NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Some problems aren’t all that bad. After two years in business as owner of The Laundry Lounge in Niagara Falls, N.Y., my customer load was so heavy that I had to do something to handle all of the volume.
This laundry, which opened in 1997, is my first store. I have been amazed by the ever-increasing flow of customers from year to year.
In 1999, I decided to expand the hours to 24 hours a day. Originally, we were open between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., seven days a week. However, it was getting harder for me and my attendants to close at a decent time. We were so overloaded that we’d frequently have customers coming in later at night, begging us to stay open so they could get their laundry finished.
It’s hard to say “no” to the customer. With a 24-hour operation, my hopes were that our customer base would have more time out of the day to do their laundry. The extra hours would also alleviate a lot of the bottleneck. But, everything didn’t go as planned.
Instead, our new business hours attracted many new customers, and business increased 30 percent overnight! Becoming a 24-hour laundry was a good move, and we have seen a 15 to 20 percent increase in business every year since. We even added a 1,600-square-foot expansion to the store and celebrated our 10th year in business this year by opening a second location of The Laundry Lounge in Grand Island, N.Y. At this point, I feel very fortunate to have had such a positive experience.
My experience got me thinking about 24-hour laundries. Unfortunately, these stores often get a bad rap from consumers and coin laundry professionals. The problem isn’t the hours, it’s mismanagement. In this article, I will share some of the advantages of a properly run, 24-hour laundry, and tips that have helped my business grow. I hope you will be able to apply some of these tips to your own coin laundry and experience the same growth that I have.
A BAD REPUTATION
You may run into some opposition, as I did, when researching the feasibility of opening a 24-hour laundry. My customers and other laundry owners tried to get me to change my mind. They had all seen bad examples of 24-hour laundries, most of which in today’s world are unattended operations. Without attendants present, 24-hour coin laundries have become notorious for having a whole range of problems, such as safety concerns, out-of-order equipment, homeless people setting up camp and dirty facilities. Everything can be a mess without attendants, and as the situation gets worse, there will be fewer and fewer customers who will feel comfortable doing their laundry at such laundries late at night.
The Laundry Lounge always has an attendant on hand to cover the night shift, helping maintain the cleanliness of the store, providing a watchful eye for security threats and simply providing customer service. In most cases, customers can handle the wash by themselves, but having someone in the building to answer their questions just makes them feel more comfortable.
This, combined with video surveillance, also makes our customers feel more protected from any threats to their safety. Women can come in alone at 2 a.m. to do their laundry and they don’t have to worry about their safety because of the attendant.
If your 24-hour laundry always has at least one quality staff member working, you can stop thinking about the cons and start talking about the pros of going 24 hours.
PLENTY OF ADVANTAGES
One of the best reasons for having a 24-hour operation is that you are better able to serve your customer base and you can pick up customers who may not otherwise visit due to their personal schedules. When we made the switch, several new customers came in to do their laundry after working their second-shift jobs. Since we’re so close to the Canadian border, we also get a lot of workers from out of town who prefer to do their laundry late at night. Since 2001, we have also offered 24-hour drycleaning through our on-site partner, Capitol Cleaners.
Aside from that, there’s no major difference in the type of customer that we see during day hours and night hours. Actually, we’ve seen some of our day customers become night customers as well. If they can’t sleep and their spouse is at home with the kids, they’ll come in sometimes late at night and do their laundry. One woman told me she’d rather come in late and spend four hours doing her laundry at our store than spend eight or nine hours doing it at home on her days off. For this reason, we have a lot of homeowner customers. The larger capacity and speed of our washers and dryers allow them to get more done in less time than at home. Our equipment is very efficient, and customers have told me that with all the water and energy they would have used at home, they feel like they actually save money doing their wash at The Laundry Lounge.
The following tips should provide plenty of ideas on how to build a successful 24-hour business.
Cleanliness is key: People always comment on how clean it is at my laundry, even when it’s near the end of the day and I myself think the place could use a cleaning. Some have told me that they will pass two or three closer laundries to come to mine because of its cleanliness. We always have someone here, 24 hours a day, to keep the place looking good. One advantage we have at the Niagara Falls location is that there are two buildings with the same amount of equipment, so we can close one off for cleaning when business slows down and still serve customers on the other side.
Hire and train quality attendants: I have been blessed with great help, including my girlfriend, Chris, who has been my business partner since the laundry opened. Our 15 employees are terrific and dedicated, and some of them have been with us for seven or eight years. We are like family. When we started out, I practically lived at the store. I still spend plenty of time there, but I didn’t want to get burnt out, so I hired extra help. Without good staff, it’s hard to keep things running.
Never stop listening and learning: I am always working hard to learn more about the laundry business as I work to improve my own business. I read a lot about the industry and listen to advice from my staff and customers on how to improve things. Acting on an idea from a customer can make a big difference, and it means a lot to them that you’re striving to meet their needs.
For example, one of my customers recently suggested that we provide bottles of spray cleaner and rags to wipe off folding tables. This may have been a simple suggestion, but it’s been a big hit with our customers. So, the time spent at the laundry talking with customers is valuable. I also believe that expressing my interest and dedication rubs off on my attendants as well and helps them become more dedicated to good customer service. I think it would be a totally different situation if I were an absentee owner.
Provide plenty of amenities: We have eight TVs throughout the laundry, a lounge area with tables and chairs, WiFi accessibility, video games, free coffee, soft drinks, snack and frozen food vending machines, and a large play area with its own TV for children. We provide seven different newspapers and have our own library that our customers both contribute to and borrow from.
On the grounds, we have parking for 27 cars, two car vacuums, picnic tables, and lounge chairs for customers who want to relax and enjoy the hundreds of flowers and plants that embellish our one-acre landscape. The Laundry Lounge is also air-conditioned during the summer months and well heated in the winter.
Up-to-date, quality equipment: It’s key to have dependable washers and dryers that will operate efficiently over a long period of time and a dependable appliance dealer and service provider. When I started out, I bought water- and energy-efficient washers and dryers from our Mac-Gray distributor in Buffalo, and today, I know I made the right decision. Very seldom have I had any machines break down, and whenever I need service, the manufacturer and service provider have done an exceptional job responding to my needs. They have made me feel like family.
Through the years, I have updated a lot of the equipment, and have no problem selling the older machines. The Laundry Lounge has 15 top loaders, 38 front loaders (including one 80-pound machine), 29 stack dryers, one 50-pound dryer and five 35-pound extractors. People have told me they have never seen an out-of-order machine at our place. This is largely because I’ve made sure to select quality equipment and keep everything up to date.
A REWARDING EXPERIENCE
The laundry business has been good to me, and I feel very fortunate to have had such an enjoyable 10 years as a coin laundry owner. Listening to others has paid off; except for the one time I didn’t listen and made the laundry a 24-hour business. That decision has led to a continuously growing business and rewarding experience. I can only hope that you, too, will have the same success with your 24-hour laundry.