The September issue of American Coin-Op contained a national list of distributors — the people whom new investors and current laundry owners will do business with. The vast majority of distributors are committed to furthering the vended laundry concept. Distributors who “do it right” make your goals their goals.
Of course, that list probably features a few distributors who just want to move product. They’ll try to push the operators in one direction, despite operator input. Hopefully, you’ll identify these distributors right away as “product sellers” more than committed partners.
So the question remains: How do I make sure my distributor is a partner and not just a seller? I believe the most important factor to consider is whether you would describe them as a “talker” or a “listener.”
A good distributor is focused on your success and listens to what you’ve identified as success. Look for a distributor, who after listening to you, asks questions before he/she directs you toward equipment and a store setup that will work for you. Be wary of the distributor who sticks with, and pushes, one idea from the start.
Below are a few more tips that can assist newcomers in picking the right distributor from the listings in the September issue. Remember, these are the experts in this industry, and you need to be able to trust that they have your best interests at heart. If you don’t feel that trust bond, the distributor probably isn’t the one for you.
You should join the Coin Laundry Association (CLA). Hopefully, since you’re reading this article, you’ve done that already. The CLA will provide plenty of information to any investor. Besides, if you’re going to be in a business, you should support the organization that represents that industry and your interest in it.
I can’t emphasize the importance of references enough. It’s amazing to me how many owners I speak with who have never checked the references of the people they were buying equipment from. And, I’m not talking about cherry-picked references.
Go to other laundry owners and ask them what they think about their distributors. How in the world can anyone make this kind of investment and have no idea of who they are dealing with before they spend their money? However, there is an exception to this. If you’re buying price, and only price, and don’t care about value or anything else, then a background check isn’t a major concern.
The extra effort of a background check is key because distributor partners bring tremendous value to their customers. This value can include layout and design, dimensional drawings, access to financing, pro forma assistance, signage and translations, operation manuals and, in some case, locations and demographic research.
Are you getting this type of assistance from your distributor? Or are you dealing with someone who sells a front loader today and simply has a few bucks more in his pocket than yesterday?
If you’re still not sure about your distributor, there are a variety of other questions you can ask yourself to ensure you choose a quality distributor.
Is your distributor taking orders or taking an interest? Is your distributor asking questions that can help you as a storeowner? When you call your distributor, do you hear, “What do you want?” or do you hear, “How can I help you?”
When it comes to equipment, does your distributor present different equipment mix options? Is the distributor trying to sell what he has in stock or is he trying to find what would be ideal for your particular coin laundry?
If your distributor is not giving you this kind of service, then you need to seriously consider where you’re going to invest your money when you open your new store or when you need replacement equipment for your existing store. In a sense, your distributor is in this business with you. Your success in the vended laundry business will let your distributor know if you’re going to be a good or a bad reference. Will you be buying your next location from that same distributor or another because of your experience?
As a distributor, when I travel, I routinely visit stores that I may have set up more than 15 years ago. When was the last time your distributor called to say hello, see how business was doing, or drop by when they were passing through town? Is your distributor only calling to “trunk-slam” a sale at the end of a quarter?
SERVICE AND SUPPORT
One of your customers just said, “Something is wrong with a machine.” Welcome to the vended laundry business. What will you do now? You may not want to think about this scenario, but trust me, you will experience it. Make service and support important factors in deciding on a distributor.
With all that money you’re spending on this investment, you must have peace of mind that, No. 1: the equipment will perform as promised; No. 2: the company backs that claim with a strong warranty; and No. 3: your distributor has the service staff and adequate parts inventory to make any repairs quickly. In this business, out-of-order signs are income killers.
Here are some final questions to ponder. What did you negotiate up front before you signed the contract? What kind of parts warranty do you have? What kind of labor warranty do you have? What does your labor warranty cover?
Service does not merely refer to repairing equipment. Service also refers to what you’re getting from your distributor after you’ve opened the doors.