PEMBROKE, Mass. — Sometimes, your store is overly busy. Other times, it is underutilized. You don’t want your customers walking into your facility, seeing it so busy and turn around to leave. You also don’t want customers coming in at odd hours and being so freaked out by the empty facility that they dare not enter your premises.
The perfect balance is to have eight customers in your store during every hour of operation each week. Of course, no one achieves this perfection. But one should try to better align customer use, which I call balancing traffic.
But your customers want to do their laundry at their own convenience. That’s why self-service laundries are open, on average, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Let’s say that Saturday is a madhouse in your store. The suppertime hours are almost completely dead. Weekday mornings are steady, but afternoons crawl along with almost no one in the store. For some reason, Monday and Wednesday nights are quiet. How do you correct this imbalance?
Manage your store’s traffic with inducements and persuasion.
PROMOTIONS AND SPECIAL EVENTS
First, act only if you think there is a problem. Say your Saturday volume is so busy that customers trip over themselves. Children can’t play because every toy is in use and all the spaces are taken. Heavy use causes too many of your machines to break down. Customers walk around, their faces tense with aggravation. This is the perfect scenario to call for balancing traffic.
You would like to convert a number of customers to come in Sundays after 1 p.m. But how do you get these individuals to change their habits? Hand out a $1 coupon to every Sunday-afternoon customer. Do that for 10 weeks, and you’ll have more business in that time slot.
The good thing is that you don’t have to do this permanently. Ten weeks will be enough time to create a larger base of customers who will stay even when they are no longer receiving the $1 inducement. Or perhaps 80% of the changeovers will stay; they will have gotten used to their new hours. Of course, this coupon redemption requires an attendant on duty. If you don’t use an attendant, arrange for someone to be there at designated coupon times.
How much would this effort cost? Suppose you had 30 customers coming in on week one and now have 100 customers coming in on week 10. Splitting the difference, the average customer base is roughly 70 per week. That’s $70 “paid out” each Sunday multiplied by 10 Sundays for a total cost of $700. Is the traffic-aligning worth the cost? You probably will have won 40 to 50 more Sunday-after-1 regular customers. This frees up a busier time slot, plus you’ve earned some customer goodwill. They appreciate the $1. You have better balanced your customer traffic. Yes, it is worth the cost.
You can use this sort of tactic with any time period. Hang a sign in your store that reads, “Earn $1 if you clean your clothes after 1 p.m. on Sundays.” Use all of your marketing efforts to promote the offer. If a customer asks how long the dollar inducement will be in effect, be frank. Tell them you want to even out business, so the promotion will be in effect a minimum of six weeks but could continue for as long as a year. In fact, you are going to end the inducements after 10 weeks.
Another tactic is to have a musician come in and play/sing on a slow night. For instance, the musician plays from 7 to 9 on Wednesday night. You might pay him or her a token amount, and customers could be encouraged to tip the performer. This opportunity might be the inducement for a talented young man or woman to come in and reach a new audience. Of course, you or a staffer will have to be there to manage the traffic flow, keep out undesirables, and keep the music to an acceptable decibel level. In a short amount of time, Wednesday nights at your store could become the neighborhood event, a can’t-miss for the locals. Business will thrive.
Still another approach is to schedule a weekly drawing on a slow business day. The rule is that a customer must wash his/her clothes on that designated day to be eligible to win. Offering an attractive prize—free dinner for two, or a gift certificate to a local store—might shift traffic.
POWER OF PERSUASION
This approach simply asks customers to switch their washing day. This must be done by a knowledgeable person (you?), and it involves greeting customers and quietly talking to them. It could be accomplished simply by pointing out that the facility opens at 7 a.m. and one could get their clothes cleaned in only an hour at that time because most of the machines are available. Everybody wants to save time and avoid hassle. That information might just get them to try the early slot.
Or, you might be more aggressive. Say you have an overly busy Monday night. You might casually go up to several customers and speak to them. “You know, it is awfully busy around here Monday nights. Tuesday or Wednesday evenings are much less hectic, and customers can get any machine they want. They get in and out much quicker.” Everyone wants to save time. That might just plant the seed. Next week, you might see one or more of your Monday regulars on Wednesday night.
Another thing you might pitch during these conversations is the wash/dry/fold service you offer (if you do). It doesn’t hurt for you to sidle up to a customer and say, “Did you ever think about using our wash/dry/fold service? You’d bring clothes in the morning and pick them up that same night. You might spend $5 more a week, but, heck, your time is worth more than that.” Anybody you convince to use the wash/dry/fold service helps to balance store traffic.
Balancing traffic is another way to make your operation more efficient. Don’t ignore this tool.