The Author Discusses His Business’s Brand – And the Promises He’s Made to His Laundry Customers [This is the first in a two-part series on successfully branding a vended laundry business.]
Branding in the laundry industry is not a new topic, nor would I consider myself an expert on the subject. However, as a relatively new operator (I opened my first store in June 2014), I entered this business at a very advantageous and exciting time. A paradigm shift had occurred in the industry with regard to the approach manufacturers and operators now take to better serve their customers.
The old model of an unattended vending machine of a store is dead! Today’s new operators and savvy veterans alike are building great laundries with all of the bells and whistles – including friendly attendants, high-speed/more efficient equipment, luxurious building materials and ancillary services (wash-dry-fold, drycleaning, and pickup and delivery). This new type of store is something special, and as such, the owners of these laundries must let their customers know who they are and what they offer.
This is where branding comes in.What Sets You Apart?
In the first of this two-part series, I’ll discuss what my brand – Perfect Wash – Express Laundry Center – is, as well as what it means to me as the owner and, more importantly, what it means to my customers.
In the second part of this series, I’ll discuss what channels I use to broadcast this brand in order to reach my customers.
When my distributor asked me to develop this topic into a presentation, I didn’t want to create just another marketing presentation. Before you can even market something, there needs to be a brand with substance to market. What is My Brand… Exactly?
First, who am I? I’m a first-time laundry operator and business owner. Previously, I managed properties for my parents’ real estate investment firm, and I was a high-performance automotive engine builder prior to attending college. I studied business administrations with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a minor in economics at the University of Southern California (“Fight On!”).
Business is in my blood – and so is quality! A passing comment from a friend led me to stumble upon the vended laundry industry. Through my vast research of the industry and numerous store visits, I discovered that I was entering the business during a time of renaissance and industry transformation – and I quickly discovered that I could immediately leap to the top of this industry by deploying its new model.
In fact, here is one of the statements I crafted while developing my mission statement:“The industry provides me the opportunity to take a simple business model to another level and deliver my customers an experience exceeding their expectations. I didn't reinvent the wheel, I just put a coat of polish on it.”The Seeds of My Brand
Here’s my favorite definition of branding from Entrepreneur Media
:“Simply put, your brand is your PROMISE to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”
Notice that I emphasized the word “promise.” That’s the most important part.
Through my research of the self-service laundry industry, I learned of the many ways in which laundry owners have branded their businesses through the years. It started with just a shingle, a simple sign that read “Laundromat.” And it was there strictly to inform people as to what was under that sign – essentially, a vending machine of washers and dryers under one roof. That is branding (if you can even call it that) in its most primitive form.
Later, distributors began to add name plates to their turnkey stores to evoke familiarity. This slightly more developed method of branding focused on the brand of machines and the customers’ familiarity with operating those machines, as well as the format of the store they could expect to find inside. McDonald’s has built an empire on this type of branding. After all, does McDonald’s offer the best burgers? Certainly not. However, do you know exactly what you’re going to get when you visit the Golden Arches? Definitely. And that’s the type of branding that had saturated the laundry industry – customers knew what to expect; and that is to say, just the basics.
Now, fast forward to the “post-Renaissance period,” which brought to light what the old laundry business models were missing: quality in the cleanliness of laundries and the level of service received; efficiency with regard to customers getting value for their dollar; consistency of many stores’ offering week after week… and it was even missing fun. Yes, I said it – fun.What Does Perfect Wash – Express Laundry Center Mean?
What promises have I made to my customers?1. It’s Clean
I insist on owning the cleanest laundry in southern California, and my attendants agree with me. They all work hard to keep it that way. They don’t want to work in a dirty store any more than our customers want to wash their clothes in one.
If you look at the Coin Laundry Associations’ recent surveys, one of the leading factors that all customers look for in a laundry is whether or not it’s clean. Therefore, if you really want to set your business apart from the crowd, your store must be the cleanest in town.
This includes the all-important floor. From time to time, customers most definitely will drop clean laundry on the floor, and if it’s clean, they won’t even flinch.
In addition, our machines are polished weekly and dusted several times a day. Condensation on the washer glass is wiped off and the machines are vented, inviting customers to load them with their laundry.
And let’s not forget the soap dispensers – these must be pristine. Customers put their detergent in there – detergent they spent their hard-earned money on, which is formulated to clean their laundry. If those dispensers are dirty or are caked with powder and residue, you can throw that cleanliness factor right out the window before the washer has even started turning. We obsess over our soap dispensers, which is one of the reasons our most common compliment is about the cleanliness of the store. Don’t believe me – just check Yelp!2. It’s Friendly and Safe
There are no automatic door locks at Perfect Wash. That’s because I will always have a friendly attendant there to open the store and greet every customer who comes in. The presence of those friendly faces puts our customers at ease, ensuring they will have a safe and effective wash experience.
Not only are they there to educate everyone about the operation of our modern, soft-mount machines, as well as how to navigate our card system, but they also offer laundering tips and advice on stain removal. What’s more, I encourage my staff to socialize with the customers – get to know them a little bit during their weekly visits, dance with them to the classic rock that plays over the store’s sound system, switch the TV to a ball game they want to watch and, above all, make their visits as pleasant as can be. After all, this also will make the attendants’ job more pleasant.
This brings me to another point in my mission statement:“I want to create a place where my customers can do their laundry in the nicest and safest setting with the finest equipment available and when they walk out of here they'll feel like they were 'Somewhere.'"
Being a fully attended store also accomplishes another leading factor that attracts customers to laundromats – namely, it’s safe.
There has been little theft and no detectable vandalism at Perfect Wash. We have been fortunate to have an amazing base of customers who take ownership of the store. In fact, 90 percent of the time when customers make a mess, they ask us for a towel or a broom to clean it up themselves, because this is their store.
Also, if there’s someone just hanging around the laundry making people nervous, the customers will speak up. And, at times when we have to do something about those types of incidents, you can feel that our customers know we have their best interest and safety in mind – they always come first. In fact, our customers even feel safe enough to allow us keep their little ones occupied while they’re reloading their laundry cards.
Here are some other things we do that set us apart:
During the holidays, we decorate our Christmas tree with Lost & Found items and soap boxes. The staff and customers love it – and, yes, some of Lost & Found items have actually been claimed right off the tree. Also, all of our laundry carts have been named with license plates, just because it’s fun! And I can’t forget to mention the mariachi band one of my attendants hired for our two-year anniversary.3. It’s Modern and Able
Thus far, all of the things I’ve mentioned make Perfect Wash a great business. However, I also need to mention what makes us a great laundromat. Two words: big and simple.
We have the best mix of large washers (40 pounds and higher) in the city – not to mention being the only store with four 55-pound washers under one roof in this market. (Before retooling, this store had just 650 pounds of wash capacity, which I have since increased to 975 pounds within the same square footage.)
The majority of our customers live in multi-family dwellings, which more likely than not house inadequate shared laundry facilities. Those customers come to us because they know their laundry is going to get cleaner in a shorter period of time – they can knock out everything at once, rather than waiting for their neighbor to finish. As we tell them, “You can wash anything and everything, and the machines are set up to get you through the washers and dryers in under an hour!” That’s just about the only hook you really need when it comes to machinery – and you can’t make that claim without state-of-the-art equipment.
Our regular weekly customers also appreciate our laundry card system. It enables them to keep their laundry money safe until they’re ready to spend it, and it even rewards them for their loyalty. We can visually see the relief come across our customers’ faces when we tell them, “You’ll never have to collect quarters again.” Of course, there are often questions about operating the machines or the card system, but we always have an attendant nearby to assist our customers.
As we recite daily, “Everything about this store is just a little bit different than you’re probably used to, but it’s also very simple. Once you go through the process once, you got it, and you’ll be training the newbie on your next visit.” And, because we’re such a friendly and safe store, those customers do, in fact, train the newbies on their next visit – and, with that, our customers know they’ve come to the right place.
You’ve now read the promises we’ve made (and keep) to our customers. That is our brand. That is what Perfect Wash – Express Laundry Center means to our regular customers every time they walk through the door, and what visiting tourists will learn by the time they walk out. This is what they are now expecting, because this is what they deserve.
We are now woven into the fabric (pun very much intended!) of this community.