You are here

Staying Ahead of the Competition (Conclusion)

Here’s how to not come out on the losing end

CHICAGO — Your store is established and the money is coming in at a steady clip now. It’s taken you some time but you’ve built a customer base that makes visiting your vended laundry part of its routine. You’re operating comfortably in the black.

But, wait, what’s that happening up the road? A new store is being built. You’ve got yourself a competitor. It looks to be bigger, brighter. Rumors are it’ll have all-new equipment, including larger-capacity machines that your store doesn’t have.

American Coin-Op polled several distributors about the topic of competition this month. It’s understandable if your attention is on a challenger, they say, but you really should be looking at your own operation for the keys to staying at the top in your marketplace.

PRICE WAR PERILS

In the face of a newcomer’s special pricing upon opening, you may be tempted to drop your own prices to match. The distributors polled oppose getting into “a race to the bottom.”

“I always strongly discourage it,” says Brett Nolan, director of vended laundry systems for TLC Tri-State Laundry Systems, based in Georgia. “It sends the exact wrong message to your customer base, and that message is: ‘I’ve been overcharging you and now somebody’s called me on it so I need to correct that.’ The better response is to do nothing and leave your prices where they are.”

“If you look at any industry survey, price is way down on the list for what drives people into a Laundromat,” says Bryan Maxwell, who works in sales and marketing for Western State Design, based in California. “You have to be competitive. Someone comes in and wants to be cheaper, how loyal is a price shopper? … In a capital-intensive business with ever-increasing utility costs, ever-increasing insurance costs, ever-increasing rent costs, and everything else tied into this business, why do you want to get into a price game?

“There have been exceptions but, generally speaking, I believe that a better store, long term, will outperform a cheaper store.”

“If you already know you’re going to be taking a hit, whatever percentage that is, why would you want to multiply that by also decreasing your prices?” asks Michael “Stucky” Szczotka, president of Eagle Star Equipment, based in Michigan.

“A race to the bottom is never a good idea. However, it is definitely OK to focus on new pricing or marketing techniques when a new competitor opens,” says Brad Steinberg, co-president of PWS – The Laundry Company, based in California. “If you happen to have a card store, instead of reducing machine prices, I like offering bonus dollars on their cards (spend $20 and get $5 free, or do nine washes and the 10th is free). This kind of marketing leads to customer loyalty.”

TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

While a competitor may be banking on the newness of their store, an established store has advantages of its own.

“The customer base is absolutely the biggest advantage, because they can be your biggest evangelist out in the market,” Nolan says. “If you have an established store, you’ve paid off your equipment, and the guy coming in put down the bare minimum the finance company would approve and has a huge note that he’s got to meet every month, that’s a huge advantage as well.”

In that vein, listening to and acting upon your customers’ feedback is paramount, especially when there is competition that could draw them away.

“I think it’s at the top of the list,” Szczotka says of customer feedback. “The ultimate bosses of any business is the customer base. Without them, the power of the signatures on our checks mean nothing.”

“Customer feedback is extremely important. Before a new laundry opens, get feedback from your customers, and also try new things to see what works and what doesn’t,” Steinberg says. “This is really helpful to observe before the store opens.”

“It’s essential. Without customers, you have no business,” says Brandon Hoffman, salesman for Gold Coin Laundry Equipment, based in New York. “For you not to listen to your customers’ reactions and what they’re telling you, you’d be a fool.”

“If you’re coming into a new market with a new store, you have maybe a rough concept of who you want your ideal customer to be,” Nolan says. “As the existing store owner/operator, you have the ideal customers standing there dropping quarters in your machines and telling you what they want. Your market research is bringing money to you, you’re not paying for market research.”

But Maxwell says that if you’re listening only to your current customers, you’re missing an opportunity.

“Customer feedback is critical in the sense that you need to make people who come into your store happy and resolve their concerns, but if you only listen to them, well, they’re already your customer. … But what does the marketplace need?

“It’s very important to satisfy customers and keep them happy but you need to understand global trends in the industry and find out if any of those trends make sense for you, and you need to think outside the box to attract new customers. The way you drive the business is to drive new customers into your store.”

MARKET SHARE SHAKE-UP

In competitions like these, sometimes the older store comes out on the losing end. Why is that?

“I think the biggest mistake that business owners make is not realizing … that the only constant is change,” says Szczotka. “If you’re not willing to look at the horizon and see what is changing to adapt to it, you’re not going to stay in business.”

“I see larger stores knocking out smaller, older stores,” says Steinberg.

“Where it happens, it’s because the existing store owner was not taking proper care of their business,” Nolan says. “They were not in the store regularly engaging with customers. They may have been letting machines sit out of order for extended periods of time. The place may not have been as clean as it could be. So it showed when the competitor came in.

“It’s probably a large factor in why the competitor chose to come in there: they saw this potentially ‘rundown’ location that somebody is finished investing in and is now just taking from, and they thought they could do it better … and they were right.”

Miss Part 1? You can read it HERE.