Originally posted – May 06, 2013
I’ve been in the laundry business for the last 28 years, both as a distributor and a coin laundry owner. And, along the way, I’ve kept lists of the things I’ve learned.
Some people collect stamps or coins or baseball cards. However, I prefer to collect lessons. And the beauty of collecting lesson lists is that they’re reusable.
As a result, I thought I’d share with you my list of the 10 most powerful lessons I’ve learned over the last decade so that you can have the benefit of getting them all at once – and, hopefully, put them to use (and re-use) in your laundry business.
1. Business life is not a zero sum game. I know we all want to win every battle. But the message here is that there doesn’t (no, make that shouldn’t) have to be a loser for every winner. Owning a business is not trading stock options.
When I said that everyone wants to win every battle I wasn’t just referring to you as a business owner. This applies to your employees, your customers, your landlord and your suppliers. Everyone.
Successful business owners make sure that everyone they deal with feels like a winner. Get proficient at doing this, and magical things will happen for you. Try it. You’ll see.
2. The past is no prologue for the future. Business life is not linear. This means that it does not progress or develop smoothly from one stage to the next in a logical way. Instead, it makes sudden changes in direction with little advance notice. Owning a business means that things can change on a dime.
The greatest strength and simultaneous weakness of the human brain is its tendency for pattern recognition. We spot patterns even when none exist. Believing that the trend is your friend can be a very deadly trap.
The reusable lesson here is to never expect things to stay the same – be they good or bad. Never forget these four words: “This too shall pass.”
Learning this lesson will eliminate that shocked look on your face when things all of a sudden take a turn for the worse. Sometimes things are good and sometimes not. Live with it. Expect it.
3. Patience is the weapon of the winner. You’ve likely been taught that “the early bird gets the worm,” but I have come to realize that often “the second mouse at the trap gets the cheese.”
Successful business ownership is a function of many variables, such as creativity, hard work, dedication, luck, timing and patience. Keep your cool, think things out, don’t rush to judgment, don’t over react, don’t plunge, stay loose… and modify the “early bird” lesson to include mice.
The two major (constantly lurking) emotions of business ownership are fear and greed. The discipline of patience is the cure for managing both. Work on this.
4. You’ve always got to work harder than your customers. Huh? What the heck does that mean?
Quite simply, it means that you should make your business easy for the customer to deal with. This seems so darned obvious, but a lot of business owners don’t do it.
For example, are your hours of operation ones that appeal to your customers, or do they just fit your needs? Are your snacks and drinks what your customers like, or what you were able to get the best deal on? Is the temperature in your laundry comfortable for your customers, or is it set to make you happy?
Here’s an all-time favorite of mine: where I live in Michigan a guy opened up a carryout pizza business in the center of town on the busiest street. This street has only metered parking and precious little of that. And it’s always nearly impossible to get a parking place.
The perfect retail storm.
The business lasted less than three months. Obviously, nobody was willing to park and walk from blocks away for the privilege of enjoying one of his two-topping pies.
Talk about an error in the premise. What was he thinking?
5. “Importantize” (my word) all aspects of your business. Here’s a great example. Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s mogul, didn’t invent hamburgers; he just took them more seriously than anyone else and made them extremely important.
He lived for, breathed, believed in, ate and worshipped the hamburger – and it went flat out viral. The burger wasn’t just one of his products, it was the product. The rest is an iconic business success history.
You can do the same. Make washing and drying important. Live for it, breathe it, believe in it and worship it. If you do this, it will show and good things will happen for your business. Be like Ray.
6. Play it as it lies. It’s a golf expression, but so much more. A smart guy by the name of Steven Pressfield wrote a book about creativity called “The War of Art,” which by the way I highly recommend you buy and read. (Pressfield also wrote the film, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” which was directed by Robert Redford.)
In his book, he relates this true story: “My friend and I were playing the first hole at Prestwick in Scotland, and the wind was howling out of the left. I started an eight-iron 30 yards to windward but the gale caught it; I watched in dismay as the ball sailed hard right, hit the green going sideways and bounded off into the cabbage. I turned to our caddy and said, ‘Did you see the wind take that shot?’ He gave that look that only Scottish caddies can give and said, ‘Well, ye’ve got t’ play th’ wind now, don’t ye?'”
I think you get the lesson here. Owning a business requires that you deal with adversity, unfairness, fairness, happiness, unhappiness, bad calls, good calls, bad breaks and good breaks. It’s called playing the wind.
As Pressfield says, “The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.”
So turn pro. Adapt to the ever-changing conditions. Personally, I’m with Pressfield – always play it as it lies. It’ll make you a contender.
7. There’s a big difference between good and great. I’ve actually done a fair amount of standup comedy, and I truly understand that good comedians say funny things, but great comedians say things funny.
Similarly, good business owners do good things, but great business owners do things great.
Why is one self-service laundry so much better kept, managed, advertised and customer friendly than another? All laundries essentially do the same thing, but the great ones are great because they do things great.
Here’s the plan: take a deep, objective look at your laundry. What do you see? Is it great or is it just good? The ball’s in your court.
8. Be proactive, not reactive. It’s simple. If you’re proactive, things will generally happen for you. If you’re reactive, things will generally happen to you. Big difference.
Those two little words (“to” and “for” ) are far from little in terms of their effect on your business success. Having things happen for you means that you are in the proactive mode all the time and engineering your destiny. The best way to have a good future is to create it.
The dairy farmer doesn’t sit on a stool in the middle of the field hoping the cow will back up to him. He proactively finds the animal and places his stool next to the cow to be milked. He knows that hope is for bystanders, and wishes don’t do dishes.
Think proactively. Plan and engineer all aspects of your business, including advertising, special offers and promotions, your competition, management techniques, and finances. Everything.
Laundry is the name, and proactive is the game. Make it happen, don’t watch it happen.
9. Good farmers plant a lot of seeds. Creative business owners are always looking for new ways to diversify and create additional income streams or new markets.
I find it interesting that certain businesses (including some laundries) are consistently coming up with something new and exciting for customers, in terms of products or services.
They’re always planting new seeds. You can do the same. Cook up new ideas and set them in motion. Don’t just view your laundry as a place where people come to do their wash.
Instead, think of it as a place people visit regularly and spend a few hours – and, during that time, you can expose them to new products and services.
For example, how about putting up a sign in your laundry, extolling the benefits of customers washing their car floor mats while they’re at your store? Or what about getting into the advertising business and selling time on your flat-screen televisions to other local retailers, where they can advertise their products and services?
Unlike that popular rotisserie advertised on TV, don’t “just set it and forget it.” Start farming. Plant some diverse seeds. Then see what grows.
10. All communication is controlled by the receiver. What people actually hear may be vastly different than what you actually say. Be careful with your advertising messages and signage, because we live in a multi-cultural, multi-generational country – and all people interpret language in their own private way.
A lot of business problems are caused by improper, misinterpreted or ineffective communication. It happens all the time. And it can be mighty costly.
Communication is not only done with language. It’s visual as well, and first impressions are critical. As they say in standup comedy, if you blow your opening, nobody will be around to hear your finish.
So, keep your laundry in first-impression mode because your store’s appearance is your communicated visual message.
There you have my 10 greatest hits. Just think of them as song titles.
Hum them along with me.