Originally posted – Oct 14, 2014
Whether you’re a single-store laundry owner new to the business or a multi-store operator with years of industry experience under your belt, you both share the same dilemma – how to effectively market and promote your business on a budget.
Of course, this can be especially challenging if – like so many laundry owners – you run the business on your own or with just a few others.
The good news is that you’re not alone. There are about 23 million small businesses in the United States, all of which are trying hard to stand out from the crowd. And, although this traditionally can be an expensive proposition, there are a number of ways to market your laundry business without breaking the bank.
Here are some “shoestring marketing” tactics today’s savvy laundry owners are utilizing to get the edge on their competition…
At Laundry Land, we have purchased advertising on a couple of bus benches. I have two laundromats – one bench for each store. They are within a couple of miles of the stores. They are very visible and cost only $75 a month.
For several years, we have decorated and entered our company van in the local Independence Day parade. The highlight is a disco bubble-blowing machine, which blows a lot of bubbles out the back of the van.
In addition, several employees walk alongside the van, handing out helium balloons with our logo on them and coupons to parade spectators. We get a good laugh out of everyone, as well as some free publicity.
The cost is usually less than $200 for the parade registration fee, custom-printed balloons and tank of helium, along with three to four hours of employee pay for those who participate.
It’s a lot of fun for the employees and a good team-building exercise. I would highly recommend it.
Express Laundry Centers
The best marketing effort I have ever undertaken cost $25. It’s a refund box that I have mounted on the wall next to our changer for anyone who loses money in one of our machines. My attendants constantly tell me that customers who have received a refund in the mail are pleasantly surprised and say things like, “I can’t believe he actually mailed me a refund!”
When I sit at my desk and handwrite a short note with our apologies for the machine malfunction and then insert cash for the money they have lost – sometimes for amounts as low as $1 – I am generating a huge amount of goodwill.
I also have discovered that very few people abuse the refund box. My biggest problem is keeping the occasional kid from using the refund/comment cards for making paper airplanes.
Vero Beach, Fla.
One of the first things I did was to order 1,000 flyers from Office Depot. The flyers read:
$1 Off All 30-Pound Frontload Washers!
Monday – Thursday
6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
I walked to all of the apartments within a one-and-a-half radius of my store and placed my flyers on the doors. This is how I attracted my first 200 customers.
I also hung a large, bright, colorful banner in the front of my store for three months, which read: “Laundromat Now Open!” The banner came with the store.
In addition, I had an A-frame sign custom-made for $230. It has “Sudz Coin Laundry” on the top, and below that I can advertise my wash specials. I would chain the sign to the pole on the busy corner, where cars coming from all directions could see it.
Sudz Coin Laundry
The best bang for your buck is a great website. I see so many owners with “do-it-yourself” websites (or none at all) that do very little to inspire me to do business with them. It’s like asking a pretty girl to go on a date, and then not even bothering to brush your teeth or wear deodorant. What did you expect? That she’d see your charming personality through your funky breath and B.O.? I don’t think so.
I just landed a $20,000- to 40,000-a-year account from my website. Last month, I had one order for $7,500 from my website. If you don’t have a great website, get a gun and shoot yourself in the foot every day until you get a great website.
I spent about $2,200 on mine, plus $300 for a professional photographer. The best part of having a site is the fact that most other laundry owners don’t have one or, if they do, it’s so bad that it’s laughable. This is a huge competitive advantage that will work for you 24/7.
Wash It Kwik
When a competitor opened a mega-store across the street, I started to offer free liquid chlorine bleach to my customers. It costs next to nothing, and they love it.
We donate wash-dry-fold gift certificates to local charities, as well as promoting our drop-off services through tee box signs at local golf fundraisers
As for our self-service business, search engine productivity has been the most effective – and free – tool to grow our walk-in customer base outside of a two- to three-mile radius, and this has improved our drop-off business as well.
On Google, the key is to have the first listing, if not many listings, on that all-important first page of results. This can be done easily by filling out a basic report with Google, Superpages, Yellow Pages, etc. Next, get your loyal repeat customers to write quick, positive reviews for you on Google. This has resulted in customers from surrounding towns coming to our business. It’s a powerful tool that’s easy to set up and free.
Of course, marketing doesn’t always have to be about reaching out via media platforms; it can be as simple as a good morning with a smile as you hold the door open for a customer.
The Laundry Basket of Norwalk
We have two unattended stores. Since we are not there, this eliminates coupons, free giveaways and customer loyalty programs.
However, every 18 months, we hold a drawing for a $50 gift card at each store, and the promotion lasts two to three weeks. To enter, customers must fill out a short survey of approximately 10 questions; we ask the customers what they like and dislike about our store, how they heard about us, how we can better serve them and so on. Of course, we also capture their zip codes and email addresses.
This program gives us an idea as to how we’re performing as owners, and lets us know where our customers are coming from and how we can contact them in the future.
North Canton & Lake Cable Laundromats
Stark County, Ohio
We use Facebook. Not only is it free, but it gives you the ability to target market your store. It gives you the ability to promote your store specifically to, for instance, women who are 18 to 35 year old, who live within two miles, and are interested in WiFi and cleanliness. No more blanketing people with ads they don’t want to see. With Facebook, you can target people with certain likes who would see your ad as being relevant to them. And you can promote your page to several thousand people for less than $50.
When I purchased the store four and a half years ago, I knew I had to do something to generate positive word of mouth. So, we came up with a way to reward customers for doing business here. We printed up punch cards, and customers receive punches every time they do laundry. When the card is completely punched, they get to spin a wheel to win prizes. The customers love it, and if they win, we ask to take their photo and promote their win on Facebook. It’s a way to reward customers for being loyal – plus, it gets them talking about the Washboard to their friends.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with a nice website. You can do certain sites for free, and they will get the basic information out to the public. However, doing it yourself might not have the same impact as a website designed by a professional. We spent $1,000 on a website last August, and it has more than paid for itself. In fact, our wash-dry-fold business was up 167 percent in August over last year. It’s actually causing us to re-examine our business model; we’re looking at changing to a wash-dry-fold business that just happens to have a laundry.
The Washboard Laundry
San Diego, Calif.
Over the past year, we have launched a couple of low-cost promotions.
First, my wife and I donate money every year to our local humane society. This year, we decided to take a percentage of revenue from our laundry business during the month of March and donate it to the humane society. In return, the humane society promoted our event on a local radio station, in the newspaper, on Facebook and on their website, as well as in various newsletters. As a result, March was our highest-grossing month yet, and the donation was a big help in caring for the animals in our community.
Second, the local university has a student-led fan club that asked businesses to purchase items for each member of the club to wear or carry during every sporting event. In return, we have 250 students walking around campus at every sporting event with a drawstring backpack with our business name and logo on it.
At Q Laundry, we try to promote ourselves in a number of ways:
1. Whenever there is a staff change, an addition to services or an anniversary, we write a press release. They are free, easy to send and get your name out there one more time.
2. Work with a company partner – an agency or organization that matches your business model. Q Laundry partners with Northwest Youth Services, and we do all of their sheets and towels for their homeless shelter. This fits with our model, because I was a high school/college teacher, so I have a real heart for that particular age group. We wash about 30 pounds a week. We provide the service, and they cross-promote us on their Facebook page, as well as a dinner auctions and open houses. Our employees feel that they are genuinely giving back to the community, and NWYS has become a part of our company conversations here in the store. This relationship works both ways.
3. Our goal is to support one auction, sporting/community event or school group per month, where we donate $150 worth of products or services for that event. We recently supported an adoption service agency dinner, where I donated products for a silent auction. And, next month, we are supporting the local youth symphony by donating and purchasing a small ad in their choral program. Also, for two months, we washed all of the coats for a coat drive – we washed 600 coats and received a lot of radio coverage for it.
4. Leverage Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Take photos in the store, and post them on these social sites. I boost posts for $5 when they have a more “general interest” audience, rather than “laundry,” per se. I try to boost one post a week.
5. When you have an anniversary, ask your vendors and suppliers for handouts and giveaways. These don’t have to be a huge deal – just anything you can give to your customers to create excitement. We recently set up a “Soap Bar” of laundry soap samples from all of my suppliers. Also, my equipment manufacturer gave me water bottles to give away, and my credit card reader company also gave me items to hand out. Creating excitement changes how people feel about doing laundry. And they tell others.
6. Brand, brand, brand. Put your logo on everything that leaves your store. Most new customers think Q Laundry is a franchise because they see my logo everywhere. That’s priceless.
7. Consistently promote your “gigs.” We have “Tightwad Tuesday” every week, as well as something we call “Lucky Duck” every Wednesday morning. Whatever it is – be consistent and make everything you do easy to promote. Run simple, value-added promotions.
One of my partners is a general contractor who happened to build the local Domino’s Pizza locations. He approached the franchisee, and we asked about putting our flyers on his pizza boxes.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford his rate. So, I suggested a trade out – we would wash his employees’ uniform shirts, aprons and store towels at no cost and, in return, he would place our flyers on his pizza boxes.
To evaluate our results, we put a coupon on the flyers – offering free dry or free pickup and delivery for our wash-dry-fold service. Within three months, our return on investment was an increase from four turns per day to eight, with 50 percent of our customers using the free dry. We even had customers calling Domino’s and asking to get the pizza boxes with the Wash ‘Em Up flyers.
Our drop-off service went from two to three customers per day to 12 to 15 per day, with an average of 10 pickups and deliveries.
Now, I have discovered that a $9 T-shirt with our information on it – worn by our employees – is better than any TV, newspaper or radio advertising, dollar for dollar. We supply each employee with five shirts. We use catchy colors, and they wear them after work when grocery shopping or running errands – and we get a lot of free advertising this way.
Wash ‘Em Up Laundromats
We conduct a monthly free raffle drawing in which we encourage every customer to complete a raffle ticket or to leave a business card during each visit. At the end of the month, we select and call three winners. The winners claim their prizes – a free wash up to a certain dollar amount – during their next visit. This can be as little or as much as you like.
Also, every year we have a grand raffle that costs a bit more than our monthly drawings. We purchase larger items – such as a flat-screen television, a tablet, etc. – and each customer who completes a ticket during that month is eligible to win. We generally cap prize costs between $200 and $500. This may sound like a lot, but given the fact that this only occurs once a year, it is not a large monthly cost. We promote the raffle before, during and after the month. This is our large customer appreciation event, and it’s a favorite of our regulars.
We also run a promotion we call “Crazy Quarters.” We have specially marked quarters placed inside our change machines. Each time a customer receives one of these coins, he or she wins a free wash up to a certain dollar amount. This promotion is random and generates excitement in the store. Of course, the winners are photographed, and their pictures are displayed in the store.
In addition, we offer free internet access, which requires users to check in on their Facebook pages. With a little creativity, this can be done at no cost.
I would also suggest that every business have professional business cards available for customers and potential customers. The cards should feature your store logo, prominent services, business hours, phone/email/fax information and website. You can get 500 cards for $10.
What’s more, create a professional email address for contacting customers and responding to inquiries. For a professional look, many web hosting services will include a number of email addresses matching your domain name at no additional cost.
Yvette Morton Williams
Wash & Spin Coin Laundry
As the operations and marketing manager for Liberty Laundry, I know from my own studies that the “recommended amount” of advertising expenses for most brick-and-mortar stores is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 percent to 5 percent of your gross income. Keeping this in mind, I studied our own company’s numbers for the previous year. I knew it wasn’t going to be much; however, when I passed along the information to my dad – owner John Henderson – that we had only spent 0.5 percent, he paused a minute, grinned… and then asked, “Is there any way we can get that number lower?”
Low-cost or no-cost marketing campaigns are just about all we do, and for good reason – we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of them. Without spending much on our advertisements and promotions, we are already outspending and “out-promoting” just about all competing laundromats in our market. We benefit from the fact that there is virtually zero online presence for most laundromats throughout the country and especially in our area. Because of this, we have put most of our effort into online marketing. Plus, it’s cheap.
Of course, building a website and claiming online listings are a crucial first step, but then be sure to post copious amounts of information and pictures of your store on your site, as well as on any and all local business listing websites you can find. Start with the big ones like Google, Bing, Yelp and Facebook, and move on to smaller ones that individually don’t account for much web traffic but cumulatively add up to improved search results.
The next step is to get online reviews. Don’t be shy. If a customer is in your store using a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet – and surfing the web on the free WiFi you’re providing them – ask them if they are having a great experience. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself as the business owner and ask if they will write a review for your store, as there are few things that help a local small business as much as a great Google review.
Our most successful campaign for online reviews is very simple: we posted signs in our stores that stated if you post a review on Google for us, or if you post a picture of yourself in front of one of our giant washers or dryers on Facebook and tag it at our location by “checking in” through your smartphone’s Facebook app, you would get a free snack or drink from our vending machines. You’d be surprised what people will do for a candy bar. A word of caution: be wary of review websites like Yelp that seem to enjoy punishing businesses for even asking for reviews.
As I write this, two of our stores are nearing 20 reviews each on Google, and our newest store that opened in March already has six reviews. The most reviews any other laundromat in our area has are four. This is in addition to a large number of Facebook endorsements by our happy customers to all of their friends with pictures and a map of our location.
We know that our online reviews have gained us new customers because they tell us so. “You guys had great reviews online! That’s why we’re here.” I’ve heard this at least three times in the past week alone. And all it costs us are a few candy bars, some sodas… and the nerve to ask politely for reviews.
Our store holds an annual Toys-for-Tots drive, from the end of November through the middle of December. We purchase a few toys to kick off the event, and our customers bring in the rest. We’ve held this fundraiser for eight years.
I like to donate gift certificates to non-profits to auction off at their fundraisers. It enables a new group of quality prospects to hear about our services. And it works best if the winner will pump it on social media.
Lake Charles, La.
We provide free wash-dry-fold services for some community organizations. Although we may be forfeiting some revenue, we are able to do this for just the cost of running the machines a few more cycles and some detergent. To our delight, we have received more positive promotion from this than we anticipated.
For example, we have been laundering our local AAA hockey team’s jerseys for several seasons now. In the beginning, we charged them for this service. However, someone eventually suggested that we not charge them – in return for an advertisement in the team’s program, distributed at every home game. Although the advertising would have cost us about the same amount we were charging the team to wash its jerseys, they really appreciate it. Plus, in my opinion, having the kind of advertising where someone is thanking your business is more powerful than you trying to promote yourself.
We do the same thing for our local Boys and Girls Club. Although we receive a charitable organization tax receipt, which allows us to deduct the amount we would normally charge from our income, we also have received quite a bit of promotion from them. They have placed ads in the local newspapers thanking us for what we do, and they’ve even had the kids create a large, colorful banner thanking us, which we proudly display in our store.
Giving back to the community is important to me. Although I don’t necessarily look for ways to promote the business in every situation, it usually happens anyway. In my opinion, you can’t lose. People see that we give back to the community and sometimes that’s all it takes to win them over. In fact, we get our name out there a lot more than we used to – and without a large advertising budget. We also feel good doing it, which is perhaps the most rewarding thing of all.
Although most traditional marketing methods, such as radio and TV, can be cost prohibitive, you’ve got other options. Clearly, as evidenced by the slew of marketing tactics above, there are several channels you can use to creatively promote your laundry business in a non-traditional sense – and without blowing up your budget.