CHICAGO — Why would anyone want to spend their Wednesday night, especially after working, sitting in a laundry? Sadly, Aristotle and his colleagues left this question unanswered.
Many a business owner, Laundromateurs, have tried and tried to get more action on their slow days. (Oh, and “Laundromateurs” is mine now, so don’t even think about stealing that!) Now, some business owners will say they don’t care when their customers come, because after all, we’re talking about their customers. Ones they already have. So who cares if 250 come on Wednesday and 250 come on Sunday, as long as 500 show up that week.
While that may seem accurate on the surface, it really does your business good to spread out the wealth of customers because it’s a trickle-down effect. If you’re overcrowded on Sunday, several things can happen. Your employees can get overwhelmed and may not be able to keep up the place. Crime can increase if a crowded store means it’s harder for people to keep track of their things or keep all of their belongings in one spot. Your parking situation can deteriorate completely. People will have to wait for machines.
And all of these things can lead to customers getting frustrated and deciding to try your competitor out next laundry day. The point is that it’s easier on everyone, and your bottom line, to get some of these customers to visit you on the slow days.
And that leads us back to the age-old question: Why would anyone want to spend their Wednesday night after work sitting in a Laundromat?
MAKE IT SPECIAL
The other night, my wife and I took a friend to a great restaurant in Chicago. Great room, great service, great food. And halfway through this fantastic meal I commented, “I never order from the menu. I always order one of the specials they’re offering that night, and they are so good. I have no idea how good the rest of the menu is.”
Here’s the thing about specials. They’re usually made from ingredients (in this case, a particular kind of pork) that are out of the ordinary for that kitchen, or developed from an overabundance of a particular ingredient that they want to thin out. They are extra-tasty and usually created by the restaurant’s head chef, so if it’s a restaurant you like, you know it’s going to be top-notch food.
The specials, however, aren’t necessarily more expensive than the rest of the menu items. In fact, before I knew the specials, I was debating between a couple of entrees that were $7 or $8 more expensive than the special, despite the fact that the special’s “special” ingredient likely cost the restaurant a pretty penny.
As I sat in this massive dining room, I saw waiters and waitresses scurrying about with trays upon trays of entrees for the guests as the busy dining period approached. On almost every tray that buzzed by my head, I saw the special. As I looked around the room, I could not see a table that did not have someone partaking in that special pork dish.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one in the room thinking about ordering the special that night. And come to think of it, I dine here the same night of the week each time I come... the night the kitchen churns out a special.
I guess I’m a pawn in the restaurant manager’s game to draw people in when he/she wants them there.
THE PLACE TO BE
So, my friends, why should someone spend their Wednesday night in a laundry? That’s a great question — one that you should probably answer for your customer. If it’s the same place with the same machines and the same staff and the same sameness, then why wouldn’t you spend your time somewhere else, say, at your favorite restaurant?
One word: Incentive.
Now, I could run off what we do here at the World’s Largest Laundromat to combat our slowest day, which was Wednesday. But I don’t want to do that. Not because of some grand industry secret or something nefarious like that. No, I’m not worried that you will go out and steal our thunder.
We all have different stores with different demographics, different specialties, different staffing and space issues. What works here may not work for you.
So instead of handing you a fish, I wanted to tell that restaurant story to help each of you learn to cast and reel those customers in when you want them.
What can you offer them in the store that night that would make things special? Giveaways? Discounted prices? That’s completely up to you and your situation. The easy part is this: It’s an effort to move your customers around, not grab new ones (though a successful incentive program will eventually grab you more). So you don’t have to pay for advertising or mailings because you just post signs in your store to let people know what they’re missing on that other night.
And please don’t be scared off by the idea that you may stumble upon an idea that will cost you money up front, because if it’s executed well and your slow night becomes a big one, then you’ve done a few things:
1) Increased your slow night’s sales.
2) Made life easier on your busy days for your customers and staff.
3) Created a unique and emotional connection to your store that your competitors don’t offer.
4) And No’s. #2 and #3 have set the groundwork for not only customer retention, but the kind of neighborhood word-of-mouth advertising that brings in new customers, which you are now in a better position to retain.
What do your laundry customers like, and what are they like? Yes, there are certain things everyone likes, but you can be more specific to your area. Are you dealing with families, single men or women? What’s the age group they fall into? If you’ve got a bunch of families with kids, something to keep the kids distracted so the parents can have a “timeout” would probably go over well. That’s what you’ve got to think about. That’s what you need to know.
If you don’t feel like doing a customer survey (which is easy and I recommend), and you don’t feel like running demographics on your own site (which is easy and I recommend), and you don’t feel like spending some time sitting in the middle of the store people-watching (which is easy and I definitely recommend), then just ask your employees.
Your employees know your customers better than you probably ever will. They’re a resource that you are paying for, so get your money’s worth.
So I pose the question again: Why should I come to your laundry on a Wednesday night? If you’ve got an answer, you can find me at my favorite restaurant, but only on Thursdays.