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Staff Training in Today’s Self-Service Laundries (Part 1)

Mold and manage to stay on the right path

CHICAGO — If you own an attended or partially attended vended laundry, then you understand the importance of hiring and retaining good employees. They represent you and your brand on the front lines through their interaction with customers and their ability to keep your operation running smoothly day after day.

But attendants and other laundry staff aren’t born with those skills — they have to be trained.

And while there are similarities among all self-service laundries no matter where they’re located, a small-business owner likes to run their operation in their own way. Training staff is necessary to ensure that they perform to the business owner’s satisfaction and they’re able to run things properly even if their supervisor isn’t around.

American Coin-Op spoke with some laundry business owners and managers this month to learn how they go about training their staff.

WHALE OF A WASH, WEST VIRGINIA

Anne Sechler manages Whale of a Wash, a West Virginia-based business operation that includes 10 Laundromats and three car washes, for her father, owner Hank Walter.

Three of the stores are partially attended and offer wash/dry/fold (WDF), ironing and drycleaning services; the other locations are visited by a “detail cleaner” at least once a week. These cleaners are also trained in WDF and can fill in when someone is sick or takes a day off. Three full-time service technicians attend to equipment maintenance and share on-call duties across all stores (and car washes) so someone is available 24/7.

Sechler says staff training is important because job satisfaction “comes with becoming an expert.”

“No employee likes to have to call a manager for every little question they might have, and vice versa,” she says. “Providing training, especially in the beginning, will pay off big time when that employee is faced with a difficult situation.”

New Whale of a Wash employees meet Sechler at the company’s office and largest WDF store. After Sechler walks a new worker through the employee handbook and laundry attendant handbook (they must sign off to show they have read and understand the documents), the worker trains at the company’s flagship store with its most trusted employee.

“They shadow her for at least four shifts after which we evaluate if that person can work on his/her own,” Sechler says. “Next, the new employee is sent out on a detailing run with our designated detail cleaner. They shadow her for 1-2 days and we again evaluate autonomy. After this week of training, we feel we have provided friendly resources for him/her to feel like part of the team and we trust that he/she will act in the best interest of the company.”

Once on duty, employees know they have the handbooks to help guide them but also that a service technician or supervisor is available by phone. “We never like the employee to be stuck, say, with an angry customer or a flooding store, with no one to call. We keep a schedule at every store with the ‘on-call’ service tech and cell phone numbers for the owner.”

Whale of a Wash training had to be adapted when the business added full-service laundry.

“Prior to this, our employee model was only self-service vended laundry with a staff of seasoned service techs that did not need much oversight,” says Sechler. “Due to a more active ‘revolving door’ of human capital, we have become more practiced in the training process. We have established what works and what doesn’t work.”

QUEEN CITY LAUNDRY, HAPPYNEST, OHIO

Dave Menz owns and operates a chain of four retail Laundromats in Cincinnati, Ohio, under the Queen City Laundry brand (three are fully attended with drop-off wash/dry/fold service, the other is partially attended), plus he runs a HappyNest laundry pickup and delivery franchise. He’s been in the industry since 2009.

“We have 20 to 25 store attendants; most of them are part-time. We have three store managers … and we have a general manager that runs the whole company (plus oversees day-to-day operations at one store). We have anywhere from seven to eight delivery drivers … and then we have a third-shift processing crew that processes laundry overnight from our pickup and delivery business.”

Training is important to the success of his businesses “because we have really high standards for the experience the customer gets, whether it’s pickup and delivery or in our stores,” says Menz. “We want our attendants going above and beyond. … We look for people that have we call ‘the heart of a servant.’”

Attendants undergo four days of training in four-hour shifts with a store manager and are cross-trained so they can work at any of the four Queen City Laundry locations; management has the option to extend training if needed, and new hires are subject to a 90-day probationary period.

“The first two days of training is exclusively customer service and cleaning. … We focus on cleaning on a shift-by-shift basis and then also what we call deep cleaning. These are things that don’t necessarily have to happen every shift but if we never do them, (the stores are) going to really start to look bad.”

The second half of training is on drop-off service: “They’re physically processing laundry, organizing things, packaging, folding, these type of things.”

Once completed, they can typically be released to work independently, with the understanding that if a manager is not in the store, one is only a phone call away.

Driver training incorporates two days of shadowing an experienced driver, then two days of driving themselves with the trainer on board.

“Once you get through those four days of training, the job isn’t that complicated, so you have to kind of let them sink or swim on their own,” Menz says. “But you also want to be there to support them, sort of in the background.”

Training then shifts to coaching, and management could begin grooming someone for a higher-level position within the company.

“To date, we haven’t hired a store manager that wasn’t already a store attendant,” Menz says. “We’re not opposed to it but if we have the right person, it’s such a natural progression.”

The first thing the manager in training will do is spend 40 hours with the GM to learn the responsibilities of the new post. Then, the GM will spend extra time with the trainee over several weeks before deeming them fit to officially step up.

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion featuring two more store owners!