Staffing Your Brand New Vended Laundry Business

As laundry owners, we live and die by “The Rule of 10.”

In other words, a new customer’s very first impression of your store occurs in the first 10 feet, the first 10 seconds and the first 10 words.

You’ve just designed and built a bright, clean, beautiful new vended laundry with shiny new machines and a welcoming atmosphere. Now, make certain you’ve got someone with a friendly smile and encouraging words behind your front desk – “Hi, welcome to ABC Laundromat. My name is Karen. If I can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to ask.” You get the point.

To some, this may sound a bit cheesy. However, if you train your staff to consistently greet customers in this way – every shift, every day – you will be laying the foundation for a successful and profitable laundry business.

Always be mindful of the fact that you are attracting customers who are currently using other laundromats in your area. Through your advertising and marketing efforts, they will visit you once. Your staff’s mission is to make them want to come back.

Everyone would rather do business with friends than strangers. As long as they’re going to be spending the sizable part of the day doing laundry somewhere, they would like it to be a place where they are made to feel at home.

You have the option as to the type of laundry business you want to operate. There are unattended, partially attended and fully attended stores. Since you just spent all of this money building your laundry, I’m going to strongly recommend you fully staff the business from opening to closing. There are so many good reasons for this – not the least of which is potentially walking into your new unattended store one day and seeing that it had been completely trashed the night before. It’s a feeling you never want to experience.

The average store size these days is much larger with bigger, more complex machines and far more amenities than in the past. I believe that properly trained employees are critical to the success of the overall operation of such modern, full-service businesses.

So, where do these workers come from?

Admittedly, it’s harder in a vibrant economy to find good people who are attracted to working in a laundromat, doing other people’s laundry. Job-seekers have several employment options available these days, and the wages you will be able to pay (at least in the beginning) are typically at the lower end of the compensation spectrum.

However, somewhere within the labor pool, you’ll find people who have already worked company jobs, left and raised a family. They are older and less interested in updating their technical skills, fighting rush hour traffic and getting back into the daily grind. Traditionally, they are people with strong community ties who know what’s going on in the neighborhood. In my opinion, these individuals can make great attendants.

Over the years, some of my best hires have been mothers whose children had grown and gone off to work or college, leaving them with an “empty nest” and a lot of free time. One woman who worked for me for eight years called it her “crazy money,” which she could spend any way she chose.

During your store’s construction phase, your first step is to put out a permitted sidewalk or sandwich board sign that states: “Now Hiring, Apply Within.” This sign should go out about two or three weeks before your soft opening. This will give you time to interview, hire and train your new staff. And, even if you’re not going to be a 24-hour store, be mindful of the fact that you will still need to cover your business maybe 13 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

Your sidewalk sign will be very effective because those who live nearby and pass your store every day will see it. In fact, I had a man see my sign and walk into my half-empty store. I liked him right away and hired him on the spot. He loved to do laundry and was good at it. He was working full time but needed extra evening hours. He worked for me as a night attendant at one of my stores for four years, before moving out of state.

Another factor to consider is that your soft opening can be as long as you choose, and it affords you a period of time, prior to your grand opening, to make all of the inevitable mistakes, get things straight and get completely organized. You have only one opportunity to make a strong first impression, so I urge you to not hold your grand opening event until your store and your staff are 100-percent ready to go.

When seeking employee candidates, employment agencies can be quite costly, so perhaps focus on using the various social media outlets instead. Personally, I’m not very comfortable with interviewing people online or over the phone; however, it seems Facebook may be one of your more reliable sources of laundry attendants. Ideally, you want to hire individuals from the neighborhood that know a lot of people, who will then follow them to your store.

Also, when distributing your “Opening Soon” flyers to every resident, placing them on every car in the neighborhood, and having neighboring fast-food restaurants stuff them in their customers’ orders at the drive-through window, be sure that those promotional pieces also have “Now Hiring” printed on them somewhere.

I’ve found great employees prior to opening, thanks to my relentless canvassing for “talent” at the various retail businesses within the neighborhood. Whenever I went to a drycleaner, a coffee shop, a pharmacy or an apartment leasing office within a couple of miles of my laundry location and noticed individuals I could envision standing behind my front desk, I gave them my business card and asked them to stop by my unfinished store to talk about job opportunities. These people were already working, and I was able to see firsthand how they handled customers in a retail setting.

You never know who’s looking for an evening or weekend job, more flexible hours, or is merely tired of what they’re currently doing. After opening and operating your laundry for a while, you’ll also discover that your customers are a great resource for employees.

Also, staffers who are bilingual can prove invaluable in certain marketplaces, being able to connect with customers in their native language and helping to avoid any possible misunderstandings.

Of course, even with a fully attended laundry, there will be occasions when an attendant can’t make it in to work. If another staffer can’t cover that shift, it’s inevitable that you, a business partner or a family member will have to do so. Keep this in mind and keep your sleeves rolled up. Be ready to get out from behind your desk and “work your store” from time to time, especially in the beginning.

Training your new staffers to run a shift needs to include opening the store in the morning to closing up at night – and everything in between. Clearly, if you offer a wash-dry-fold service, a significant part of your training will consist of showing your new attendants how to do laundry – and not the way they’ve been doing it at home all of their lives, but the specific way you want it done at your business.

There are several vital steps with regard to processing a top-quality finished wash-dry-fold product, which no doubt is a topic for another time. However, you must impress upon your new hires that there are no shortcuts when it comes to offering a first-class wash-dry-fold service for your drop-off laundry customers. If an attendant sidesteps any stage of your process, you must take notice and correct it immediately. After all, good habits are just as easy to form as bad ones.

At this early stage of your store’s development, you can’t afford to lose one customer or get one bad review. Everything you do should be “Five Star” right out of the gate – no exceptions!

Attendant training will be an ongoing endeavor. Employees will come and go. Therefore, I suggest you develop clearly written, precise employee guidelines, which will help to minimize the time it takes to complete the ramping up process with new hires. 

There are opening and closing procedures, as well as what to do during their shifts – which will include cleaning, sweeping, checking the restrooms and constantly straightening the laundry carts to make certain the store always looks presentable to new customers coming in. It’s not rocket science, but your new hires will certainly appreciate your effort to create a clear-cut game plan for them to follow.

Working in a vended laundry is definitely not for everyone. On busy nights and weekends, attendants have to help walk-in customers, make change, wipe down machines and answer the phone – possibly while also working on wash-dry-fold orders scheduled to be picked up that same day. He or she has to be fast, organized and courteous all at the same time. 

The laundry attendant position requires a special person with a strong work ethic and communication skills that cannot necessarily be taught. For example, I was working with an owner at his store one day, and we both observed a new hire always jumping up to open the door for customers bringing in their loads of laundry. That was instinctual, and we knew we had the right person. 

Quality employees are out there. And, if you leverage all of today’s internet tools while incorporating some of my “old school” methods, you will find them. 

So, let’s get that “Now Hiring” sidewalk sign on the street and begin building a polished, professional staff that hopefully will stay with you and serve your laundry business for many years to come!

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