Originally posted – Aug 15, 2012

Each year, one of the most valuable things a self-service laundry owner can do is attend distributor shows. And please notice that I didn’t just say “your distributor show.”

The reason for this is because I personally go to several distributor shows each year – and I always learn something important and helpful for my business at each one. Of course, the distributors love to have as many store-owner attendees at their shows as possible, because they know that all of our money clearly states: “Legal Tender, United States of America.”

One of the biggest benefits of distributor shows is the “show pricing” and special financing terms on equipment, which are usually the lowest they will be all year on any machines purchased during the event. And you may also find some great discounts on parts. So, if you do your homework and know what you want to buy, you can really save some money by buying what you need while at one of these shows.

What’s more, distributor shows are also the best opportunity to see the latest and greatest technological advancements our industry has to offer. This might include energy-efficient “green” technology; remote access to our stores in order to check on revenues and machine turns, or to change vend prices and perhaps send out an e-mail marketing piece promoting a middle-of-the-week pricing special; or security cameras that store owners can check from their laptops, iPads or smartphones.

Distributor shows also will have the most up-to-date information on card systems – not to mention card-less technologies such as scan payment systems, which I believe are the future of the laundry industry.

These shows are the best places for laundry owners to talk directly with the industry’s leading manufacturers and to get information about washers, dryers, water heaters, card systems, bill changers, vending machines and other important aspects of our self-service laundries. We can ask questions of those manufacturers in attendance, as well as provide our own feedback for improvements. For instance, when making a repair, how many times have you said to yourself, “I’m sure the engineer who designed this didn’t ask any repair guys first about how to place this on the machine.”

The other great benefit to attending as many distributor shows as you can – even if some are in another state or affiliate area, like the big Upper Midwest Laundry Fest in Minneapolis or the many shows in California – is networking. And that networking could be with other laundry owners, potential investors, buyers or Coin Laundry Association staffers.

When you go to the distributor show and you and the person standing next to you are both admiring that big, new 80-pound washer, ask him or her: “What’s your best money-making or money-saving idea?” Or if there is a CLA staff member at the event, introduce yourself and ask: “What seems to be the biggest, most-discussed laundry industry issue this year?”

Perhaps you’ll learn, as I did at the last distributor show I attended, that 77 percent of our laundry customers seek out information about a store online before they ever walk through the door. In fact, I was able to combine that little nugget of information with the knowledge that the CLA creates free websites for its members – and, all of a sudden, that particular distributor show just became a big money-making opportunity.

As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. And that’s great advice for the upcoming distributor shows this fall. Maybe you’ll even strike up a conversation with someone who is trying to sell a great laundromat at the same time you’re thinking of buying another great laundromat – and perhaps you can then run this deal past the financing company that will no doubt be at the show.

But to ensure that you get the very most out the time and money you put into attending a distributor event, here are some tips:

First, when you receive the show invitation, make it a priority by responding and then enter it into your daily calendar. You might even want to call another laundry-owner friend (preferably not a direct competitor) to see if he or she would want to car pool with you.

Second, get there early. This way you can mingle with the exhibitors, speakers and company staffers before the large crowds arrive. And who knows – you might even win an early bird door prize.

Third, bring a tablet or a pad and pen on which to take notes. You are guaranteed to hear a lot of great ideas and will probably sit in on some eye-opening seminars. So, take notes – and then take action when you get back to your store.

Fourth (and this is important), spend equal time with the manufacturers and your fellow laundry owners; both have great ideas and information that they likely will share freely. In fact, we are fortunate to be in an industry where someone just an hour or two away from your store can freely share a great money-making idea with you and not worry about you stealing their patent or making a better widget than them.

Fifth, as you are sitting at a table eating your free lunch (who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?) commit to asking questions to everyone at the table. After all, you’re sitting there with a group of knowledgeable laundry owners, so be sure to use some of their experiences to make more profits for your business.

If you want to have a more successful laundry, attend your area distributor shows. Hopefully, by the end of a productive day, you will come away with some great deals on new equipment purchases, some great new marketing ideas for your store, a better knowledge of the newest and best machines available… and maybe even a door prize or two.

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