LONG BEACH, Calif. — Brian Wallace, president/CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, was given a daunting task: to capture the audience’s attention during the final hour of a regional dry cleaning and laundry trade show in sunny Southern California.
But his task was no more challenging than one faced by every self-service laundry operator: to successfully market his or her store(s) in an environment where potential customers have access to information almost instantaneously and from a variety of sources.
On top of all the other “hats” that a laundry owner “wears”—customer service, maintenance, production, human resources, accounting—he or she can add one more hat to that mix: director of marketing, Wallace told attendees of Fabricare 2012.
“You work incredibly hard for your business, but the fact of the matter is things have changed. … We’re all trying to reinvent ourselves on the fly, trying to deal with the new marketplace. I think that trying to come to grips with some of the new marketing techniques is really an important part of that overall process.”
You may worry about not having the time and money to boost your laundry’s marketing profile, says Wallace, but you shouldn’t.
“What I’ve found exciting about social media, digital media, web, all these different things that have come along the last couple of years, these are almost all low-cost or no-cost opportunities.”
Where is the first place that consumers look, according to Wallace, for local business information? They look to search engines (33%), printed Yellow Pages (23%), online Yellow Pages (22%), local search sites (13%), and mobile apps/social media outreach (9%).
And 77% of all users will research online before they’ll walk through a laundry’s door, he says.
“If we want our businesses to be successful, we need to make sure that our message is where the people are.”
Thus, Wallace ran down a list of ways in which a laundry operator could promote his or her business today. Here are 1 through 5:
1. CLAIM YOUR BUSINESS LISTING AT GOOGLE PLACES AND SIMILAR SERVICES
Google Places is a free business directory offered by Google, the largest search engine in the world and the second busiest website overall. Nearly three-quarters of all web searches happen through Google, Wallace says.
Google Places allows a business to create an informative page about its location, services, hours of operation, and more, using text, images and even video.
“By claiming your business, you’re essentially saying, ‘Google, that is my (laundry). I am the owner,’” Wallace says. “And once they confirm that with you, it’s a pretty easy process.”
Once a listing is established, the business has the ability to edit the presentation so that it is always accurate and up to date.
“The search engine’s job is to deliver the best possible results for the customer,” he says. “So, they’re going to put a lot more weight on a listing that’s been claimed by the business owner, that’s been fleshed out with all the pertinent information. It’s going to deliver better results.”
Once you’re created a profile for Google Places, it’s simple to “copy and paste” the data into other services such as Yahoo! Local, Bing Local, Yelp and Merchant Circle.
“Do your prospective customers a favor—the ones that want to spend money with you—help them find you.”
2. GET A WEBSITE
If your laundry maintains a business website, great. If your laundry is among the 46% of small businesses that still don’t have a website, get one.
If you don’t think it’s something that you or someone affiliated with your business can do, there are any number of companies that offer website design services with small businesses in mind.
Wallace’s association builds websites for its members for free. “We believe the best way to grow the coin laundry business is to make sure that every single laundry owner is available on the web to be found by consumers.”
3. CREATE A FACEBOOK PAGE
Facebook boasts more than 600 million active users, 50% of whom use the site on a daily basis. But, you ask, why should I market my laundry on Facebook?
Your customers are here
Competitors might be here already
It’s easy to create and update your page
You can share all types of information in almost any format
Being here aids in search engine placement
“Even if you think it’s garbage, even if you don’t care about your friend or your college roommate, what they’re up to, if you cut through the clutter, this is where people are finding businesses,” Wallace says. “This is where they’re getting referrals, this is where they’re finding out where their friends and family are doing their dry cleaning, and who they like and who they don’t.”
So how do you get started? Create a Facebook page, but do notcreate a personal profile (one with an e-mail address). And before you create a page, search the site for an existing “Facebook Places” page for your business and claim that instead.
4. MONITOR BUSINESS REVIEW SITES AND REPLY WHEN APPROPRIATE
In the past, when someone had a certain experience—good or bad—at your business, they told their friends and family. Today’s web-savvy customers are also likely to post a review of your laundry on sites such as Yelp, Merchant Circle and others that millions can read 24/7.
Wallace often hears from laundry owners who avoid sites like this because of negative reviews. But he says that sticking your head in the sand is not the answer.
“The genie is out of the bottle. The toothpaste is out of the tube. It’s out there. It’s happened. You don’t have a choice in the matter. Your business is already being discussed in this manner. You may lament it. You may like the old days, but they’re gone.”
He sees a negative online review as an opportunity for you to respond to a customer’s complaint, just as you would have had you received it at your business, and to promote your laundry’s benefits.
“Part of this is not only responding … but encouraging people to review you, because you run a great shop. That bad review is one rotten apple in the barrel. Most of your customers love you. They see you every week. You need to get that volume going too.”
5. CONTESTS AND A CUSTOMER DATABASE
Contests can increase community awareness of your business, plus enable you to network with customers (more personal equals more loyal). You can create repeat customers while also building a customer database for use in direct or e-mail marketing.
Every laundry should develop a customer mailing list, preferably one that includes e-mail addresses, Wallace says. Stay in touch with your customers through offers and information in order to retain their business; plot their locations on a map to help plan for future advertising.
And don’t be above “bribing” customers for information through raffles, giveaways and surveys.
Tomorrow in Part 2: E-mail newsletter, Google AdWords, foursquare, Groupon and more