CHICAGO — We all make mistakes. We’re human, after all. And there are some errors that coin laundry store owners are prone to make, especially at times of store conception or the early stages of operation, that could cost them dearly if not avoided or at least addressed.
This month, American Coin-Op sought the counsel of several industry experts to identify the pitfalls to sidestep amongst the components of a typical vended laundry operation.
What’s more, they offer valuable suggestions for how store owners can remain on the path to profit and peace of mind. By following these guidelines, you can write your own success story.
Pitfalls: Assuming your customers know the proper way to operate equipment; not posting warnings about overloading equipment; not ensuring equipment is maintained properly or frequently enough.
“I would absolutely use the distributor as leverage to learn and understand what general, regular maintenance means for washers, dryers, and the other equipment,” says Craig Kirchner, vice president of sales, marketing, and customer service for Dexter Laundry. “Read as much as you can. Attend as many of the distributor maintenance/service schools as you can.”
“Someone on staff should understand basic maintenance and troubleshooting,” says Chris Brick, national sales manager for Maytag® Commercial Laundry. “This will reduce the number of service calls and therefore increase the store’s bottom line. When a technician is called to service a machine, a store owner should glean as much knowledge and technical experience as possible.”
There are parts on top loaders that, no matter whose equipment you use, are going to wear out, says Dan Bowe, national sales manager for Speed Queen. “You want to clean clogged pumps as soon as you know about it. We always suggest that the store owners keep some belts and pumps on hand, instead of having to wait for someone to go get it or have it delivered.”
Clean the lint screens on your dryers at least twice daily, he adds, and vacuum the motors and fans every two to three months.
On larger machines (75 pounds and above), many store owners make the mistake of not greasing bearings annually at a minimum. This should be done more frequently if it’s a high-turn location, Bowe says.
“By having machines down, it’s just not a good example of how a customer would perceive you running your operation, your store,” he says. “Having machines down for a long time probably makes it seem like you don’t care. The stat we always throw out is for every customer that bothers to complain about maintenance issues or machines not working, there are 26 who do not bother to complain.”
Pitfalls: Not devoting enough time or attention to keeping your entire store clean, from floor to ceiling.
“It’s just a matter of doing it, keeping up on it, and training your staff,” John Sabino, chief operating officer for Laundrylux, says. “Personally, I think it’s a matter of not missing the details. Everybody sweeps the floor but not everybody uses a toothbrush to clean the frame of the machine, the door gasket. Customers do inspect those machines before they use them.
“If all you’re doing is wiping the top and sweeping the floor, your store may look clean on the surface but there’s a lot of other detailed work that can be done.”
“When you’re going in there to do laundry, you want it coming out cleaner than it did going in,” Bowe quips.
“As a potential customer, if you had the choice between a clean store and a dirty store, it’s obvious that 100% of the people would go to the clean store,” adds Kirchner.
EXTRA PROFIT CENTERS
Pitfalls: Using machines for your wash/dry/fold service when walk-in customers are waiting for a machine; offering arcade games that appeal to youth but not necessarily your customers.
“When you develop a site and store plan, you like to think that everywhere a customer turns inside the store would be an extra opportunity to have them put a quarter in something, or to purchase something,” Bowe says. “I just think when you set the store up, you want to think about that, because there are a lot of opportunities just through vending, games, phone cards, selling soap.”
But you have to be careful to choose extra profit centers that benefit your operation, not create problems for you, Sabino says.
“The right vending machines are a plus. The wrong vending machines are a huge negative,” he says. “You see store after store that want to put in machines to attract some of the local kids, and they may make a lot of money on that machine, but it definitely detracts from their business. People don’t want to see four kids screaming and hanging onto a video machine.”
ADVERTISING OR MARKETING
Pitfalls: Believing that if you build/open your store and do nothing more, customers will come; failing to use the range of marketing and social media channels now available.
Bowe offered a staggering statistic: his company believes that 95% of coin laundries do no marketing whatsoever.
“You have an internal marketing plan and an external marketing plan, and you budget for it,” he recommends. “On the pro forma, we recommend 1-2% of monthly gross should be spent on internal marketing and 2-3% of monthly gross should be spent on external marketing.”
“There are more tools today, with smartphones and social media, beyond just the print and door hanger where they can reach out to potential customers and promote their particular business,” says Kirchner, who favors trying different media types in an effort to identify what works best for a particular business.
Laundrylux offers creative design services to store owners free of charge. “I can tell you, the quicker you market the store, the quicker the store will ramp,” Sabino says. “The cost almost pays for itself.”
A common mistake, Bowe says, is that a laundry owner puts out one piece of marketing collateral such as a newspaper ad or a direct mail offer, then stops marketing altogether because the first try didn’t garner enough business. “A rule of marketing is that a consumer needs to see something seven times on average before they act on it, so marketing needs to be a consistent message.”
It’s easy to set unrealistic marketing goals, such as trying to market to “everyone,” according to Brick. “As a matter of fact, targeting a specific segment of the population is a preferred way to start. Begin by targeting a group of customers (e.g. people within a certain radius of the store, families with small children if your facility has a play area, etc.). Once you’re secured your customer base, determine the best way to reach them, such as word of mouth, door hangers or a community newspaper.”
Bowe is a believer in marketing available services both inside the store and out. “I’ve seen stores that have wash/dry/fold service but you’d never know it.”
The bottom line of all of this seems to be that inaction is the biggest pitfall of all.