of value. It’s up to you to come up with prizes: free double-load wash, free 20-pound load of drop-off service, a bottle of Tide, you get the idea. Nothing like an unexpected free wash to get customers talking about your mat.

I bought a small custom stamper that said “Free Double Load Wash,” stamped a bunch of lime green stickers and randomly put them on our vended soap boxes and bottles in the detergent vending machine. I put a sticker on every 20th box and placed a sign on the vender explaining how the boxes were randomly stamped.

It started off slow at first but after people starting winning free washes, my detergent sales took off!

Check back Tuesday for Paul’s conclusion: Customer comfort and giving more than is expected

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].