Store Owners Who Focus on These Critical Aspects of Their Operations Will Dramatically Boost Their Odds of Long-Term Success

You’ve opened a laundromat! Congratulations!

As a small-business owner, you are among the 13.3 percent of people in the United States who own businesses. But what happens next?

In the auditorium at my college orientation at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, I remember the dean instructing us all to look to our right and then to our left – before informing us that one of us three would not be there in four years. It was tough to hear, but a cold, hard fact that he wanted us to understand.

Being a new business owner is similar to being a first-year college student in that many will not be there for long. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration, 33 percent of businesses with employees don’t survive past the second year – and, at the five-year mark, only half of the businesses are still in operation. And this statistic is steady across industries, too.

What can you do to increase your odds of remaining in the vended laundry business for the long haul? How will you not only survive, but thrive? There are three main points for any operator to explore when seeking to grow and sustain his or her business: (1) self, (2) team and (3) processes.

Self

As a laundry owner, it often may feel as if the weight of everything is on your shoulders. And, yes, it kind of is. You must focus on yourself and have your personal items in order if you want your business to succeed. Remember the flight attendant’s declaration that, in the event of a loss in cabin pressure, you must first secure your mask before assisting those around you? You are the most important building block in this equation. A business that is built on a foundation of a shaky owner is far more likely to fail.

How do you focus on yourself? You must first be clear about what you want. Develop a personal mission statement. This should include a solid acknowledgement of your guiding principles.

Does this sound a bit heavy? It is. A mission statement will serve as a compass or a global positioning system to lead you throughout this important journey of business ownership in particular and life in general. A mission statement is the barometer by which you can measure all decisions and objectives. As famously written by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there.”

Once you’ve drafted your mission statement, ask yourself: what is your dream of proprietorship? While your mission statement is broad, this next step should be more specifically focused on your goal of laundry ownership. Some owners want their laundry businesses to be their only (or main) source of income and professional fulfillment. Then again, some owners have multiple business ventures and view their laundromats as an ancillary income stream. Other operators have dreams of building a laundromat legacy, a regional laundry empire. Only you can answer this question. There is no wrong answer – but it’s crucial to be completely honest with yourself.

Our internal narrative is the voice we hear above all others. Be truthful with yourself, but be kind as well. If you’ve made it to this point, you likely know you’re an achiever. However, never stop being your own cheerleader, too. I believe many people would quickly quit a job where the manager spoke to them using words that we sometimes say to ourselves. Never underestimate the value of positive self-talk.

Successful businesspeople must prioritize their own personal development. Growing, reading and learning are fundamental if you plan to expand your knowledge base. With today’s technology, it’s OK if you don’t love reading. Investigate a progressive, business-related podcast or a self-improvement audiobook. The choices are plentiful, even for those who are not necessarily bibliophiles.

The final point I’d like to cover with regard to self is the importance of scheduling time to meditate and to reflect on your business. Taking some time each day to quiet your mind is extremely valuable and will pay dividends across all aspects of your business. Also, it’s important to schedule time to step away from the day-to-day operations and think about the business. This is a key difference between a worker, versus a manager, versus a CEO. If you don’t focus on the big picture, who will?

Team

Once you’ve made a habit of focusing on self, you are ready to focus on your team. Successful business owners invariably will be surrounded by five-star team members. This may include significant others, distributors, accountants or bookkeepers, service technicians, attorneys, boards of directors, and, of course, employees. Although each of these is important, for this article we will focus strictly on a laundromat’s staff.

A great staff begins with effective hiring. Focus on hiring happy, stable people, because most of the other things can be taught. We’ve had success posting jobs on Indeed.com or via Facebook’s Job Management feature. The ability to prescreen many potential interviewees is valuable. Some larger operations may even be able to justify the added expense of a professional staffing agency.

As you focus on your team, be sure to properly categorize them as either employees or contractors. Many small-business owners elect to classify their staff members as contractors, but they may be unknowingly accepting a large risk in doing so.

The Internal Revenue Service may assess the following three categories in determining if a worker is an employee or a contractor: (1) behavioral, (2) financial and (3) relationship control. If you provide training, if you control their business expenses, if their work is a key aspect of your regular business operations or if you determine whether or not they may perform the work for other companies, they likely should be considered employees.

Potential fines for misclassification can be steep and may significantly impact your ability to remain solvent. Don’t create a potential silent business partner by illegally having someone work for you as a contractor. If that worker becomes disgruntled for any reason, you risk being reported to the Department of Labor or the IRS.

Once your employees are hired, be sure to set clear and consistent expectations. A complete employee manual with a signed acknowledgement statement will help. Regularly scheduled team meetings and ongoing training will help ensure that your vision is accurately executed. After all, your team is the face of your laundry business, especially in your absence.

Invest in your team. Show your staff members they are important to you. I tell my team that, if we’re not growing, we’re dying. Professional development classes for management will expose them to current techniques. And, once they complete a class, ask them to teach what they’ve learned to the rest of the team.

The most important aspect of focusing on the team is for the leader to be 100 percent accountable 100 percent of the time. As Jocko Willink writes in Extreme Ownership, “There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”

I take full responsibility for my team’s failures and view them as an opportunity to assess our processes and make critical adjustments. A culture of accountability must start with the business owner.

Processes

Once you have methodically focused on yourself and on your team, you must target your business processes.

“You get rich by saving your time to make money,” said Naval Ravikant, CEO and co-founder of AngelList.

Of course, your goal may or may not include getting rich, but the principle of saving this critical, non-renewable resource strikes a chord with most business owners. With the advances available today, one would be remiss to not take advantage of the many opportunities to automate and standardize. A lack of standardization means a low level of efficiency. Having to “reinvent the wheel” for each iteration of a repetitive task is an energy drain. Create clear, written and/or videoed instructions that make all tasks easily replicated. Development of an operations manual for your vended laundry has an enormous ability to clarify any ambiguous portions of your business – and also will increase its value, if you choose to sell someday.

As part of your focus on processes, be sure to claim all online listings for your laundry business. You also may choose to utilize Facebook and Google advertisements and take advantage of creating a low-cost website.

I recently spoke with the successful operator of a large store. He never established an online presence for his laundromat and was not even aware that his customers had started a Facebook page for his business and were posting comments without his input.

When evaluating a new marketing tactic, I will consider whether or not the cost will be offset by the value of the number of expected new customers. For instance, if a new customer is worth at least $300 per year, I likely will pay up to $300 for a tactic that will bring in at least one new customer. You don’t want to be that laundry owner who turns out the lights to save on the electric bill.

A successful store owner understands that the cost of retaining an existing customer is a fraction of the cost of acquiring a new one. Therefore, effective operators will show their current customers how much they appreciate them, even when it may be inconvenient to do so.

Another important aspect of focusing on processes is to be observant and to make a point of gleaning best practices from other industries. For example, in my area, QuikTrip gas stations are widely recognized as being well-managed – and their employee badges proudly display the number of years the employee has been in service. That’s a nice touch.

In addition, Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurants always request a name and use it when announcing that an order is ready. Great customer service.

If you’ve been wowed by a customer service experience, note what you felt and determine what aspect of it you can incorporate into your laundry business. Some may be high-tech; however, others (such as those just listed) don’t have to be. Believe me, your customers will notice.

You’re operating your own vended laundry business – and you want to continue to grow and be successful. By developing and following your personal GPS, establishing a great team, and honing your processes, you will be sure to reach your goals and will greatly increase the chance that your business will be here for many years to come.