CHICAGO, Ill. — When times get tough, everyone wants to take a closer look at the numbers, and as an operator, it's easy to sit down and compare them. The most important part of that process is to find some answers and decide what to do with them.At times, operators get fixated on costs. Everyone who owns a laundry asks about rent, labor, utilities, etc. Then operators get fixated on the various parties who are going to “stick their hands a bit deeper into my pocket.” You need to get past this thought process if you want to be a good operator!THE PRICE MYTHIs your laundry doing well? Do you want this to continue? If so, ask yourself one basic question: What makes the customer come to me instead of the guy down the street? If you are thinking price, you are probably wrong. Operators have dealt with competitors offering free dry and half-price washes. If you’re really going to make money in this business you have to buy into the idea that people, regardless of how much money they have or don’t have, want to be treated right and have a pleasant experience. After all, customers are paying your bills. Don’t they deserve to be treated right?You trade every day; how many of your purchases are based strictly on price? If you’re like the rest of us, you don’t price shop your doctor, car wash, banker, baker or hardware store. For the laundry customer, his/her decision process is similar to ours. They want to go somewhere where they can have a good experience and be greeted by someone who treats them right. It’s all about putting your best foot forward. Remember when you first wanted to get married? It’s that same intense passion that you must have because like it or not, to be successful you have to romance your customers.THE EXPERIENCEWhen people visit your store, do they feel good about the experience? Are some of you unsure about what I’m getting at? Let’s go about this in another way. Go through your laundry and see what you have to offer or what you are missing. The simple things sometimes make the biggest difference.It’s basic, but do you have easy access to your front door? Is it easy for the customer to get his/her laundry in and out of your building? When they finally enter the store, do you have what they want? For example, do you have carts with working wheels and a changer that accepts all the new bills? These items might cost a couple of hundred bucks to get upgraded. You can be sure that some owners won’t do this. These things are experience enhancers and they are things that a customer will never mention.Will it be a more pleasant experience for the customer if he/she doesn’t have to stand by a changer with a new bill for five minutes trying to get change? Is it nice not to have to “dance” with a cart to get it to the washer? You bet.How does your attendant look to your customer? Is he/she professional and well trained? Can the attendant offer suggestions on how to best use the machines? Can the attendant help customers when the clothes are stuck or the machine has malfunctioned? Have they been trained to handle drop-off orders? Do all your attendants follow the same process for drop-off work, refunds or customer complaints?UP AND RUNNINGIs your equipment in good shape or does it need repair? Most operators will have a machine go down during the peak time of the week. Do you have out-of-order tags or do you have one of your attendants write on any, old piece of paper? How many out-of-service machines is an acceptable level for your store? The answer varies with each operator and operation. My best operators won’t accept more than 2 percent of their machines out of service at any given time. Some guys don't mind having 5 percent of their machines out of service if it doesn’t affect the customer experience. More out-of-order machines means a less pleasurable experience. Get the machines fixed!Well, if you read this column in hopes of finding ways to stay or become profitable, you probably weren’t expecting a barrage of questions. The answers you seek are tied to these questions. Sometimes, though, it’s not easy to face these questions.In the next column, I'll share some ideas on how to get more eyes to look at your store.