Before I start, I want to offer a word of caution on marketing for those new to the business: don’t advertise the first couple of months your store is open. This is your spring training, a time to fine-tune your store and get the staff up to speed.
That being said, I’m a huge proponent of active marketing, but you’ve got to have a plan for how to use this tool if you want to take your coin laundry to the next level. Don’t just start experimenting with a number of things. There are a variety of things that you need to think about. First, set a budget; don’t do more than one mailing, ad or commercial at one time. At the same time, set a measure of success for the initiative. More business may be the goal, but that’s not the plan.
What do you want the people to know about your store? Is it your expanded hours, a remodeled interior, the addition of drop-off service, or just simply that you have a new store? Have a firm grasp of the message you’ll advertise. Know who your intended audience is and the most effective means to reach them.
Here’s where I think many owners fail in their marketing. Many owners simply don’t understand that advertising, specials or direct mailers are mere tools to get more people to visit their laundry. It’s up to you and your attendants to make their visit enjoyable and turn visitors into loyal customers. If your laundry is not clean or your staff is not well trained, you’re definitely not ready to take your laundry to the next level, much less market it.
CRAFTING THE PLAN
The best results will come through a highly targeted approach. I like radio or cable as mediums to reach specific audiences. Don’t be scared off; often these mediums are priced more reasonably than you might think. Be observant at your store. Take a look at the TV channels your customers are watching, and use that as your guide for where to place advertising.
Using cable or radio helps to reinforce your brand, so when that direct mailer arrives, potential clients have that “Oh, I’ve heard of this store” reaction.
Next, let’s take a closer look at your goals. This goes back to planning. We can all agree that making more money is the obvious overall goal, but you’ve got to have a plan in place to achieve it. Likewise, you have to increase sales by $500 before you increase them by $5,000. So how do we do that?
First, don’t create a promotion that excludes your current loyal customers. Too often, I believe storeowners forget that the loyal customers carry the weight of their laundry’s profitability. You want to make sure you retain loyal customers by making them feel just as valued as the new people you’re hoping to bring in. Be careful not to diminish what you have to offer by giving away services.
I’m all for couponing, especially if you are having customers fill out the back of the coupon to register for a raffle prize. You don’t have to give away a large amount of money. A $20 or $50 laundry card (if you have a card store) is a great prize to give away, as it gets people back into the store. If you can get people back into your store two or three times, they’ll become your customers (provided, of course, that you and your staff are committed to giving them great service).
Give yourself a chance to be successful with your offer. Twenty-five cents off a wash isn’t a very strong call to action. Consider the free-wash coupon example. Sure, you’ll give away one wash, but 90% of customers will use more than one washer during a visit. So you’re still getting a benefit.
The important thing for whatever marketing you do at your store is to have measurable results. You need to be able to go back and see that you spent X amount of dollars on a newspaper ad coupon, and that it netted you X amount in additional profits. Tracking results is how you hone what marketing works for you store and what doesn’t.
Taking your store to the next level may not even involve advertising. There are plenty of public relations placements, or free advertising, to be had in your local newspapers or media outlets, and these stories often carry more weight with potential customers than paid advertisements. For example, washing your local Little League uniforms or items from a homeless shelter or battered women’s shelter are great public relations moves that can net your laundry a good PR boost.
You may also want to consider adding extra profit centers to your store to increase revenue. Snack and soda machines along with vending soap and other laundry products can produce a return on investment of about 10%. Owning these machines has its advantages, namely you don’t have to wonder if you are getting the amount set forth in your agreement with a third-party provider.
Don’t just fill the vending machines. Survey your clients and find out what snacks and soft drinks they’d like to see you offer. This is another customer-friendly initiative that also enables you to achieve maximum profitability.
Want more than the standard drinks and snacks? Taking extra profit centers to the next level may include a new machine called the “food court.” This unit vends ice cream and frozen products such as breakfast sandwiches and White Castle hamburgers. Adding the food court and having a microwave oven for customer use can help you push ROI of your vending well above 10%, especially for a 24-hour store.
Of late, massage chairs have become popular additions to vended laundries. Not only are they another amenity, but one that enables you to generate extra revenue.
Marketing and extra profit centers are excellent vehicles to take your laundry to the next level, but don’t rush to expand your offerings until you have the business operating effectively.
There can be a tendency to panic early and market before that point. It’s a mistake easily made. Just understand that, much like children, vended laundries mature at different rates — somewhere between 12 and 24 months. Just be patient in the early going. Demographics analysis showed your location was a solid one for a coin laundry. Now it’s up to you and your staff to make sure customers get the best experience when they visit.