Originally posted – Mar 06, 2014
Technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. Take a look around… it’s impossible to miss how wired we all are. Thanks to the internet, virtually anything you desire can be delivered to your door in a matter of days.
You can trade stocks or file taxes online. Nearly any bit of information you may require is at your fingertips virtually in an instant. And parents no longer need to lose sleep waiting for their teenage daughter to come home – they can just call her cell phone, or send an unobtrusive text, to check up.
However, as much as our personal lives have changed, the business world has revolutionized almost beyond recognition in the past few decades. Technology has altered the face and the pace of business.
Of course, the laundry business is no exception.
As a result, we asked some of the leading laundry owners to share how their own operations have been enhanced by the today’s ever-evolving technology:
M. Lee Williford III
The Wash House
Wake Forest, N.C.
Business Management: Having waited more than a decade to find a better alternative payment solution than strictly coins, I’m happy to say the patience seems to have paid off. Last November, we installed a system in one of our busiest stores, mostly as an experiment. Over the past few months, it has proved to be an excellent choice. The ability to take coins as well as credit and debit cards provides our customers with multiple options of payment, all the while generating for us a better bottom line.
Store Security: The safety and security of our customers is something we take very seriously. Over the last several years, we have been able to add video surveillance, which is connected to the internet and monitored from anywhere via the web. This technology has proved to be a great way to both deter crime and capture anything that occurs on our premises. After a recent and rare incident of vandalism, we turned over our video footage to the police. They said it was by far the best security system and footage they had ever received, allowing them to easily identify the perpetrator.
Marketing: Social media has boomed in the last several years. The CLA has done an outstanding job of teaching store owners – big and small – how to capitalize on these free marketing tools. We are on Google, Google Maps and Yelp. We are opening a Twitter account and a Facebook page, allowing a key employee to manage these accounts. So far, we have generated quite a bit of traffic and new business with Google and Yelp. Dollar-for-dollar, these are great marketing tools.
Utility Costs: New equipment is always the easiest way to improve efficiency. We recently replaced 10-year-old equipment with new machines, and our utilities decreased 30 percent over the same six months from the previous year.
Technology I Couldn’t Live Without: My iPhone. Steve Jobs was more than a genius innovator and creator. During his life, he managed to change the way we interact with the world. What I only dreamed of being able to accomplish from anywhere in the world – even in the coin laundry industry – is now more real than ever, thanks to his vision and his company’s work.
Washin’ Coin Laundries
Business Management: I have been using QuickBooks since the beginning. My accountant originally set it up, and when I open more stores, she ties the corporation and LLCs together so that any transfers are properly documented. We update QuickBooks every two years and usually around May, so it doesn’t cause headaches during tax season.
The time clock I use at my attended store links to QuickBooks. I check it online and make any changes to times if needed and then download the details to QuickBooks. And, with remote access software on my computer, I am able to do it from anywhere I have an internet connection.
Equipment Maintenance: I would love to get a thermal imaging camera. Being able to check for hot spots on electrical circuits, bearings and dryer housings would be great. The prices keep dropping, so maybe soon.
Store Security: All of my stores have video surveillance I can view on my phone or computer. I also recently installed a new alarm system that I can monitor and activate from my phone; I receive a text message for any alarm (smoke, water, panic button, door sensors), and I get an email each time the system is armed and unarmed with the name of the attendant who did it.
Utility Costs: One of my small, remote stores has an internet-based HVAC control. It allows the temperature to be adjusted and can be switched from heat to air conditioning from my phone or computer.
The next time I open a store or do a major renovation, I plan to install a water meter with data tracking on my main water supply. This will show any leakage during off hours but also will allow tracking of peak usage times and days.
Technology I Couldn’t Live Without: My smartphone. I use it for checking cameras, making promotional videos, updating Facebook, and emailing model and serial numbers and pictures of parts I need to suppliers.
As I was having a new furnace installed, I made a quick 12-second video with the HVAC service truck in the background, and said “We’re making changes for the comfort of our customers.” I posted it to Facebook, and by the time I walked back in the store, my attendant had received a text from a friend about the video I just posted.
Bakers Centre Laundry
Business Management: Our card system, through its software and internet access, enables me to access up-to-the-second income reporting at our store. We also are able to automatically add value to customers’ or attendants’ laundry cards, as well as track how our attendants use their cards for either refunds or wash-dry-fold.
The system allows us to offer free dry by awarding dryer time, based on the washer the customer purchases. Our customers can use credit or debit cards at the VTMs to add value on to their laundry cards, or they can use their credit or debit card directly at the washers and dryers. They also can download a phone app, which ties to their laundry card, letting them start our machines by scanning the QR codes on the machine with their phones. What’s more, their phones will vibrate when the wash is complete. With their phones, customers can be anywhere and be able to check the value on their laundry card and even see which machines are available for use in the store at any time.
Equipment Maintenance: Our washers and dryers self-diagnose and provide error messages, which make maintenance a breeze.
Utility Costs: Of course, our washers allow us to multi-vend, which has increased our revenues and saved us on water use. We are able to give a customer a wash and two rinses for the regular price. But, if customers want an extra wash or a pre-wash, they need to purchase them.
Our washers also extract at 200 G-force, which saves us on gas consumption and helps turn over customers more quickly during at our busiest times. Our energy consumption is 19.5 percent of our gross revenue, thanks to today’s super-efficient washers and dryers, LED lighting, and computerized thermostats for heating and cooling.
Business Management: I use QuickBooks accounting software to pay most bills and employees by check; however, some of my federal, state and city liabilities are paid online.
Store Security: Today’s CCTV systems are highly capable and relatively inexpensive. Back in the 1970s, when I first priced a system, the cameras alone cost about $2,000 each. My current DVR can search stored files quickly and easily. No laundromat should be without a good CCTV system today, unless the owner plans to attend it himself the entire time it’s open.
There are times when I really depend on my system to show me what’s going on when I’m not there. I could even review a recent dryer fire we had and watch how quickly the smoke consumed the store. It’s almost like being there and seeing it live.
WashStop Laundry Center
Business Management: I use Intuit’s Complete Payroll, which is an online payroll processing system. I can input the necessary data quickly from anywhere and print out stock paychecks. I have even input the data from outside the U.S. My lead attendant emails me the totals from the time cards, I input the data on the Intuit website and email the file to my daughter to be printed and delivered to the store. It has helped me considerable to not have to be available on pay day. I can literally be anywhere in the world, as long as I have internet connectivity. The reports are great – and all of the taxes are taken care of.
Store Security: I installed a six-camera video surveillance system about five years ago. I purchase a high-end (at the time) Dell PC and GeoVision video boards and software, and built my own system for a reasonable price. There have been several occasions where the video has come in handy. One was for an unemployment compensation hearing where an employee was ignoring customer requests and – after coaching and warning letters – I had to terminate the employee for cause. She filed for unemployment compensation and had a lawyer at the hearing; however, a video example of her conduct successfully supported my case.
On another occasion, we were in Cairo, Egypt, visiting my daughter, and I was checking the store cameras from my tablet to see if a newer employee was showing up to open the store on time. She had not come in, but I saw my son arriving to collect several days’ cash to make a bank deposit. I could see him enter the store, followed by several waiting customers – however, he had never turned on the store lights and I could see he didn’t know where to turn them on. So, I opened up Skype on my notepad and used it to call his cell, surprising the heck out of him. I told him where and how to turn on the lights. He then told me one of the VTMs used for adding cash to the smartcards had an out-of-service sign, and I was able to lead him through troubleshooting and restoring the VTM to service.
Marketing: We use the CLA’s hosted website for the store. We originally had a site hosted by Comcast, who provides our internet, TV and phone service. We had set up the URL, and when we switched to the CLA, Comcast was able to redirect the site to the CLA.
Our store comes up first on searches for laundromats in our town under Google, Yelp and Bing. I am working on Facebook and Twitter accounts. Also, our attendants ask new customers how they found our laundromat, and most say they found us online.
Greatest Technological Advancements, Since You’ve Been in the Industry: I think the biggest is the use of card-activated equipment. Some have taken that farther than us, offering debit and credit card acceptance at the machine. But, when we set up this store in 2000, the smartcard was fairly new, and it has served us well over the last 13 years. The affordable video surveillance systems with internet access from any PC, tablet or smartphone have been very useful. Also, social media will continue to play a larger and larger role in driving business to our store.
Technology I Couldn’t Live Without: With more than 80 machines, it’s got to be my card system for payment. Not having to deal with coins and coin acceptors on each machine is huge. Collecting currency from two machines is much better than 80.
Morton Coin Laundry
Store Security: We love our security system, and our customers do, too. When we first bought the laundromat, it didn’t have surveillance cameras. We added them immediately and kept receiving positive feedback from the customers. We rarely have theft problems and only once have experienced vandalism. In each case, the surveillance videos have solved the crimes and given the police the information they needed to make arrests.
We have remote monitoring of our security cameras. This helps us check in on things randomly. We wouldn’t try to run a self-service laundromat without the security cameras, and the remote monitoring is icing on the cake.
Utility Costs: Our new washers conserve water, so there is a savings on water there. The dryers are energy-efficient, which saves on natural gas. Our lights are on timers and that conserves a little bit of electricity.
Business Management: Our point-of-sale system is a cloud-based program called ShopKeep. This program has excellent input and reporting capabilities, and it’s easy to learn. The back office of ShopKeep is excellent in terms of inventory and customer management. The best part of a cloud-based POS is that I can be anywhere and take a look at revenue, safe drops each night and even manage inventory – remotely. It allows me to track sales by attendant for commissions.
We also subscribe to a cloud-based program for employee scheduling, vacation/days off requests, shift trades, payroll documents, in-house communication and digital time cards. This program is accessed through the iPad – it takes an employee’s photo for “clocking in/clocking out” – they get a text and/or email 24 hours before their shift, as well as one hour before their shift. The “time cards” are digital, and I upload them to our Quick Books Online for payroll. I don’t have a “server” or computer – just a laptop and an iPad. Cloud-based programs appear “expensive” when you look at it in the short term, but they require zero maintenance and have zero downtime – and there is no server or computer to become outdated. I like simple, clean and easy.
My payroll is through QuickBooks Online. My bookkeeper accesses it remotely for setting up payroll/automatic tax payments.
In the store, I am 100 percent credit/debit cards and coins. Nearly half of the business on the machines is on a card. My credit card reader batches with the others using the same technology, so our rates are competitive as far as fees go. This allows me to track every quarter, every loyalty card, every turn of each machine. Information is power – for scheduling maintenance and advertising placement.
Equipment Maintenance: Text messaging enables me to get information out of a machine using my “administrator” cell phone. I can take a machine out of service when an attendant calls and says something is wrong.
Utility Costs: We installed LED lights in banks that allow us to accommodate differing amounts of sun light. We also use recirculating hot water pumps so that the water at the washer is the same as what is leaving the tank.
Technology I Couldn’t Live Without: I could not live without our Shiftplanning program. We use it for scheduling, in-house communication, time clocks to payroll and even training.
Business Management: For managing my operation, we use QuickBooks accounting software, which makes bookkeeping a breeze. I have the payroll feature that allows us to print paychecks for my 14-plus employees in minutes. It reminds us when to make deposits for state and federal taxes and is quite easy to use.
I also have a computer POS system in each store to track wash-dry-fold and drycleaning, as well as all of the other items we sell over the counter such as liquid detergents, softeners, bleach and hangers.
JP Investment Strategies
Camera System: One of the biggest problems I face as a self-service, multi-store laundry owner is knowing when my bill changers are working properly. If my bill changer is down, my store is essentially closed. If a customer walks into my coin laundry and is unable to make change, she will pack up her laundry and go to the store down the street.
I have used technology to counter this ongoing problem. The use of high-resolution cameras through the internet has saved me hours of time and thousands of dollars. I have installed cameras inside my bill changers, aimed at the service light. I can view these cameras from my cell phone, and it will tell me how soon I need to visit this store. If the light inside the changer is off or blinking, I know that the store needs to be serviced as soon as possible, and I will adjust my route during the day. This information is priceless because, at a self-service laundry, your bill changers need to be working properly at all times.
Ormond Beach, Fla.
Business Management: I have a card system that has allowed me a lot of functionality and features to better understand and run my business. It gives me the ability to track usage by machine and by how the customer is paying (coins, credit/debit card or loyalty card). I have tracked usage in a spreadsheet from Day One and can analyze customer usage patterns.
And I don’t have to weigh quarters because I have a tracking/audit system for the coins.
Store Security: To save on labor costs, the store is not fully attended. The store is open from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m.; attendants are present from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. This is possible through our security system. I have automatic locks on all the doors; they open and close as programmed. Also, there is a programmed audio message that plays in the store 30 minutes before the doors lock and a motion detector is activated.
Technology I Couldn’t Live Without: I could live without all of it, but the technology has enabled me to be a better business owner. It has helped to differentiate me from my competition, enabling me to grow faster.
Family Laundry II
Kansas City, Mo.
Equipment Maintenance: When I first got into the business, computer equipment was just getting popular. Today, it has gotten 100 percent better. Not only does the equipment diagnosis itself, but much of the equipment has the capability to send a message with information about the particular piece of equipment to either the owner or the maintenance person.
Utility Costs: I have gone to the T-8 bulbs and have been able to pay for the new lights within 16 months, thanks to the savings on my electric bill. If I build another store, I would love to go with LED lighting and save another 60 percent to 80 percent in my lighting costs.
Yvette Morton Williams
Wash & Spin Coin Laundry
Business Management: Intuit has been very helpful in ensuring that all payroll taxes are paid accurately and on time. All of our employees receive their wages through direct deposit to bank accounts or to pre-paid cards, allowing for convenient paydays. Everyone has access to online pay stubs as well.
We invested in a biometric time clock to help curb payroll costs. The clock requires employees to clock in and out with his or her fingerprint, resulting in 100 percent accurate readings. There is never a concern about attendants recording extra time on time sheets or having co-workers punch in or out for him or her.
We receive a phone call from our alarm company each time the store opens after or closes before the scheduled times. This system supplements our remote video surveillance, allowing us to better monitor the store when we are not on-site. We are able to immediately correct a delayed opening or note an unscheduled close right away.
Keypad door locks permit us to easily secure private areas of the store and to reprogram the combination quickly when needed, such as when personnel changes or to provide temporary access to a contractor.
Marketing: We have a website, and we market via Facebook, Twitter and Google. We offer special promotions and coupons online.
We provide free Wi-Fi for our customers. This access prompts users to sign in via Facebook, automatically checking them in. This increases the traffic on our Facebook page and creates fans. We also have computer terminals available for customers to purchase time in $1 to $4 increments.
Utility Costs: We utilize the programming capabilities of our washers to charge more for warm and hot water.
Technology I Couldn’t Live Without: We find all technology useful and wouldn’t want to live without any of it!
Broken Arrow, Okla.
Business Management: With two laundromats in operation, and a third one just now opening, we use technology on several fronts to make things easier. They include:
QuickBooks Online: The ability to make entries from anywhere is a great advantage, especially with multiple locations and multiple family members (two sons and my wife) who need access to keep our records up to date.
Dropbox: This is a cloud-based service that allows users to create a special folder on each of their computers, which Dropbox then synchronizes so that it appears to be the same folder (with the same contents) regardless of which computer is used to view it. This comes in handy, for instance, when we create the work schedule on the computer at one location (or from home) and can then print the schedule at the other locations. We also keep all of our commonly used forms, documents, training materials, promotional literature, etc. stored there. Plus, it’s free, up to a certain amount of storage. I forget how much, but we haven’t crossed that threshold yet.
SketchUp: This is a free 3D modeling program that my operations manager (and son) found and utilized as we developed the plans for our new store. To this old fogey, it was amazing. I’m used to the graph-paper-erase-redraw and use-Legos-and-scoot-them-around-on-the-paper approaches to designing a laundromat. But, using SketchUp, Brian was able to draw everything exactly to scale: size of building, equipment placement (thereby helping us to envision the right amount of equipment for the space), office and service counter layout – everything! Our builder’s draftsman was easily able to translate those renderings into our completed blueprints.
Attendant Portal: This is a password-protected WordPress website Brian developed that we use for intra-company communications with our attendants. On the site, attendants can check the company calendar and work schedule; put in time-off requests; fill out a new availability form if their needs have changed; and print off commonly used forms. It also allows us to communicate important or interesting information to everyone on staff, since it’s often difficult to meet with everyone in person.
Associated Services Corp.
Store Security: When I bought the company 10 years ago, they had no cameras, no DVR and no live video feed. Literally, only one or two stores even had alarms.
All of our stores are now under video surveillance with cameras and DVRs. It has dramatically helped us in reducing slip-and-fall claims, as well as false claims from a worker’s compensation standpoint. In addition, it has lessened the amount of vandalism that occurs in the stores.
I can add that the investment in those cameras and DVRs has reduced my insurance by 66 percent. So, it has more than paid for itself.
Utility Savings: I re-did all of the lights in my stores. I replaced the entire fixture, not just the ballasts – I went with T-8 lights. It took about three years to change over all of the stores, but it has made them more secure, and the bulbs last longer so I’m saving on electric costs.
I’m also in the process of converting my stores to tankless water heaters, and I’m seeing a great improvement in my utility costs. I’m not heating water to sit in a tank. Probably 20 percent of my stores are tankless, and I’m steadily going to convert all of them.
Alternative Payment Options: I’m offering credit and debit card acceptance at some of my store. It gives me instant data on sales by store, and it helps with your logistics from a collections standpoint.
Am I going to go 100 percent credit card in my stores? Probably not. There is a cost involved with that, and I wouldn’t be able to recoup that in some of my smaller-volume stores. But where you have big machines and maybe a younger demographic, you always want to give consumers options. At McDonald’s or the gas station, customers have that very option.
My friends in the supermarket business tell me that roughly 70 percent of the transactions in supermarkets today are done with credit/debit cards; 10 years ago, it wasn’t even 10 percent.
Business Management: We have seven locations, and we use software where we can do a statement for each store. I can look right across the line, from store to store to store, and see the percentages. The dollars and numbers don’t mean anything, it’s the percentages. After a while, you get a good feel for what the percentages should be.
The software today for accounting is amazing; I enter it, pay the bills and the payroll people send me a slip at the end of the month – I just enter all the numbers. I do statements every single month, and I give the bank a statement every single month. The software makes it easy for me to do that, which helps when it’s time to get a loan.
Also, Google Maps has been great for finding locations. I used to drive all around, but this gives you an even better view, because you can zoom right in.
Alternative Payment Options: In a new store I’m opening, every washer and dryer will have a credit card swipe. Customers can still use quarters, but there will be a swipe at every machine. In the future, I think people will use less and less cash. We’re already up to $10 on our 80-pound washers – that’s a lot of quarters.
Business Management: One of the most important business management software programs that we use is QuickBooks by Intuit. We use QuickBooks, not only to track our basic accounting needs, but to help us to manage our wash-dry-fold orders and over-the-counter sales. It keeps track of inventory and handles our payroll needs as well. The software’s reports allow us to easily see how our business is performing at any time.
For alternative payment options, we have a store that uses a kiosk-based changer and debit/credit card payment center that customers can use to start any machine in the store. What is nice is that they can start multiple machines at once. The system sends me daily and monthly reports, which break down transactions between: wash and fold, cash or credit; wash and dry, cash or credit; and change made.
Additionally, we began extensively using networking software on our washers and dryers. This software allows us to remotely monitor the stores’ activity and reports machine usage by blocks of time. This helps us with scheduling. It also reports nightly sales summaries and lets us change prices remotely. When we run washer or dryer specials, we can pre-program the start and stop times and then they run on schedule.
Marketing: We’ve branded our stores, and in doing so, have a website where customers can go to learn about our stores and view our specials. We use Google AdWords to target customers looking online to come to our website. We also have detailed descriptions of the stores on Google Maps and on Yelp.
This helps get the word out. We encourage our customers to review us on Yelp and to check in on Facebook.
Utility Costs: With having the latest model equipment, we guarantee that our utilities will be about as low as can be. In California, we are currently experiencing a severe drought. If it becomes necessary to further reduce water usage, we can set the water levels in our machines to a lower level.
Also, we use condensing technology water heaters in all of our stores, which are about 98 percent efficient, and we have begun migrating our store lighting to LED technology to reduce our lighting expenses.
The software designed for equipment has been a huge advancement.
This has been a game-changer for us and has allowed us to more easily remotely manage our stores.