Orignally posted – May 01, 2014
Roseville, Calif., November 2012 – The phone rings at 11:30 p.m.
Caller: Hello, Ms. Dower?
Caller: This is Roseville Police Department.
Me: How may I help you?
Roseville Dispatcher: You have a customer who has called 911 complaining that your laundromat is locked and his clothes are still in the dryer.
Me: Seriously? OK, please ask him to wait 20 seconds and then pull on the door handle. I will unlock it from my iPhone.
Another laundry emergency averted!
That’s a true story and just one example of how technology has enabled me to manage and operate three unattended laundries.
During my 25-year career at Hewlett-Packard, I sold enterprise computer systems with remote management capability, commonly referred to as “lights out data centers.” When my corporate career came to an unexpected end in August 2009, I decided I had enough of the high-tech industry and wanted to take a completely different path.
With my husband’s blessing, we purchased our first self-service laundry. My dad, Richard, was an IT professor at California State University, Sacramento and was bored with academia, so I convinced him to come onboard as Paradise Laundry Inc.’s chief information officer.
As most store owners have discovered, the majority of customers don’t read signs, even when plastered on both sides of the front door. Our sign reads (in a red, bold font): “WARNING: Check the clock. This door locks at 11:00 p.m. You will be able to exit; however, you will not be able to re-enter.”
When a customer calls late at night with laundry separation anxiety, the last thing they want to hear is that their predicament was self-induced. After several “the-door-locked-and-I-can’t-get-in” calls, I challenged my CIO to give me a way to remotely unlock the door.
He did some research and found a remote relay with internet protocol capability and wrote some custom code, which allows us to temporarily override the Securitron Magnetic Door Locks. Customers are both shocked and thrilled when we are able to reunite them with their belongings.
From business management to operational efficiency to security, we continue to find ways to use IT to solve the challenges of operating unattended stores. In fact, it has occurred to me that a laundromat isn’t much different than a data center – both have large-format machines running mission-critical (at least to the user) programs that need to maintain 100 percent uptime with as little human intervention as possible.
In retrospect, I guess I didn’t really take that different of a career path after all.