Orginally posted – Jan 02, 2013
Your laundromat is a crucial part of the neighborhood in which it’s located. And, as a small-business owner, you need to recognize this fact and do what you can to strengthen that bond with those within your community.
Whenever I look at my laundry business, I always ask myself: What am I doing to either give back to or get more connected to the people in my community – the people who are (or, hopefully, will be) my customers?
First, look at the inside of your store. What have you done to design and equip your laundry to best serve your community?
My first store was in a neighborhood with a lot of single people. Therefore, there wasn’t much need for large equipment. So, I made sure I had a lot of small-chassis machines for my single customers. Also, I made the store more of a community space. I added a pool table, WiFi access (before WiFi became popular) and other fun amenities to really connect with the singles in that area. What’s more, the paint theme was more energetic than in a typical laundromat.
What are your customers going to want and need? Perhaps your store caters more to families. In that case, you’ll need something to get the kids out from underneath the parents’ feet while they’re doing the laundry – maybe a play area.
It starts with how you think about your customers and how you design your store – the things you put into the store can help you become part of your community.
Beyond that, the programs and promotions you run – which are limited only by your creativity – can really cement your business’ image as a true hub of the neighborhood.
One popular program we’ve developed involves collecting children’s and young adult books from local libraries and bookstores, and having them available in the store. Kids can read them and even take them home. I’m a big proponent of trying to educate my community, so I chose to have books in my store, rather than toys. Also, for many years, we had a reading program, where twice a week we would get volunteers to come in and read.
Another community program we run involves the two homeless shelters in our area. These shelters cater to families, and once a family is ready to move out of the shelter, we offer them a free month of laundry, as they’re getting themselves reestablished. It’s a way for us to show that we care about our community and want to give its residents a hand in getting started on their own.
Coat and clothing drives also are great ways to reach out to your community. You can take in the items, process it and be a delivery site – and every time your coin laundry becomes a delivery site for a charitable organization you receive a lot of positive press with people who are potential customers.
We also hold a fundraiser each year. We post it to our Facebook page and let the people who “like” us choose the local charity they would like us to support that particular year. Basically, it’s a comforter cleaning promotion – for every comforter brought in, we donate $5 to that specific charity.
We’ve done this with several charities over the years, and every time we work with a different charity, we receive exposure to an entirely new mailing list. We create the artwork, but we let the charitable organization promote it.
Of course, there are also ways to manipulate this type of program for a strictly self-service store. For instance, you can hold a “charity day,” where a certain percentage of your revenue for a certain day goes to a local charity.
Working with local charities can make people more aware of your laundry. If you focus on charities impacting your immediate community, it’s a great way to reach that community and enhance the perception of your business in the eyes of many within your marketplace.
Schools also provide great opportunities. For example, there is a local school that cleans out all of the lockers at the end of the year, and there are always sports clothes left behind by the students. They gather up all of those garments, bring it to us, wash it and fold it – and we give them free or discounted use of the laundry with the stipulation that they check in on our Facebook page and write about their experience at the laundry. Also, once the clothes are processed, they are taken to one of the shelters in our community.
Sponsorships are another great idea for laundry owners. However, if you decide to sponsor a local team or event, it’s got to be something you’re involved with. The biggest failure would be to write a check and then not show up. If you’re going to write that check and sponsor something, be sure you’re directly involved with whatever it is – if not, you’re just throwing your money away.
Above all, people like to do business with people they know. They don’t need to see you in your laundry every day, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there. My customers know me, because they see me in my community. I do almost all of my business locally with small businesses, and I know all of the other owners.
Also, there are a couple of local coffee shops I go to during my daily routine, and the response there is unbelievable – people will introduce me to others as “The Laundry Doctor,” because I’ve put myself out there. That’s how I meet a lot of people in my community. It does so much for your business to just be present in your neighborhood. People will talk about you, and they will introduce you and promote your business for you. Nearly every week, I get introduced to someone who will be a new customer of mine.
When I first got into the business, I often heard owners say they didn’t want their customers to even know who they were. But that’s not what I hear today from the successful store operators I meet – they want their customers to know who they are.
Frankly, with social media, if you don’t want your customers to know who you are and you’re not willing to listen to them, you’re going to get steamrolled – because they’re going to talk about your business to everybody. And, if you’re not engaging them in some way, they’re not likely to say good things about your store.
It’s all about being yourself and putting yourself out there. Get involved with some of your community’s charitable organizations, churches, sports teams, schools and so on. Create opportunities to have personal interactions with people in your area. That’s where you want to focus your time. You want to have as many interactions with people who will eventually be new customers.