Flying first class is an entirely new experience that anyone having flown in coach will proclaim. There’s an opportunity to build in a VIP-level service offering into your model. Allow customers to earn points for visiting your business and earn discounts on future services. Consider going beyond coins and implementing swipe cards where customers can keep a balance. Ease the experience with easy swiping rather than collecting coins. Customers can easily fill their cards with funds to swipe and allow the machines to deduct from their total. The program helps to eliminates having to deal with dollars and cents to having everything on one card.
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Build in a Customer Loyalty
Program (VIP Services)
Theme nights go hand in hand with the hybrid model, yet any laundromat soley offering laundry services can drive traffic with a little creativity. With a simpler market model, you can still hire a live acoustic guitarist to serenade a Saturday crowd, all while this same service can be applied to a multi-business model. Beyond live adult activities with drinks and music are kids activities with face painting offered on Saturday mornings.
Hitch a Hybrid Model
Theme Days and Nights
The laundromat has an opportunity to be more than a self-service chore with clean bathrooms. (That’s baseline.) By bringing something more to the neighborhood you have an opportunity to create something special for customers to keep returning. A combination-hybrid business model seamlessly incorporates a laundromat business with another service offering. If the new laundromats are trending larger than in the past at 3,000 to 4,000 square feet, then it makes sense to look for innovative ways to cover the cost. Especially if these additional services demand next to no overhead when the rent is already paid for.
Now that you’ve committed to an excellent base-line service offering that is already five-stars with commercial grade equipment that operates better than consumer equipment, and a safe and reliable service offering, it’s time to differentiate in the market. Your investment in equipment isn’t over. Savvy tech-connected consumers appreciate a communal computer or two with free wifi for added productivity while waiting to fold. Next up, install large screen televisions that perpetually show old movies on cable for a passive form of entertainment and nostalgia. (Ok that last part is optional, but then the alternative is everyone’s favorite, HGTV.) If you are going to offer services beyond washing and drying, like dry cleaning, and VIP service of washing, drying, and folding, pick up and drop off, you might go a step further with a custom application where patrons can schedule their visits, pick up times, drop off times, and more. Check location specific apps like FlyCleaners and Cleanly (available Manhattan), and Washio (available in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.).
At this stage you may have some research under your belt and you’ve started to notice a trend, no a revolution, amongst laundromats. They are offering additional services above and beyond merely providing manual washing and drying machines that serve to elevate the entire experience above a simple transaction. Here we’ll go into the experiential side of the coin laundry industry and of the small business community at-large and tie it back to how you can be a part of something bigger than just chores and change.
In a time where coffee shops aren’t just coffee shops, but instagrammable experiences, where breweries are also hot yoga pop ups, and Amazon isn't merely online shopping, but a 2-day near- instant delivery service, it’s time to think outside the typical customer experience. That means nailing the basics, but then going above and beyond to attract, deliver and delight. Since laundromats are already paying a set amount of rent on a specific square footage, they might as well leverage that space to its fullest potential.
Turning Your Laundromat Into an Experience
Since 1934, laundromats have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry; with the help of technology, but the fixture of the urban experience that once was, is slowly diminishing. More properties are installing washers and dryers to be more competitive, and more consumers are demanding the convenience of a washer and dryer at home. But there are emerging trends and ways to turn the downward trend around. Busy dual-income households - with machines in home even - are attracted to pick up and drop off services for the sake of convenience, for example.
Nail the Basics
Turning Your Laundromat Into an Experience
Map out the mere basics and then go after them 100%. Rather than fluorescent overhead lighting, opt for softer illumination. Speaking of lighting, make sure the exterior is well lit and approachable for maximum safety and visual appearance from the street or parking lot. Invest in state-of-the-art equipment and nail down a reputable and reliable maintenance repair service to eliminate down time. Invest in impeccable cleanliness. That means implementing a cleaning schedule at the beginning, during, and the end of the shift of the laundromat attendant. Build in a guideline for bathroom cleaning regularly throughout the day and keep in mind the exterior parking lot and storefront. Consider investing in a laundromat attendant to create the personalized touch and memorable experience that will keep customers returning.
Check off the operational basics that meet convenience factors with location and consistent hours open, quicker washing times, better quality wash (with results not even replicated at home), and a clean, safe, and secure laundry environment. Emphasize how washing machines that load up to 100 lbs in one wash can be washed, dried, and folded in under two hours. Then, incorporate multiple sizes of front loading machines for smaller loads to meet personalized needs. Choose your location based on the experience you want to create. Pick a place that has high foot traffic, is conveniently located with a grocery store and other shopping, and has reliable no meter parking.
Once you have invested in the water line, gas line, machines, maintenance, and staff, the lighting, decor, and signage, and done sufficient location scouting, we can discuss how you can make the typical 2-hour visit an entirely new experience. In fact it’s becoming a new buzz word in the retail and commerce space and that’s experiential marketing. The buzz word simply implies that millennials and growing portions of the population are buying in on experience rather than transaction. And it’s increasingly becoming an opportunity to create moments that matter during what most see as an ongoing chore.
Succeed with Amenities
Non-tech related amenities will include an inviting children’s area. For an added bonus, consign an artist to custom paint a children’s mural for an inviting, unique play space for busy families to keep children entertained. Put up a communal bulletin board for area property brochures, take-out restaurants menus, and other small businesses to gain exposure. If you are in a destination location or where people regularly travel to, put up a storyboard inviting guests to post leave quotes or anecdotes from their travels for added flavor. Introduce a small community library system where the customers can borrow and add books. It doesn’t have to be all technical in how you elevate the experience. Some competitive markets may even see the added amenities of both varieties as baseline.
Hitch a Hybrid Model
If the typical time it takes a customer to wash and dry is 80 minutes, then give an alternative way to spend that time. Once you start thinking in terms of the customer's experience (or CX), and that it is a win-win with respect to overhead, then the ideas begin unfolding from there.
Combine a coffee shop experience for the typical two hour shifts of customers. Source local brews and make the entire brand about both socializing, getting work done, and supporting local businesses. Draw busy customers in with the prospect of also ordering a cold brew if beer is more your thing. Focus on everything being local for added authenticity and millennial appeal. Create the laundry experience into its own two-hour session. That’s time enough to enjoy a coffee or tea, a local IPA or Saison, and have a date with a friend - all while checking off laundry from the list. Naturally, this opens the door for more creative partnerships. Here’s a few to get you started: bakery, brewery, coffee shop, cafe, diner, cocktail bar, brunch destination, live music, and pop-up event destination.
Bon Appetit did a write up on seven laundromats from around the world serving up neat drinks and clean shirts to showcase the emergence of hybrid laundrobars and Draft did another of all hybrids state side. Whether you partner with a pizza shop, but offer brews from the local scene, or finger foods and cheap beers for the college crowd with overstuffed hampers, or planned to operate a swanky Saturday soiree with dancing and djs, you have your pick to elevate to a social media shareable experience. And isn’t that what the less altruistic of us are really after these days? More foot traffic, more word of mouth, and greater reach (where a whopping 100 million eyes a day are scrolling feeds).
Get in with the yoga community and offer up an opportunity to stretch and sweat after work. Yoga studios and new teachers appreciate the exposure and yoga pop-ups in breweries, on lawns, at sunsets - with goats - are all the rage. Is yoga not your thing? There are other trendy exercise classes like Barre and HIIT. We’ve seen this done with a literal bar at a restaurant, so why not have patrons burn, tuck, and sculpt using the surface of the machines for balance?
While it’s hard to top goat yoga in any scenario, there might be a less active crowd and something a bit, ahem cleaner. We propose inviting customers to peruse from a growing library of books or bring their own for a book club night. (Yes, there are mystery series based solely around the laundromat available on Amazon right now.) Or, purchase a Cards Against Humanity game, go old school with monopoly, or find a more interactive game like jenga. If your property allows, bring in a lawn game like corn hole for warmer days or darts for inside entertainment.
That card then becomes part of the VIP experience where points can be added for every $100 spent with your store. Whether your demographics are busy college students or tired urban dwellers, everyone appreciates a complete full-service experience and the option to choose five-star. Offer a pick up and drop off service to VIP customers or allow regulars to upgrade for a full-service wash, dry, and fold service. Once you get a customer in the door, give them options to spend more with you for added services they didn’t know they needed. Sure the typical wash and wait will be available, but many will opt to take back their time if you had an attendant doing the waiting and delivering for them.
So you’re not in a trendy art district (that you find are popping up across the country), that’s okay. If you are, then great scouting and you should have consistent creative foot traffic. Either way, bring the art community to you with a contest. You’ll do an open call for area artists to submit their ideas for a mural on one of your walls. This is an opportunity to create a space that is unique to your community and that gives you a sense of authenticity by incorporating local talent.
Allow the area artist to gain exposure, consider alerting a local newspaper about the big day of the mural going up for added public relations, and finally in return have them incorporate a branded hashtag for social media sharing in the mural. Oddly enough, laundromats are a backdrop of choice for ametuer photographers (something about nostalgia we might venture to wonder). The customer with a smartphone camera in hand will snap a selfie and be prompted to tag your business if the hashtag is incorporated on the wall. If laundromats are the quintessential model backdrop, play into that with even more unique wall art for an attractive backdrop.
Chances are there is a local art scene, or even an association chapter for area designers (check out the local AIGA chapter). They either know artists hungry for exposure or will put their name in the hat for the chance to put their art on a wall.
Small Business Pop-ups
Cute commerce as found on Etsy is big business, but area neighbors who venture to the weekend farmer’s
market seek out soaps and vegetables directly from their community and peers in-person for the added experience. Offer up your space as a small business pop-up for crafty artists, local coffee beans, or
other start up businesses. Venture to the local farmer’s market when in season and for an added
bonus, segway to the crafty soap maker for a unique clean-linked business with your own.
But it doesn’t just have to be only commerce around cleanliness either. Cross-promote
with a local food truck and make it a taco Tuesday laundry night.
We’ve already mentioned the theme nights around yoga, barre, and workout classes, but these are pop up events with small businesses also. They offer an opportunity
to promote across like businesses and bring in entertainment around the
laundry, food, snacks, music, art to the experience. Next, we’ve seen
car dealers offer nail nights while customers are waiting on their
oil change. They’ve turned a chore of idle customers into a
treat and the laundromat can do the same.
Make Doing Laundry About Community Impact
The greatest example here is TOM’s shoe’s. They operate under a certified B corporation model where one side of the business is about selling shoes and another side is about giving back a pair to person in need of shoes. Lately, other markets have ventured into this model like Leesa sleep, the company that delivers a mattress in a box. Leesa offers social good baked into their business model by giving away a free mattress for every ten sold. Then, if that weren’t enough they also plant a tree for every mattress sold.
Before implementing a social impact program, you can position your operational side of the business making a greater environmental impact using energy efficient commercial washers and dryers. Choose machines that give back more control of the water and sewer usage (while driving down costs in the process).
Washers these days are “smart” and have custom water levels to fine tune the exact water consumption needed for a load. Finally, choosing more powerful machines upfront with high speed options will reduce the amount of water in the clothes, all while reducing the gas consumption of the dryers by up to 25% reduction. Position this level of service as a green differentiator to laundromats with older machines sucking up more resources.
Other ways to give back are to find ways to provide services to the local community and other non-profits in needs. One Benton County laundromat from Indiana saw a need at a local school. They decided to partner with the local school system to start a voucher program. They made an impact by arming guidance counselors and teachers with $25 vouchers to slip in a child’s bookbag for the parents to find. The result, the owners felt like throwing a party from the great feedback they received. Making an impact in parent’s lives falling on hard times is exactly the outcome they wanted.
Another Rhode Island laundromat partnered with the Providence Community Library and nonprofit Libraries Without Borders to engage residents around sensitive issues. They provide the location for residents to meet with library staff to use computer tablets for access to legal resources, information about digital literacy, learning English, health, and job opportunities.
Going into any local business model laundromat store, you’re thinking about other businesses to cross-promote with. There are even businesses like The Rooted Hook that behave merely as connectors between venues and entertainment. It’s your job to create the cleanest, safest, best laundromat that customers will conveniently choose over other options. Whether you’re choosing a more passive traditional model or an over the top hybrid excursion, there are ways to deliver and delight; two things customers expect in tandem these days. Lastly, hopefully now you are at least thinking about ways to make an impact in your community too. Create such positive buzz worthy word of mouth that your commitment to the community becomes a driver of business in itself.
For a deeper dive into the coin laundry business,
visit the Coin Laundry Association online.