Recently, while discussing the development of a new, 3,150-square-foot Laundromat, my client asked about competition in the area. As a distributor of laundry equipment, at that time, I hadn’t actually sold any of them any equipment, but I was familiar with several of their stores.As a result, the client and I headed out armed with my trusty GPS and a list of local laundries. We agreed that the information we wanted to obtain was simple. We focused on the following store details:
- The distance from the location we were recommending to our client.
- The size of the store.
- The size of the equipment and the approximate age.
- The vend prices.
- The available services (Was wash, dry and fold available? If so, what was the price per pound?).
- The store’s strength (Was the store perceived to be a major threat to our location?).
Based on these details, we were interested in what, if anything, we should do differently from the nearby stores. After visiting the stores, the following things became apparent:
- All of the competitive locations had fewer than 2,000 square feet.
- They all had old equipment, including top loaders and small front loaders.
- Most of them had “out of order” signs.
- Few of them had installed stack dryers, and the ratio of washers to dryer pockets was out of sync.
- All but one stores were dirty; even with attendants.
- The restrooms were not available — they were either locked or nonexistent.
- Many stores had little or no parking.
LEARNING A BIT MOREWhat really helped us was what we learned from asking questions of the laundry customers at each location. A pregnant woman, due in just six days, with a young child in tow, said, “I really wish they had a restroom.” She added, “They don’t even have any large washers.”Another customer, after looking around to make sure he wasn’t heard, stated: “This place is nasty. I wish there was another Laundromat nearby.” One mom commented that she wished there was a “kiddie corral” to occupy her children while she was folding her laundry. A male customer said he never came on the weekends because he always had to wait for a dryer — there were not enough dryers and some were always out of order.Many made remarks about equipment not working, as well as the lack of large machines, parking and lighting. Some customers didn’t appreciate the lack of soap in the dispenser and quarters in the bill changer. Some wondered why there were no attendants even though wash, dry and fold was advertised. We heard tales about the shortage of hot water and the low water levels in the machines. Some said, “Sometimes, I think my clothes are cleaner when I get here, rather than when I leave.” We even heard comments like, “They never put any money into this place,” and “The guy who runs this place is a nasty SOB.”QUESTIONS TO CONSIDERThis experience was enlightening and educational to say the least. It raises a major question: Why don’t more Laundromat owner/operators talk to their customers, and/or recognize the shortcomings of their business? This problem can be dealt with by simply spending a little time asking questions of the regulars, such as:
- If I invested some money in improving the laundry, what would you like to see done? Would you be willing to pay an additional 25 or 50 cents for the improvements?
- Would you use larger washers if they were available?
- If we installed 45-pound stack or 75-pound dryers, would you launder your bedspreads or comforters more often?
- Would you be willing to try wash, dry and fold service if it was offered?
- If we offered longer hours, would this be of interest to you?
Perhaps, as owner/operators, we get so busy making minor repairs, or following a daily routine that decreases time spent at the store, that we forget the main reason we got into the self-service laundry business to begin with. A good return on investment (ROI) requires minding the store and listening to our customers, unless you’ve invested in the stock market (and we all know how that’s been going).So it’s finally time to get on the same page as our customers. Offer a service that the customer appreciates. Provide a clean, well-run laundry with adequate equipment that works. Make an effort to find pleasant employees.Communicating in person is better than plastering the windows, doors and walls with signs that tell our customers what not to do. It’s obvious when you enter a successful Laundromat that the owner knows what the customer expects and appreciates.On the other hand, laundries that are poorly run, dirty, and feature dated or out-of-order equipment, serve as an invitation to new investors to come in and take over your market by doing things the right way. Success in this business isn’t that hard, and it’s made easier through open lines of communication with customers.Just look at what my new investor and I learned about the competition in one short afternoon. What would customers say about your store?