Making the Most of Distributor Relations (Part 1)
CHICAGO — To quote retired American Coin-Op columnist Howard Scott, the business relationship that a self-service laundry owner has with his or her main laundry distributor is vital to their success. Besides the obvious benefit of being a reliable source for equipment and parts, full-service distributors may counsel owners on matters such as store site selection, demographics, lease negotiations, financing and much more.
Of course, it’s up to the laundry business owner to decide how deeply they want this relationship to go. They can limit the connection to just the “nuts and bolts,” using the distributor only when they need to buy parts or supplies. Or, they can forge a more personal bond, even acquainting the distributor with aspects of their business plan and overall vision.
“We are here to help our customers as much or as little as they like, depending on their own personal needs,” says Joe Frankian, president of D&M Equipment, serving the Chicagoland area. “Whether our customers, or new people looking to enter into the industry, need something as simple as a design layout or an equipment mix or something greater such as selecting the right location or analyzing demographics, we offer our years of expertise and credibility free of charge.”
“HK works on the consultative sales model, meaning that we act as a consultant to our customers and guide them through the daunting process of opening a Laundromat,” says Karl Hinrichs, president of New York-based HK Laundry Equipment. “The biggest product we sell is information and our 54 years of company experience in building, owning and operating Laundromats.”
Andy Wray, sales manager for California-based ACE Commercial Laundry Equipment, counts “walking new customers through their first 30 days in business” among his company’s offerings.
“Being that friend when they’re going in blind hopefully helps,” he explains.
But we all know that the industry doesn’t sit still. Manufacturers design and build new products, laundry customers change the way they like to do things, and sometimes even a national emergency comes along to gum up the works of the well-oiled machine that is self-service laundry.
“Finding someone you trust in this business is extremely important,” says Brad Steinberg, co-president of California-based PWS – The Laundry Co., which says it’s the largest distributor of commercial laundry equipment and parts in the country, as well as a premier broker and developer of Laundromats. “They can be extremely valuable in offering store owners advice as well as keeping them up to date on new advancements in the business.”
Whether you’re the store owner or the distributor in the relationship, sending and receiving regular communications can be key to keeping the connection strong.
So how do distributors reach or connect with current or potential customers about their product and service offerings?
“We use all social media platforms along with direct marketing,” says Craig Dakauskas, president/CEO of Florida-based CLEC. “We have one of the largest sales forces in the industry and we are out meeting with customers every day. Feet on the street still seems to work the best. We cold-call or blitz our territory daily.”
“We have extensive mail and email lists which we’ve built ourselves over the years from customers, leads, etc.,” says Douglas Pratt, president of Gold Coin Laundry Equipment, based in Queens, N.Y. “As far as promotion goes, we still do direct mail, we are on social media, we shoot out email blasts, and we actually call and text customers when we have an actual physical event we’d like people to attend in person.”
“Laundry One provides a strong online presence,” says Mike Enz, an account manager for the Ohio-based distributor. “We understand that many potential customers do an online search for a local distributor to assist them in getting started. Email blasts and social media are important tools for us to reach existing customers. Laundry One also advertises in trade magazines promoting upcoming service schools and open houses.”
“Since the pandemic, we have been dedicating more resources to reaching our customers online through our social media pages and advertisements,” D&M’s Frankian says. “We also advertise in magazines such as this one to show our existing customers and potential new ones that you can purchase parts directly through our website fast and easily for those looking for contactless options. We do several large mailings each year with any equipment, parts or financing offers or specials.”
“(We use the) Internet, website, good ol’ sales calls, and our best is references from existing customers,” says John Curtis, owner of Michigan-based Curtis Equipment Co.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!