CHICAGO — Attracting someone to try your self-service laundry business or wash and fold service for the first time is good.
Convincing that one-time customer to return a second or third time is better.
Captivating that semi-regular customer so they won’t go anywhere else is best.
Boosting customer retention relies heavily on building relationships, including your ability to understand your customer’s needs and to create a consistently excellent experience each time he/she interacts with you. Mutual regard and understanding can lead to what every smart laundry owner strives for: customer loyalty.
In pursuit of this goal, laundromat operators often employ assorted tools to create a customer base of regulars.
Some businesses offer a reward or bonus based on the number of times a customer uses a service. Upon reaching whatever metric the business owner has established, the customer is rewarded in some way.
Hollywood screenwriter Hank Nelken says he got into laundry through real estate. He was helping a lawyer pursue a laundromat for sale when the person decided to drop out. Left on his own in the deal, Nelken bought the California business himself in 2018. He adds store No. 3 to his Half Price Laundry portfolio this month. His fully attended San Fernando Valley stores offer self-service, wash and fold, commercial laundry, dry cleaning, and pickup and delivery, and range in size from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet.
His first two stores feature payment by loyalty card that can be loaded using cash, credit card or EBT. Payment at the new store will be partially coin, partially credit card.
“The (loyalty) card system is kind of an automatic loyalty program because there are built-in bonuses, and you can make bonus points and get free washes,” Nelken says. “Just having the card system itself is a loyalty program. And you can change that, make it more enticing, or less. That’s sort of inherent in the card system.”
Laura Simoes and Kristyn Van Ostern just celebrated their fifth anniversary in the industry last month. They purchased an existing laundry in April 2017 that has evolved into Wash Street, a laundry services company that offers self-service, wash and fold, and dry cleaning (plus pickup and delivery for the latter two).
The 1,600-square-foot facility operated by eight full-time employees serves the areas in and around Manchester, New Hampshire. The owners agree that their business has grown much more rapidly than they had expected.
Their loyalty program related to wash and fold, drycleaning and pickup and delivery is a function of their point of sale system. From a coin-op perspective, it’s a function of their cashless payment system.
“Our software programs, on both sides of the business, in many ways dictate what our loyalty program looks like. We have the ability to, within that, make some changes, but we are rewarding people for being recurring customers,” Van Ostern says. “That’s really important to us so that we know we can count on them each week from a wash and fold and drycleaning perspective, and on the coin-op side, it’s a function of the number of times you come in and the discounted or free services you get as a result.”
Todd Layne Cleaners & Laundromat got its start in New York City in 2006, founded by management consultant Todd Ofsink.
“I saw a need for a different type of laundry service specific to Manhattan. That’s really what started my journey,” he says. “I saw two empty storefronts. One had been a shuttered laundromat, the other was a hair salon. I combined the two and turned it into an eco-friendly drycleaning and laundry company.”
The laundromat shares staff with the drycleaning side, so it’s attended at all times when open.
Ofsink still uses a punch card to keep customers coming back.
“It’s the type of thing, all of the years that we’ve been in business, it’s been very successful,” he says. “If someone is a self-service customer, we have a card with the punches, and after 10 punches, they get a free wash. Also, when we do the laundry for them, after 10 bags of laundry, we give them up to 20 pounds free. Sort of their 11th wash is free.”
Even Todd Layne’s younger millennial and Generation Z customers “kind of like having this card,” Ofsink says, “taking it out of their wallet to get the punch as opposed to it just being an electronic program.”
Not everyone believes having a loyalty program is necessary.
Lloyd Silver purchased and retooled an existing laundromat in Woodland, Calif., and his Sage Laundry is celebrating its first anniversary this month. Self-service, wash and fold, commercial laundry and pickup and delivery are on the store’s menu.
Silver, who’s owned a marketing agency for 15 years, was looking for ways to diversify his income during the pandemic. He wanted to leverage his marketing skills in a business that wouldn’t require full-time involvement.
“It was an existing laundromat and it had a failing reputation,” he says. “I knew I needed to come in and if were going to acquire loyal customers, I had to provide an experience that wasn’t just a little bit better than it was, but the best experience they’ve had in a laundromat. I wanted to just blow people away.”
And that effort starts the moment a customer enters the front door: “When you walk in our store, we don’t have the attendant counter in the back, where you see them in a lot of laundromats. Little window in the back. No, I have a reception counter right in the front. Our attendants, if they’re not busy, are right there to welcome people as they come in.”
With a laser focus on experience-building, Silver doesn’t see the need to offer the promise of a few dollars for return business.
“When you hear ‘loyalty’ as a marketer, what comes to mind is a program that rewards for repeated use. How can I reward my customers for continuing to come back? I actually dismissed that fairly quickly,” he says. “I talked to some people in the industry who I respected, which confirmed my thinking. If we’re creating this amazing experience that they can’t get anywhere else, why do I have to incentivize them to keep coming back?”
Check back Thursday for Part 2!
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].