There’s always room for improvement, so we asked manufacturers, distributors and operators to weigh in on ways to stimulate business. Sometimes, all it takes is a little fine-tuning to attract customers and increase profitability.
GIVE CUSTOMERS A LOOK INSIDE
New equipment and supplies can bolster a laundry. Ben Gorman, Gorman Distributors, Lancaster, Pa., realizes that operators have fixed costs (water, gas, etc.), and that money is tight, so his goal is to keep them informed about purchasing options — more specifically, when there are deals to be had.
“We had great success in the past 18 months with information sharing, via e-mails,” Gorman says. Operators were kept up to date on rebates, pricing and general sales material. “Customers have limited buying time.”
In addition, something as simple as exchanging ideas can benefit individual operators as well as the industry itself. “In central Pennsylvania, operators like to hear what’s working for others. Operators are now less apt to be isolated.”
Gorman knows that the industry has dealt with image problems. He remembers that five years ago, even being a laundry distributor had a slightly negative connotation. “But the look of the distributor has changed recently.” Now, when he attends functions such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, his job is perceived in a better light, he believes.
“The store image has also improved recently. The number of stores has decreased, leaving more successful stores with capital investment, giving the industry an all-around better look.”
The industry could benefit from a simple, structural adjustment, he believes. “Knock the front of the building out and put windows in. This is not just about seeing in, it’s also about safety. When you see others in the store, you don’t mind going in. It’s exciting to see people using the store. You will create more traffic by doing this. The successful stores in my area have glass frontage. I never thought this would have such an impact.”
Don’t forget that customers also value free time. “More dryer pockets would help business. Even if you don’t have the cheapest washers, you can create more traffic with more dryers. I have no stake in dryer sales; I don’t sell equipment, so this is just a helpful hint. If customers could use more than one dryer to handle their load, they could get out quicker.”
Looking ahead, extra services are becoming the key to survival in everything, Gorman says. “Larger stores with more space to offer extra services will have an edge in the future. A lot of stores closed last year, but a fair number of large, attended stores were also built. Stores will get bigger and bigger, just like convenience stores, because owners will always have to deal with fixed costs.”
STAY ON THE RIGHT COURSE
“I think store owners are no different than most business owners, or families for that matter,” says Kevin Hietpas, director of sales and marketing, Dexter Laundry Inc. “They are trying to offer the best service they can while economizing where they feel they can. The key consideration is that store owners must continue to see their store through their customers’ eyes. What they might find acceptable as an owner looking to economize might not be acceptable to a customer still expecting a quality laundry experience.”
Hietpas has seen plenty of progress (bigger, brighter stores with creative amenities and additional services) in the last 20-plus years, and believes industry improvement is tied to keeping stores updated with modern, energy-efficient equipment and solid customer service.
A little tradition would also benefit the industry. “I personally love to see the involvement of second- and third-generation laundry owners. They seem to have a wonderful sense of industry history, and most who get involved are surprisingly willing to try something new. Unfortunately, in talking with some longtime laundry owners, it seems that too many children and grandchildren see the family Laundromat as maybe a little too much work, or not flashy enough, and they move on to other ventures.”
Hietpas urges owners and designers to pay attention to the overall store layout and customer traffic flow. “Don’t skimp on dryers, and don’t short your store on folding space. These are the things that customers are interacting with during the home stretch of their visit to the laundry. A storeowner should strive to make these aspects of a customer’s visit as pleasant as possible.
“After all, this is likely to be the part of the visit that’s remembered the most. To have a customer remember either waiting for a dryer or battling for a few feet of folding space is not good business. A customer with such an experience is more likely to try a different laundry next time.”
Extra services will play a role in the future, but will vary by owner and market, he says. “While many owners like to try and offer a variety of services, there are others who totally are focused on delivering a great laundry experience. Regardless of which path an owner chooses, the key is to be willing to adapt and change as market and customer needs change.”