Minding Your Business

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 24 days ago

  
Finding and Retaining Top-Quality Laundry Attendants

Attendant.jpgMany laundry owners are less than successful when it comes to attracting quality frontline attendants in sufficient numbers and then retaining them long enough to realize a solid return on their investment.

In fact, because hourly employee turnover rates historically run from 70 percent to 120 percent per year in most industries, it’s easy to understand why some store operators may incorrectly assume that there’s nothing they can do to control or mitigate the enormous drain on profitability caused by turnover.

However, you can reduce turnover by actively recruiting and hiring the best laundry attendants available. Finding employees who are a good fit for your business is not impossible; it just requires some effort and creativity. The best employees aren’t likely to just walk into your laundromat and ask for a job – usually because they’re already working. If you want the best, you have to know what you need, where to look, and how to recruit them.

“Finding quality employees is a constant concern, and our laundry-owner customers who have the most success use a combination of multiple interviews and in-depth training to make sure they are hiring and retaining only the best,” explained Brett Nolan, chief operating officer for Southern Automatic Machinery Co., a distributorship based in Fayetteville, Ga.

“Help is available, but good help is not always easy to get,” added Bob Eisenberg of Fowler Equipment Co. in Union, N.J. “We have to compete with fast food chains and other retail establishments for these staffing requirements, and they may offer benefits that we do not. It would be my recommendation that, to get and keep good help, owners pay a bit more and offer some benefits. It usually pays off with more satisfied customers and repeat business.”

Beyond attracting and retaining good employees, the second part of the labor equation that tends to keep store owners up at night is productivity. And with wages going up all across the country, operators are looking to squeeze more production and revenue from each staff member.

Eisenberg added the following advice:

“Adding wash-dry-fold and drop-off drycleaning turns custodial labor into productive, income-producing labor. Some owners also use their attendants to sell over-the-counter items to their ‘captive audience.’

“In addition, today’s technology can help owners track the profitability and productivity of their employees. There also are features that allow attendants to clock in and out, track work schedules and provide staff members with limited access to customer data in order to offer refunds. Moreover, camera systems can keep employees accountable.”

This month, we asked a number of laundry owners across the U.S. to weigh in on the labor situations at their specific businesses, as well as to share any tips or strategies they’ve learned along the way:

Kevin Martinez
Austin, Texas

I currently have 15 employees, with each store typically attended for four hours per day.

For staff productivity, we run weekly internal contests, where the employees grade each other openly while I’m present – and whoever makes the highest score for that week receives a reward, which is usually something like a $50 or $100 gift card to Sam’s Club or Costco.

The labor market is great in most of our trade areas. In addition, I’ve found that the only way to hire and retain quality employees is the following:

1. Be professional, and have a vision and a plan of expectations that they understand.

2. Clearly define the goals and growth plan for each store location to each employee.

3. As an owner, work to expand into other areas of business to create new and more long-term opportunities for yourself and the team. Always be honest, clear and fair.

4. Make sure every employee has an open door to the owner.

If every owner did these four things and made changes that spur business and employee growth and development, their employees would help grow their businesses.

Ed Ellis
1 Clean Laundry
St. Cloud, Fla.

It takes three full-time attendants – or, as we call them, “laundry professionals” – to run my store. We are fully attended from 7:30 a.m., when we open, until last wash.

We set monthly goals for our wash-dry-fold business segment, which is used to cover payroll, as well as the cost of wash-dry-fold supplies, employee uniforms, taxes and so on. Once individual and store goals are met, staff will receive bonuses in the form of gift cards.

We use a PDA to start the machines for wash-dry-fold. In addition, we are a fully networked store, so I received regular reports telling me exactly which machines were used to process wash-dry-fold loads.

Also, we use an attendance and time tracking app called TimeStation, as a way for staff members to clock in and out of their shifts. We also utilize a scheduling app called When I Work. I create the schedules three months in advance so that my employees know when they will be working, which enables them to trade and/or drop shifts well in advance.

Overall, it appears to me that many people in my marketplace want a paycheck, but they don’t want to come to work to earn it. We pay above the area average in hope of attracting and retaining quality employees.

Bjorn Wisecup
The Laundry Basket
Norwalk, Conn.

This is an interesting topic for us, as it has been a struggle at times to manage employees and productivity – plus, there is always the debate with regard to running “attended vs. unattended.” However, I feel strongly that owners should have attended stores; quite frankly, they should be attended more than my store, but I just don’t want to revamp the structure – which has been working very well.

My current laundry is attended from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day. In addition, I plan to open a new store in the next six months, which will be staffed from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

I have eight employees right now – three of them are dedicated storefront, wash-dry-fold attendants, while the other staffers work on the commercial side of the business. We service local salons, gyms and personal trainers, as well as about 30 area restaurants. Our commercial segment kept growing out of a need to keep the attendants busy when the wash-dry-fold workload was low. It was a Catch 22 situation – as both businesses grew, we were stretched thin on labor. This is an ever-evolving business, so we must closely monitor our payroll, productivity and pricing.

We are located in a HUD zone, and I like to think that we bring viable jobs to the area. In fact, I wouldn’t buy a three-lane folder just to save the cost of having an employee; my profit margins are just fine.

With that said, although technology has helped our business, it also has the potential to hurt employee productivity in a very real way. The tech issues that so many owners run into involve smartphones – and it’s not a new problem. After all, corporate America has dealt with solitaire on employee computers since the dawn of desktops. Today, with everything a phone is capable of and the massive growth of social media, it can create serious productivity problems. As a result, I’ve created a guideline booklet for my employees so that they know what is and isn’t permitted while “on the clock.” And these policies have been quite successful, with just some minor abuses.

As for the labor market in my area, it is predominantly Hispanic. I have yet to find the ideal way to look for quality employees, but I have discovered that my store attendees will get people coming to them at work, asking if we are hiring – and that has been the source of nearly 90 percent of our hires.

Randy Sowers
Laundry World
Rapid City, S.D.

At our location in Rapid City, the store is open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and it’s attended during those hours. We began with four employees and are currently at six. Four of those employees work more than 30 hours per week, one is part-time, and one is employed on an as-needed basis.

Actually, when we first purchased the store, it had five employees, but we didn’t retain one of them because, based on the store manager’s opinion, she was stealing. Therefore, we went with four attendants for a while. A few months later, I had to fire one employee for theft and I had another one quit – apparently we expected more from her than the prior owners.

I had a tough time replacing the worker I had to terminate. As a result, we decided to raise our starting salary by $1 an hour. We’re now fully staffed, and I used the “one and half people” to fill the spot of the person who was let go. This gives us greater flexibility.

As a company, after 90 days of employment, we offer a matching simple IRA, and employees (at their cost) can choose to participate in vision and dental plans. I decided to raise our starting wage because I realized we were competing with Lowe’s, Menards, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Walmart, Taco John’s and other similar companies.

I strongly believe there are hard workers out there with bad companies. If I can just attract them to my company, they will stay. We try to promote a healthy culture, fairness, and transparency between management and employees. Our two greatest assets are our employees and our customers.

The major difficulty is finding people who want to work and be part of a team – so many people expect to just show up and get a paycheck. It’s hard to find people who care.

Cathy Neilley
Spin Doctor Laundromats, LLC
Hamilton, N.J.

We currently employ seven attendants, and someone is in the store at all times.

To maximize staff productivity, everyone is permanently scheduled, versus being “on call.” Any changes in the schedule, including the covering of overtime shifts, must be approved by management. All tasks are computerized and tied to a particular staff card. What’s more, our security cameras are monitored to ensure that there is no loafing. We also hold periodic team and one-on-one meetings to assess workloads and to field suggestions for new tools or process changes.

Technology has had a positive impact on staff productivity in that the tasks are computerized and interactive, which places the responsibility squarely on staff to check them off when completed.

The labor market in this area is tight. The employment rate is around 3.3 percent in our store location, which is Mercer County, N.J. Also, Amazon is located just a few miles away. Because of this, even if we manage to attract a good individual, it’s often hard to retain that person because Amazon tends to absorb a lot of human capital. Plus, they offer higher wages, health benefits and a “career path.”

To battle this, we need to continually improve the business, be creative with benefits, and be supportive to the needs of our staff. Fortunately, word apparently spreads from customers and current employees to potential jobseekers that we provide a nice place to work.

Charlie Smith
Preston Suds, LLC
Charlottesville, Va.

We have three stores. One is unattended and has only a single staff member who shows up once a day to clean. The other stores one full-time attendant. The stores are open 16 hours per day – so there are two eight-hour shifts, seven days per week.

I have committed to 16 hours per day and employ four full-time and three part-time attendants to cover those shifts. However, my biggest issue continues to be controlling overtime. Between staff sickness, vacations and so on, it seems like I always end up with at least some overtime hours.

My staff processes wash-dry-fold orders, and we have a strong wash-dry-fold business. My attendants currently do on average about 100 to 150 pounds of drop-off laundry per shift. However, I want my employees’ main focus on customer service and store cleanliness, so I don’t really want my wash-dry-fold business to grow to the point where those other aspects suffer.

My attendants are completely in charge of the store when they are on duty, with no one hovering over them or micromanaging their workday. They have full authority to make refunds and start machines and are encouraged to do so when a reasonable request is made. As I tell them, I would much rather start a machine for someone who possibly doesn’t deserve it than to deny a refund for someone who does; only serial offenders/requesters are to be deflected to higher management. My attendants also are authorized to give out our custom laundry bags to big-ticket customers.

However, I do expect them to perform their duties and to display what I call the “four basic fundamentals” – honesty, friendliness, dependability and responsibility. If they fail in any of these areas, I don’t need them and will discharge them. If they get caught shoplifting elsewhere, they can find a new job. If they show up late or routinely look for weekend substitutes, are disrespectful to my customers, or display any type of dishonesty, I don’t need them.

Over the years, my biggest regret with regard to terminating employees typically has been not doing it soon enough. Most of the time, the signals were all there – the dishonesty or the poor customer skills – and I ignored it too long. For me, dishonesty in any form is a one-time offense, and as I noted, it does not have to be while on duty here.

We have a rather tight labor market, with a 4 percent unemployment rate. As a result, we offer a higher salary range than most laundromats in the area, with most employees in the $11 to $13 per hour range. We also pay a weekend differential of $1 per hour, along with two to three weeks of paid vacation time for our full-time employees.

I don’t offer insurance at this time, but I would love to find a way to provide this for my full-time employees. Currently, they can purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act for about $100 on average, whereas the cost to me to provide similar coverage is at least $500 per month per employee. It makes no sense to provide anything except full-cost coverage, since even with an 80/20 split, they are simply even with Obamacare, and all I really have done is lose $400 per month before taxes. The rules don’t permit me to reimburse them for Obamacare coverage or to put funds into an FSA or similar account that they can draw upon to pay for their insurance. This is the number-one benefit that I would love to offer, but I haven’t found a way to do it that makes financial sense. I would gladly pay the $100 for them for Obamacare.

Jay Johnson
Monroe Laundry Company
Snohomish Laundry Company
Monroe/Snohomish, Wash.

We have two laundromats, each partially attended. The operating hours are 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., but we are attended only between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. For both stores, we have four employees who cover all of the attended hours – providing customer support, cleaning and equipment maintenance.

However, our stores are set up to basically run themselves, with timed door locks that unlock at 7:00 a.m. and lock down at 10:00 p.m. Our washers are programmed not to start after 9:00 p.m., so customers know they need to start the washers before 9:00 p.m. and that they will have time to dry and fold before the store locks itself down at 10:00 p.m. The store’s lights reduced and alarms are armed within 30 minutes of lockdown.

We’ve been using this system for nearly nine years. Using technology to resolve operational issues is a main component of our business model. To us, paying for technology is better than “renting” employees, and it enable the employees we have to be more efficient.

In addition to the computer-controlled door system and programmed washers, we utilize a card system as well. An ATM provides customers with access to cash on site. With the addition of bill changers that reduce $20/$10 bills into $5 bills and $5 bills into $1 bills, customers can put as much as they want on their cards or as little as $1 to reduce the amount the card balance retains after completing their wash. Adding larger vending dispensers provides customer access to a wide range of products, even when we are unattended. Both systems greatly reduce the need for attendant interruptions, freeing them to be more efficient at their normal tasks. Before adding bill changers and larger vending options, customers would interact with attendants to get change or to buy soap, laundry bags, etc. Now, our attendants aren’t distracted as often from their cleaning and operational tasks.

We accept wash-dry-folder orders during attended hours. However, our approach, philosophically, is to accept this business not as a purposeful profit center, but more as a way to mitigate the cost of employees. Our wash-dry-fold business is priced at the high end to keep volumes in check. This approach helps us pay employees way above industry standards in our area and, in fact, maintain extremely low personnel turnover.

Also, 24-hour audio/video surveillance is critical to our operation. Our systems include an IP/HD camera system with public address and motion detection inside customer area and externally. We are able to access cameras and public address audio speakers from smartphones or desktop computers to actually converse with customers during unattended hours. This has been useful during periods when an employee is sick or otherwise unable to cover his or her shift. We can broadcast to customers any limitations of the moment, until we are able to return to normal operations.

In general, the State of Washington has a low unemployment rate, compared to the national average, but we’ve never publically advertised a vacant position. Without exception, all of our employees were referred to us. Offering a premium salary and short work week has proven to be effective at acquiring and keeping employees.

Essentially, we have the same employees now that we did nine years ago, with just a couple of rescheduling exceptions. Setting employee expectations, holding them accountable and then stepping back to let them breathe allows employees to take ownership and be comfortable. We are very proud of our people, as shown in online reviews of both of our locations.

Sally Anderson
Super Clean Laundromat
Southbridge, Mass.

I have three part-time employees, including myself. My store is open from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. – and it’s partially attended, with one employee from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

To maximize staff productivity, I simply try to hire the right people, pay them a good wage, give them work schedules they prefer, and be a caring boss. To minimize payroll, I stick to shifts – my attendants do not work over their allotted hours, and I work at the store four shifts per week. Our shifts are four and a half hours each; I work 18 hours a week, and my two attendants work the other shifts.

We have a large Puerto Rican community in our town, so I need one attendant to be bilingual. In addition, over the years, I have learned that middle-aged woman make some of the best hires. They typically have a great work ethic, and there is less turnover. They come to work, do their job and don’t take it home with them. This saves me a huge amount of time, not having to train new attendants all of the time.

David Heath
PJ’s Laundry
Bryan, Texas

We have 10 employees spread across three stores – two of the laundries are unattended and one is fully attended. The attended store is opened at 6:00 a.m. by electric locks, and the attendant gets there at 7:00 a.m. This laundry is attended until closing at 10:00 p.m.

We offer a wash-dry-fold service, which maximizes employee productivity and creates a better environment for everyone. In addition, we have a card system, which makes it much easier to start the machines and keep track of productivity. We also tend to hire older employees who need to work.

Our attended laundry definitely performs better than our unattended stores.

Ken Barrett
Washin’ Coin Laundry
Anniston/Oxford Ala.

I have three stores, but only one is partially attended. It’s a 24-hour store that is attended from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., seven days a week. Up until recently, I had four employees. Three of them covered the operating hours of my drop-off service, and the other handled various cleaning tasks around that store. However, for various reasons, I’ve lost three of the four employees, and I’m working some hours to pick up the slack. Fortunately, my remaining employee is willing to pick up any extra hours that are available.

Several months ago, I began using a staffing agency to fill my vacant positions. Although there is a surcharge to use them, I’m able to hire the employee direct after 400 to 500 hours, if I choose to. In addition, the agency offers a health care plan if the employee is interested. Their basic plans are below the “legal” minimum, but they have chosen to pay the penalties to be able to offer these smaller plans. This is something I’m not currently able to do.

The main advantage I’ve discovered is with regard to the screening and interview process. For instance, I posted a Facebook job posting and received about 40 applicants in the last three weeks – these were all passed along to the staffing agency for screening.

In talking with many other small-business owners and seeing the signs around the area, there are many jobs available. The difficulty is finding reliable employees. Many of these jobs are paying $1 to $2 per hour above the minimum wage to start.

Clearly, finding and retaining quality employees will always be a challenge – and, when you find one that seems like he or she may work well, be sure to “trust, but verify.”

Larry Adamski
Muskegon Laundromat
Muskegon, Mich.

My laundromat is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. It’s fully attended with a staff of five part-time employees. Attendants are solely responsible for keeping the facility extremely clean and answering customer questions. We don’t offer a drop-off laundry service, so my attendants are never engaged in processing laundry.

About 10 years ago, I installed a CCTV system as a means to ensure employee productivity and to prevent employee theft and fraud. This basic 16-camera system was effective, and I’ve since upgraded to a much more capable CCTV system that can accommodate up to 32 cameras, although I still have just the 16 at this time. If the day comes when I can program a robot to clean the floor and machines, I’ll certainly look into that option – but, so far, I have to rely on people for those tasks.

I believe the unemployment rate in Muskegon is about 4 percent right now. I try to find and retain good employees by paying more than the state minimum wage, having a small bonus program that pays an extra $1 per hour for holiday and call-in work, and working with employees to accommodate their personal obligations.

My payroll is currently running at 15 percent of gross sales, which I consider to be both acceptable and efficient. That includes paying labor for cutting the grass and most machine maintenance as well. My intent is to keep my labor costs between 16 percent and 17 percent of sales, so I’m planning some raises in the next few weeks.

Bob Meuschke
Family Laundry II
Kansas City, Mo.

My laundry is open 14 hours a day during the week, and 15 hours a day on the weekends. My store is fully attended by four employees. Typically, I’ll have just one on duty at a time; however, on heavy drop-off days, we’ll schedule extra help.

My business does about 4,500 pounds of wash-dry-fold laundry per month. In addition, we have six commercial accounts, and we do all of the wash-dry-fold laundry for the third-largest drycleaner in Kansas City. Plus, we have several walk-in customers who bring us their drop-off laundry. This keeps my attendants’ hours covered and quite productive. In addition, our policy is to stop processing wash-dry-fold and commercial laundry by 6:00 p.m. so that the attendants can get the store cleaned before closing time.

The job market is tight in my area. I have a lot of fast food restaurants and convenience stores with which to compete for employees. When looking to fill a position, I typically just place a sign in the window, as well as ask my existing staff members if they know anyone looking for work.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky with regard to labor. I have one employee who has been with me for more than 10 years, and another that has been here for more than five years. In the past, I had attendants with tenures of eight, 15, 16 and 18 years.

Marty Mullican
Owasso Express Laundry
Owasso, Okla.

We have nine employees – one salaried, full-time manager with benefits, and eight hourly, part-time attendants. Our store hours are 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and the laundry is always attended.

We hire selectively and consistently, and we’ve found that detailed training makes the difference. Our productivity is higher and overall aggregate payroll is lower with low staff turnover, which is enabled by our selective hiring and consistent training.

In addition, our card system makes it easier for everyone – customers and staff. This system is how our hourly employees clock in and out, and it’s how we make and modify our store’s monthly staffing schedule. We also use QuickBooks Online for our accounting and payroll processing (direct deposit and end-of-year W2 reporting) – QuickBooks payroll is easy, IRS-reporting proven, handles direct deposit and fairly painless.

In general, our local labor market is fairly strong with low unemployment. The minimum wage in Oklahoma is $7.25 per hour; however, to attract quality staffers, we start our attendants at $10 per hour. By contrast, the fast food chains in our area start their workers at the minimum wage.

Our best recruiting results have come through Facebook and word-of-mouth referrals. Facebook has proven to be a cost-effective way to advertise open positions with tight, focused demographic filters.

Our policy is that job applications must be picked up at the store. Candidates must physically come into the laundry and introduce themselves to the on-duty manager in order to receive an application. And, for every 20 applications received, about 15 of them come back to us filled out properly. Of those 15, we’ll interview five; of those five, we’ll hire one. With this selective approach to hiring and a starting salary of $10 an hour, we’ve enjoyed a very low turnover rate.

Bruce Walker
Wash It Kwik
Denton, Texas

As of today, we have 12 employees who have that worked a total of 665 hours for the past two-week pay period. We are always attended and have at least two people on site at all times.

We do a lot of drop-off and pickup-and-delivery laundry, and it takes several sets of hands to get it all processed. We typically have more work than three people can get done in eight hours, so we seldom send anyone home early.

In addition, I have partnered with WashClub, which helps us advertise and generates a lot of business. Customers can place their pickup-and-delivery orders at our website, WashItKwik.com, or they can use our WashItKwik app. This system is how we communicate with our customers, track orders and send notifications. Employees can log in and see how many orders are placed for the day before they come in. This helps them gauge how early they need to get to work.

Also, we use an app called Crew, which we use to message the team, ask questions, send pictures and post schedules. What’s more, we also have a Rhino Fleet tracker GPS that tells us exactly where the van is, how fast it’s going, how long it has been stopped and so on. And I have a video camera system that we use to monitor the store’s employees and sometimes even find items we’ve misplaced.

I have found the majority of our employees at Indeed.com. We pay about $10 per hour to start, plus free use of washers and dryers when they aren’t working. I also provide two weeks of paid vacation time, and will match their retirement up to 6 percent in a SEP account.

All in all, your employees are the key ingredient to any measure of success. Treat them like gold!
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Comments

Hi Bruce,

Who developed your app, for how much, and how long did it take?

Thanks, 

Abu
Bronx, NY

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