CHICAGO — Self-service laundry owners across the country have begun to see the steep sales decline of the past year start to ease, with some regions reporting a much less drastic drop for the month of January, and some even reporting a climb in sales, according to a recent AmericanCoinOp.com StatShot survey.Survey respondents in the West and Midwest saw a less severe decline in sales for January 2010 compared to January 2009, with storeowners in the two regions reporting an average 2.0% and 1.8% drop, respectively. In addition, the Northeast reported a sales increase of 0.7% for the month compared to the same period last year. The South is still lagging, however, with survey respondents reporting an 11.1% sales decrease.“Most of my gain can be attributed to new machines and a clean store,” explained one operator in the West.We also polled self-service laundry owners on the cost of natural gas. The New York Mercantile Exchange and other agencies have been reporting record low prices for natural gas, but whether or not self-service laundries experienced those lows depended greatly on the region in which they’re located, survey results show.In the South and Midwest, survey respondents reported a drop in the cost of natural gas for January 2010 compared to January 2009, with storeowners reporting 7.8% and 10.1% drops, respectively. The West and Northeast both reported increasing natural gas costs for the month, however, as laundry owners reported 0.3% and 1.1% increases, respectively.“Both our electric and gas bills are not going down. They definitely are more this year than last,” one operator in the Northeast commented. “Our water and sewer charges from the city where we operate are also going up. We have not raised our charges, but I don’t know if we can hold the line much longer.”AmericanCoinOp.com’s StatShot includes information on sales, wages, costs and other financial data based on anonymous survey information provided by industry owners and operators. Subscribers to American Coin-Op’s Wire e-mails are invited to participate in these unscientific surveys, which are conducted online via a partner website, on a regular basis. Readers are encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define industry trends.Click here and follow the menu instructions to sign up for the free e-mail service.