Here are Three Ways to Develop a Rapport with Business Owners Who Can Help Grow Your Commercial Accounts Service
Once you’ve decided to commit to breaking into the commercial accounts segment of the laundry business, the most important factor to realize this that you need to dedicate yourself to becoming a salesperson.
The commercial accounts business is not the wash-dry-fold business. Unlike wash-dry-fold, you can’t merely hang a sign in the front window, open the door and expect commercial clients to start streaming in.
Landing commercial accounts is the complete opposite – it’s all about selling and building relationships.
The good news is that it can be done. And, once you commit to being a salesperson for your commercial accounts business, in many ways it’s often easier to land business clients than it is to convert people from doing their own home loads to trying your full-service wash-dry-fold product.
In fact, I’ll often suggest to laundry owners who want to begin a wash-dry-fold business, to start a commercial accounts business first, because you can start a commercial business without being fully attended. You can build a delivery route by picking up some smaller accounts and doing it while you’re maintaining your self-service laundry business.
The first step to being a salesperson and building a commercial accounts business is to meet you fellow small-business owners, because that’s going to be your target market. And the easiest way to get to know these people and to let them know about you and your laundry services is to join a small-business organization in your community.
This could be a local Chamber of Commerce, a Rotary Club or some other local business association. Personally, I’m in a business networking group that is strictly designed to share leads with one another.
Of course, if you have an idea as to which business niches you want to cater to, there also are associations specifically for those particular businesses. For example, perhaps you can join a medical group, a hair salon organization or a local restaurant association, if that’s the type of commercial laundry you see yourself doing.
The key is to join a group, start networking and get to know the other members of that organization. Let them know about your business and start building those relationships.
And don’t just join – be active. You have to go the group’s events, join committees and participate.
Research Your Competition
Once you’ve made some contacts and developed some relationships, the next key to building a successful commercial accounts business is to ask a few of these business owners who they currently use for their laundry needs and if you might see one of their laundry bills.
This is critical information, because it’s going to tell you not only how to price this and similar accounts, but also how to market your service; it will help you better understand your marketplace. You want to know where you’re going to fit in – and a great way to market your service is to ask for a recent bill.
Of course, be sure to ask for it in a way that lets the business owner know that he or she is helping you. For example, here’s how I might approach the situation:
“I’m really trying to break into the hair salon business with my laundry service. I know you’re currently using XYZ Laundry Services for your towels. Would you do me a huge favor and let me see your bill. It would really help me understand how they’re formulating your account, and how I can possibly compete with them.
“Certainly, I’m going to give you the best rate I possibly can. Maybe I can compete with them and maybe I can’t, but it would sure help me to know if this is something I want to explore further.”
Basically, you’re approaching another business owner, asking for their help to better understand their business, which is something most people enjoy doing. In general, people like helping other people.
What’s more, you’ll sometimes find that you can’t compete with the current laundry service on price; however, the client – because they have developed a rapport and a relationship with you – may switch to you, even if you came in a bit higher than their current commercial laundry provider. After all, most people want to work with people they know and who are reliable. Again, it’s all about building those relationships.
‘Own’ Your Marketplace
Once you’ve built some relationships and broken into the commercial accounts business, the next step is to “walk your street.” You might not have built relationships yet with some of the business owners who are located very close to your store – but those are the ones you’re going to need to build key relationships with as quickly as possible.
You should own the market around your laundromat. You’ve got the advantage of location and convenience, and you’ve got the advantage of them being able to get to you quickly – if they’ve got something they need to get turned around fast, you can service them quicker and more conveniently than any other potential competitor.
So, walk (or drive) the neighborhood around your store and introduce yourself to every small-business owner who potentially might have a laundry need. If you’re in a rural area, canvas the area within a mile radius of your laundromat; however, if you’re in a more densely populated market, a half-mile is fine.
In general, you should know at least 30 to 40 local business owners by their first names and have some type of personal relationship with them.
Do this for more than just the chance to be their commercial laundry provider. Do it also to have relationships with these people, because if community issues come up relating to small business, you want to be in the loop with what’s going on.
Also, whether they’re your customers or not, they’re likely to be great sources of business referrals. Once you know them and have a relationship with them, they’re going to more than likely support you, as a member of the local small-business community, because they want their community to flourish.
They’re going to be likely to refer you to someone else they know who might be in their industry, or maybe to other friends of theirs – and that’s a fantastic way to build your commercial accounts business.
More to Come at Clean 2015…
Of course, if you’re really committed to being a salesperson and to building a commercial accounts business this year, you need to be in Atlanta this April for Clean 2015. During the show, I will present an educational session that will cover all aspects of marketing a commercial accounts business.
Still haven’t registered for Clean 2015? What are you waiting for? The value of the educational sessions alone with more than pay for your trip to Atlanta – not to mention the vast four-day trade show, as well as numerous opportunities to meet and talk business with the brightest minds in the industry.
Register today – and I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta next month.
[Editor’s Note: Jeff Gardner will present two educational sessions at Clean 2015 – “Your Guide to Wash-Dry-Fold: Folding, Packaging and Presentation Techniques” on April 18 at 8 a.m., and “Commercial Accounts Marketing Toolkit” also on April 18 at 9 a.m.]