“People don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are.” – Bruce Turkel, TURKEL Brands

Not so many years ago, the notion of a “well-branded laundromat” would either be drowned out by laughter or quickly filed away as an oxymoron. Today, I am inspired by the progress made by innovative laundry owners who understand the importance of branding their businesses, as well as what a great brand can do to set their stores apart in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace.

For the first several decades of our industry’s history, laundries were not proactively branded by their operators – rather, the public came to view the average laundromat with words like: “dark,” “dirty,” “dingy” and “cramped.” Perhaps on better days, those descriptions gave way to euphemisms like “utilitarian” or “basic.”

That’s the first lesson. Whether or not you’ve actively chosen a brand identity and support that brand through your business’ operational style and marketing, the consumers in the neighborhood have independently assigned a “brand” to your laundromat. As Jeff Bezos (the branding guru behind Amazon) said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Do you like what customers have to say about your store?

You could argue that our collective lack of active and sharp branding decades ago has conspired to commodify our businesses in the eyes of consumers. In other words, you can wash your clothes just about anywhere, so why should the lion’s share of customers come to your laundry? Absent brand, are customers left with making that buying decision solely based on which laundromat is closest? Or worse yet, who’s the cheapest?

I see this through my laundry travels manifest in the familiar red channel letters on the façade stating “LAUNDRY” or “LAUNDROMAT.” What’s the customer to think, other than: “They’re all the same, might as well go to the location closest to my apartment.”

The good news is that more and more of you are stepping up to create differentiation within your laundries, punctuated by an extraordinary level of cleanliness – or by promoting a “green” commitment. Others tout larger washer sizes, speed and efficiency to let customers know that they can tackle that laundry chore faster and “get it all done at once.”

Of course, after you’ve adopted a differentiated identity for your laundry business, the next step is to integrate that brand message into everything you do.

Differentiate Your Laundry – the absence of a deliberate, proactive brand limits your appeal to location and vend price. Be different and tell them about it.

Portray Professionalism – raise the bar for quality and consistency to establish credibility and fight the laundromat stigma.

Tell Customers Who You Are – set higher expectations for the wash day experience and take control of you laundry’s brand.

Some of the best examples of great laundromat branding today go beyond logos and color schemes. I love seeing Facebook pages and Twitter accounts from laundries with “personality.” Social media and online marketing are powerful ways to let consumers know that not all laundromats are created equal and that there are better places to do the wash.

Consider proactively adopting a brand that reflects who you are and what your self-service laundry stands for in the market. Take that brand and carry it through everything you do and say about your store. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what a little effort to distinguish your operation from the rest can do for your bottom line today – as well as for the overall value of your business when it comes time to sell down the road.